Interview: Fina Bank
Robert Warlow, Group Chief Operating Officer, Fina Bank
The Africa Report: Why did Fina Bank invest in Rwanda?
Robert warlow: There was a realisation by the shareholders in early 2003/04 that the banking sector was changing and they needed to determine a new strategy, really looking at points of differentiation. They decided on two new strategies. One was to make Fina Bank an SME bank. Other banks provide SME services but not necessarily in the same way or in such a focused manner as us. So, for example, all of our SME clients have a dedicated and reachable relationship manager. All our clients have the mobile number of their relationship manager, whereas with the other banks you get put into a pot. They saw that there was a gap in the sector for a bank that focused on SMEs and SMEs only. So, for example, you won’t see us going into credit cards, you won’t see us going into mortgages. That was one leg of the strategy change. The other leg was to be regional. It is clear that there is going to be even more increased regional trade as the years go by. What was lacking was one regional player. Even the multinationals were disjointed.
Fina Bank is a small bank in the Kenyan context. Isn’t Fina overextending itself?
It’s about being a niche player. You don’t have to be big to be a niche player. You don’t have to be big and bold to be a success. The big and bold can come later.
Why expand outside Kenya while less than a tenth of Kenyans hold bank accounts, suggesting there is still a big unserved market?
You don’t have to be all things to all men. We are looking for SME customers looking for a bank that understands their needs. As you have seen we do not advertise. Most customers come from referrals and word of mouth – people who tell others that for their business we can help.
What has been Fina’s experience in Rwanda since buying Continental Bank of Rwanda in August 2004?
Certainly the two countries are different. You have to accept what Rwanda has been through over the last than 10 years or more. So their needs are different from here [Kenya]. They don’t have the large range of companies that there are here. I wouldn’t say there are any major challenges on a day-to-day basis.