New Member Spotlight: HBL

Wednesday 13th November 2013

GBA Newsletter

Sima Kamil, Head of HBL's Retail and Consumer Banking, spoke with the Global Banking Alliance for WomenOur newest member in South Asia, HBL (Habib Bank Limited) is the largest commercial bank in Pakistan, reaching over 5 million customers. Sima Kamil, Head of Retail and Consumer Banking, spoke with the Global Banking Alliance for Women about her bank’s decision to join the Alliance, its hopes for the planned Women’s Market Program, and the role the bank can play in supporting women.GBA:  How would you describe the current state of financial services for women in Pakistan? Sima Kamil:  There’s a big difference in access. Women are much less likely to have a bank account than men. For every 10 male customers, we have 1 or 2 women.

GBA:  Why so few women?

Sima Kamil:   IIn Pakistan we have a relatively low percentage of people with formal bank accounts compared to global levels. With women in particular, because there are only 12 million in the labor force in a population of 100 million women, there is no obvious need for a bank account in the sense that they don’t have salaries. Many people begin with banks here because their salary is passed through bank accounts. At the same time, it is true that no bank has actively encouraged women. In the microfinance sector you see relatively high percentages of clients being women, but behind that you will see that men are often the real borrowers, the women are a front.

GBA:   There is obviously a huge market opportunity to serve women, what made HBL decide to take this on?

Sima Kamil:   It came from our leadership. The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) owns a majority share of the bank and are a strong advocate for women’s empowerment.

GBA:   Now that the strategic decision has been made to be the bank of choice for women, what stage are you at in your Women’s Market Program?

Sima Kamil:   We are in the design phase and expect to go to market in about 6 months. We have already started to build awareness throughout the bank. After going to the GBA Summit in Istanbul and then joining the Alliance, we had a workshop facilitated by the IFC. We’ve agreed that we will become the national champion for women, as a bank. We’ve decided to focus on all segments of women-homemakers, salaried women and women business owners-and we’ll start with homemakers and salaried and professionals first.

GBA:   That’s an interesting choice, many GBA banks start with women-owned SMEs first and then move to the consumer side. Why start with consumers?

Sima Kamil:   This is what we are good at, our clear strength. We are actually a mass market bank. We will set targets for branches to bring women in, we’ll fix the branches to make them more appealing and in this way we will build up serving women as part of our institutional culture as well as build up demand-side receptivity to the concept. We’ll probably wait a little before targeting women business owners more actively. SME is a hard nut to crack in this country, everyone has a high non-performing loan ratio, and so we have to fix that. We’ll experiment with ways to increase efficiencies including maybe using psychometric testing. With SMEs, we will start the program for the key subsectors that women have businesses in, specifically health, education, beauty and garments.

GBA:   With your initial focus on the consumer side, how do you think about segments within it?

Sima Kamil:   We are looking at all income levels. We have a lot of salaried workers, we go down to $100 a month, which is close to the minimum wage. As a mass market bank, the bulk of our customers are in the lower income ranges. In total, 20 per cent of our personal customers are women and if we are to increase that we have to look at the barriers they face. Mobility is a big issue for women, as is time. We are going to work on mobile phone banking. We already have branchless banking, using agents, and they’ll be able to use have their mobile wallet, open small value accounts and transact.

GBA:   Do you think you will be creating products to meet women’s specific needs?

Sima Kamil:   If we identify specific needs we can put something in place around those needs, but it must be available to men. And we will not get into subsidizing products for women. The main thing will be to increase the products’ visibility to women.

GBA:   What is your thinking about the women in business segment?

Sima Kamil:   A main barrier is that women don’t have collateral, and most banks will not lend clean, particularly to start-ups. A second issue, and this is probably common to the rest of the world, is that they are not as educated financially as men, so they do not have a business plan, and finally networking is a big issue. As I mentioned, they’re also concentrated in the few subsectors the general public find acceptable for women, specifically schools, clinics, nursing homes, beauty parlors and garments. They employ women and women are their customers.

GBA:   So in many ways they have a natural network, their own spaces?

Sima Kamil:   Exactly. We have already identified women who are good at garments and beauty. They are so good that they won’t mind inviting other women, bringing them to a branch, to share what made them successful and getting the networking going. Small businesses are very location specific, so competition will not be a problem. Karachi has 20 million people, so we can build on current networks to get them education and support. They’ll be happy to share business tips.

GBA:   I can imagine that with these kinds of gendered spaces, there are also some good marketing opportunities?

Sima Kamil:   Yes absolutely. I think for instance, refer a friend programs could work quite well.

GBA:   Given the cultural limitations on men interacting with women and vice versa, how will you get more women employed at the branches to interface with women customers?

Sima Kamil:   We have been successful to some degree at finding women. Once you have two or three, more will come. We have to really talk to the men, you can’t really just advertise and expect women to come forward. If they see that women are from the community this will help. Obviously the problem is more acute in rural areas. There are some parts of the country that women will not go out of the house. The hiring campaign will also showcase the women at the bank who have done well.

GBA:   Speaking of employee diversity, just 9 per cent of your employees are women. What are your initial thoughts on Diversity & Inclusion at the bank?

Sima Kamil:   The board has given us a target that 80 per cent of all new hires are to be women. We know that this will be quite a challenge but we are up for it. We’re kicking off in early December with a one and a half day workshop with 150 of our women leaders. The motto is that women matter, and women have value. We are going to talk to them about what we plan to do, listen to them about their own experiences in getting ahead, understand their views on the women’s market and what they see as the opportunities for the bank. It will be a chance for them to build up their networks and go out and spread the word through them. In terms of policies, we’re looking at a lot of things, including offering flexible hours so they can come in before the kids come home, because they are also our peak hours at the branches. We’re also going to include gender issues in all the training that we do. Our aim to be the employer of choice and the bank of choice for women will be built into all our training.

GBA:   Will you have targets for women in leadership?

Sima Kamil:   We don’t have a target for leadership positions. Our initial focus is at the branch level. We have 1,500 branches, so that will make an impact. Down the road, we may think about leadership targets but we want to make sure that this 80% hire is there. We don’t want too much push back, we have to get buy-in before we push.

GBA:   What specifically are your hopes for your new membership in the Alliance?

Sima Kamil:   To learn from your experiences and from the experiences of the members. We already got a lot out of the conference, and in the medium term, the mentoring and putting us in touch with resources. And then in the longer term, a year from now, hopefully we can share what we have learned with the rest. Thanks so much. It has actually been wonderful, we at HBL are very happy to be a member

—As told to the Global Banking Alliance for Women


Total assets: US$16.3B

Value of deposits: US$ 12.5B

# of employees: 14,000

% of employees that are women: 9

# of branches: 1,500

# of ATMs: 1,000