Kurdistan Region of Iraq: Interview with Ms. Naz Bajger

Ms. Naz Bajger

Deputy General Manager (Cihan Bank)

Ms. Naz Bajger

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been facing security challenges for the past two years. However, Prime Minister Barzani has expressed that “war and terrorism have been pushed away from the Kurdistan Region, and the Region has embarked on a new era, the post-ISIS era”. How this new era will transform the Kurdistan Region?

Despite the war that takes place in neighbouring areas of the Kurdistan Region, we have not faced any security issue in our daily life. Erbil has always been a very secure place, even when the ISIS was close to the city. However, a combination of factors has affected negatively to our region; the investors left due to a misperception of the situation in Erbil, the low oil prices damaged the incomes of a government that were undertaking a great financial effort to fight terrorism at the same time that there was a dispute with the central government in Baghdad regarding budgetary issues. All these circumstances had an impact in Kurdistan.

In addition, we cannot forget the arrival of refugees from Mosul and other areas. It has been a really important movement of population that the government has to cope with within the context of the crisis.

However, this year the situation has changed and there is a positive movement in the region. As an example, we have received transactions amounting 10 million USD for projects, which means that the investors are coming back. The government is rebuilding the region and businesses are coming, so it is the right time for investors. As a banking institution, we are encouraging people to put the money into the banks and to make business with it.

President Masoud Barzani has recently announced that the referendum on independence is due to take place on September 25th, a crucial step towards the creation of a new independent state. How can Cihan Bank contribute to the consolidation of an independent Kurdistan?

The role of the banks is key to the future of every country. The four main Kurdish banks are nowadays under the control of the Central Bank of Iraq. In the case of independence, we will play a central role in the growth of the economy and the prosperity of the region and we must be solid to lead the business consolidation in the country.

In our ten years of history we have carried out a rapid expansion, and now Cihan Banks has 13 branches and a large correspondents network abroad. Kurdistan can benefit from Cihan Bank as a direct channel with other countries and international institutions; our position in the Middle East and Europe will be beneficial for the country.

Since 2014, when the war broke up in many areas of Iraq and Syria, the Kurdistan Region has been facing an economic crisis that has frozen the investment. What has been the performance of the banking system during this period of time? And what has been the strategy of the bank to overcome this crisis?

The low retail of this period forced us to restrain our portfolio of products and reduce the segment of clients to a very specific range of clients. The decision of Cihan Bank, as well as the other banking entities in the region, was to minimize risks following a conservative strategy.

There are other commercial banks in the Region of Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq that offer similar services. What really makes you different from your competitors?

Technology is the main differential point of Cihan Bank; we are far beyond our competitors when it comes to technological infrastructure. Unlike other entities that outsource their services, we have our own systems and they are all managed by our bank and installed in our premises, which means that we have total control over them preventing any sort of external interference. Our bank is the first Iraqi bank which installed and managed Card Management System and ATM Switch system.

Thanks to this technology, the central government of Baghdad selected Cihan Bank as the only bank in the Kurdistan Region allowed to distribute the salary of the public employees in the whole of Iraq.

The Kurdish population has been historically sceptic towards the banking institutions and tend to use cash in any kind of transaction. How do you make the people confident in the banking system?

We are developing new products that were suspended during the crisis, such as credit facilities, in order to encourage people to deposit the money in the bank. We need to show them the benefits of using the banking system.

The foreign investment in the Kurdistan Region has been frozen for the last two years, but the international companies are heading back to the Region. What is your strategy to bring back investors to the Region to use your bank?

Cihan Bank has organised conferences in countries like Dubai or Turkey inviting all the largest local banks to showcase the investment opportunities in Kurdistan and the progress of the region. Those banks would revert all that information to their clients, many of whom start to work with us. It will be also important for us to reach out the United Estates, where the misperception of the region is still widespread.

Cihan Bank is an example of Kurdish business success story. What do you feel most proud of?

The development of the people and the human resources. Back at the foundation of Cihan Bank, I used to work with other fresh graduates that have become a great human resource and nowadays are leading the company. The young people are getting a more important role in the community. Actually, to serve our community we are inviting from 20 to 25 fresh graduates to train them as the bankers of the future.

Financially speaking, we managed to increase our paid capital from 25 to 255 billion Iraqi Dinar since 2009, and our equity capital has grown up to 322 billion, which is a great financial success for the bank and its stakeholders. It shows that Cihan Bank is strong despite the challenges and that we work hard to ensure the interest of our customers.