Thought leadership
Rushika Bhatia
Business Banking

Thought leadership

On May 11th our friends at ADCB played host to around 50 MBA students from Thunderbird University in the US. Formal presentations were on the agenda and then there was a little surprise element. Mike Byrne reports.

Thought leadership

By the time the SME Advisor team arrived at ADCB’s building in Abu Dhabi lunch had just finished and half the room looked ready to settle into an afternoon of content day-dreaming – this was not going to be easy!

How do you take three bankers and a room full students and kick-start an interactive discussion? We had decided the day before that a topical panel discussion would serve better than a run-of-the-mill presentation. ADCB had chosen its finest for battle –Howard Gaunt, Corporate Commercial Banking Head, Murali Subramanian, Head of Transaction Banking and Nilanjan Ray, Sr. Vice President, Head, SME Banking. SME Advisor Senior Editor, Ketaki Banga, took her position as moderator and so it began.

Howard took the lead and dove straight in: “Who here has preconceived notions of the Middle East? Be honest! What we want to do today is to teach you not only about banking and the market here but also about the outside challenges that directly impact day-to-day business. It is our aim to send you back to the US with a more informed outlook than you might get from external media,” he said.

Since regional unrest has been dominated the headlines of late, it seemed a logical place to begin. Ketaki put it to the panel – “How has recent unrest in the region affected the UAE market and with this has there been any positive impact?” Nilanjan give his team mates a nod and sat forward – he was going to take this!

“If we are honest it has been advantageous for business in this country – some individuals and companies have been shifting operations here from northern African states, either on a temporary or permanent basis,” he said.

Having attended numerous business events it is not a secret that bankers are renowned for pontificating –but not this banker and not at this event – these guys were obviously determined to cover as much ground as possible! Taking no chances, the short time in hand, Ketaki fired out the next question: “Let’s move on to recession and recovery – how has that played out in the UAE, compared with western markets?”

This time Howard stepped up: “You hear people saying that when the US catches a cold, Canada catches the flu – well when the US catches a cold, this region catches pneumonia.” Laughter broke out again – Howard’s personality was winning them over!

“It wasn’t that the conditions here were necessarily ripe for a collapse but it was really more down to a loss of confidence – the collapse of Lehman brothers stunned the region and it’s taken time for us to get back on our feet after being knocked down like that,” he comments.

The panel must have previously decided that this response deserved a more detailed analysis – dollar-dirham speculation, frozen real estate projects, liquidity and finally, lending practices were all touched upon. Eyes were scanning the room, looking for signs of boredom, tiredness and just plain old indifference, but no stragglers were spotted – with this Ketaki kept the momentum and shot the next question across the room: “How do you think corporate governance can shift from paper to practice in this region?”

Murali smiled and straightened up: “The attitude of corporate governance is changing and it really is a process of evolution. It is the confidence in the system, rather than the transparency, which is evolving.”

And what about the SME sector where a lot of businesses are owned by expatriates – people who used to giving such information in their own countries? “Even in the SME space there is a contagious affect– the attitude of why should they be asked to reveal financial information if the big corporates aren’t playing ball?”

Having partnered with ADCB we know of their desire to educate the market – with this Ketaki put the question to the panel and offered the floor for further explanation:

“We basically try and demonstrate that we are not just a bank and a provider of money, but also a provider of knowledge. The model of thought leadership and the model of providing customers and clients with what they need, as opposed to what they want, has a track record of success with other banks and we are making every to push this forward here,” said Howard.

What better place to begin this education that with the next generation of bankers?!