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Mr Bekzhan Pirmatov, CEO of Kazakhstan-based lender ForteBank, explains how the bank's ongoing digitalisation strategy and strong emphasis on scrupulous risk management has helped it to navigate complex geopolitical and economic challenges.

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The active development of a digital offering for retail and corporate banking, the inflow of new customers, the effective management of risks related to sanctions and improvements to the bank’s financial standing, including a significant increase in year-on-year profits – these are only a small portion of the achievements of Kazakhstan-based ForteBank this year. The bank, just like the country’s entire business sector, has faced a number of geopolitical and economic challenges, however management was able to steer the situation in its favour. 

How? CEO Bekzhan Pirmatov tells us below. 

A dash towards digitalisation

Online banking has become standard practice for most Kazakhstanis. Queues in front of cash offices and manager desks are in the past; now, all 25 primary transactions required by a person for their day-to-day needs are available in the Forte app. Today, the share of online transactions in the retail segment comprises 80%, and by that metric, we are on the same level as the leading banks in the USA. Additionally, 95% of all savings deposits at ForteBank are opened through the app. 

For business segment customers, the bank has developed a separate app called ForteBusiness, where users can open an account and use it for its daily banking purposes and to apply and receive a credit facility from the bank. 

The apps have allowed the bank to create and actively develop its own ecosystem by providing customers with the ability to make purchases, exchange currency, use courier and telecommunication services and more. 

It is worth noting that, in Kazakhstan, banks do not just observe and follow the global trend of switching from a traditional bank to a fintech, they set the trend. We understand that fintech serves as a foundation for the future development of banking. Our vision is to become a mobile-only bank that actively lends to all customers’ needs, be it a retail, SME or corporate client. 

Customer number growth

This year, we have seen a high customer base growth rate, particularly in the SME and retail sectors. Our number of active small and medium enterprise customers has grown by almost a quarter (23.4%), and the number of retail customers has grown by 15%. 

We are aware that most of the new customers have come to our bank from Russian subsidiary banks that have been subjected to international sanctions. Their choice of Forte tells us that we offer high-level, high-quality service. 

Our strategic priority is further developing the positive customer experience. We will continue creating convenience for customers by expanding the digitalisation of existing services, as well as by launching new ones, including GovTech-services and online lending. If a customer needs fintech, the bank will provide it.

Effective compliance risk management 

Forte scrupulously manages risks related to international crime, such as the laundering of illegally obtained profits and financing of terrorism. The bank has a conservative approach with regards to any international sanctions, strictly following all the guidelines of Kazakhstani and international regulators. 

Compliance-control processes and compliance culture are constantly improved by introducing automation of internal processes where possible, continuous training, taking into account international standards, and best practices. 

Financial status reinforcement 

Forte's key business ratios continue to show solid growth. The bank’s loan portfolio has grown ahead of the market, according to the National Bank of Kazakhstan – whereas the growth of the total loan portfolio of all the banks in the country amounted to 12.3%, Forte’s portfolio has grown by almost 30%. Our deposit portfolio has grown by 8%. 

A key positive trend is the diversification of the loan portfolio, where c.40% of the portfolio belongs to the retail segment and the remaining 60% is evenly divided between SMEs and large corporates.

Based on the outcome of the first nine months of 2022, net profit at the bank has grown by 54.5%, reaching Tg75bn. For comparison, Forte’s profit for the same period last year amounted to Tg48.6bn. 

The bank's strengthening financial position was fairly noted by international rating agencies. In September this year, Fitch Ratings upgraded Forte’s long-term issuer default rating to BB- with a stable outlook. 

ForteBank’s business model is based on a reasonably conservative lending policy, diversified client base and digital products and services which prove to be cost-effective and solid. This model has proven its stability despite the economic challenges of the last several years.

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