THERE'S NO TIGHTROPE FOR THE BANKER
Stewart Jack, Consultant of HEBROSBANK's Management Board, to the BANKER weekly
Mr. Jack, you are a banker, an alpinist, a parachutist ... Can you say which is riskier - banking or alpinism?
- Banking is riskier than alpinism. If the alpinist slips and falls, the tightrope will save him. A banker does not have such a protection. But both banking and alpinism are very interesting because success in each depends on the fair handling of risk. I have two friends in Great Britain with whom I used to go on expeditions. They make very good money by giving lectures at banks and other financial institutions on the management of risk. And there is always risk, regardless of what you are managing - an expedition or a bank.
You have worked in many countries. Where were the most interesting moments in your business career?
- I think there are two such countries. In 1977 I began work in the banking sector in Abu Dabi. It was after the steep rise of petrol prices in the 70s when the financial and credit system and the infrastructure of the United Arab Emirates were developing very fast and offered a lot of challenges.
The situation in Poland in the 1992-1996 period also provided interesting problems to solve. In Poland I worked for Deloitte Touche on several projects for restructuring of banks and companies. The big credit institutions were set up in that country after the branches of the central bank became independent regional banks - nine in all. Deloitte Touche was managing the restructuring in seven of them. In addition, we were working on the restructuring of some big enterprises - e.g. the tyre manufacturer Stomil. We were also consulting the restructuring of Fortein - a big furniture manufacturer, which set up a joint venture with a German investor.
And during my mandate at the British bank Samuel Montegew in the 70s I lived through one of the riskiest moments in my career. There was a bank crisis in the UK at that time. Many banks had invested a considerable part of their money in credits for purchase of real estate or had refinanced banks which had invested their own finances in similar assets. Samuel Montegew was such a refinancing bank and it was quite a risky period for us.
Which spheres of HEBROSBANK's operations will you be responsible of?
- I'll be handling the bank's restructuring: the establishment of new internal units for its operation in order to make it a more profitable and efficient financial institution. Of course, this is closely linked to modern information technologies as well, that will be the backbone of the new bank services. Part of my responibilities will be connected with the introduction of the new products, with risk management, and marketing.
What changes should be made in HEBROSBANK's structure?
- Our aim is to improve the bank's image and make it more attractive to clients both by the quality and variety of services, and by the way of providing these services. We intend to soon launch new products on the market and react adequately to the changes in the economic situation. This could happen if the financial institution has an efficient structure, well-trained and qualified personnel, and state-of-the-art information systems.
Could you draw any parallels between the Bulgarian financial market and those in the countries you have worked?
- There are many things in common between the situation I found in Bulgaria and that in Poland in 1993 and 1994. Bulgaria has a great potential and the atmosphere in your country is much more optimistic than it was in Poland. Therefore, I believe the bank sector and the sector of services in Bulgaria will be developing much more quickly than in Poland several years ago. The bank sector in Poland was lagging far behing the sector of services. Salaries in the bank system were exceptionally low and could not attract the necessary professionals. Moreover, the government tried to impede the entrance of foreign banks on the Polish market. Due to all that the restructuring of the bank system in the country took quite a long time.
What products does the Bulgarian financial market lack?
- Bulgarian banks are perhaps not sufficiently active in offering services via INTERNET. In fact, all good bank products should be provided by electronic media as well. I would like to underline the importance of the necessary legislative changes for the development of the local financial sector and bank services. Realization of guarantees on credits should be made more easier. Unless such amendements are enforced it would be difficult to offer better products, connected with allocation of credits.