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Standard Chartered CEO on Marketing Bangladesh

2012-03-06__bs01With a growth outlook of upwards of 6 percent, an overall stable credit rating, a sizeable youthful and flexible demographic, and a Goldman Sachs billing of ‘one to watch out’, Bangladesh presents a rather interesting investment case.

But all too often, it gets buried under news of natural or man-made disasters or political strife. In other words, the investment case for Bangladesh could do with some publicity.

Enter: the Bangladesh Investment Summit, the brainchild of Standard Chartered Bangladesh that provides a platform for the country’s regulators, government higher-ups, banks and corporates to market the land’s investment climate to foreign investors and just piques interest.

“As the leading bank in this country for more than 100 years, it was clear to us that more investor activity is required so that the economy could grow and really expand,” Jim McCabe, chief executive officer of SCB, told The Daily Star on the eve of the third edition of the summit.
Subsequently, the British bank reached out to FinanceAsia, the continent’s leading financial publishing company, about creating a platform to, basically, promote the country’s investment opportunities on the world stage.

In December 2012, they put together a conference in Singapore, Asia’s financial hub, which the SCB CEO says was very successful.
“In 2013, when the political situation and the violence got many concerned, we still felt it important to continue the story and not to stop as if we thought things have changed.”

So, another conference was held in June last year but in London, the finance capital of Europe, to target investors from that continent. “We were very, very pleased to have it fully subscribed — 350 investors from London were there.”

“And so now that the first half of the year is over with and we have had the budget and everything, we thought its time again to remind, to refresh and to expand the interest in the country. So the timing seems quite appropriate.”

This year’s summit, to be held again in Singapore, would shed light on topics such as the economy’s near-term outlook and key risks, foreign investment initiatives by the Board of Investment, yield versus risk criteria that Bangladesh has to offer, and access routes for foreign investors to the country’s debt and equity capital markets.

The country’s export diversification strategy, infrastructure projects, tenders under public-private partnership, growth prospects for local corporates and potential for multinational corporations would also be discussed at lengths.

Gowher Rizvi, prime minister’s foreign affairs adviser, would present a keynote paper on Bangladesh’s new narrative, while Farooq Sobhan, president of the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, would give a speech on the investment opportunities in the country.

Asked what Bangladesh’s unique selling point is, McCabe said: “Its potential and the fact that it sits geopolitically in the middle of a very sweet spot between big economies like China and India.”

The potential, the American banker says, is nowhere near full utilisation. “The 160 million Bangladeshis are hard-working people — I think they are easy to train and develop for new skills. It is a very rich opportunity.”

The attendants in the past two summits, who ranged from asset managers to private banks, private equity firms to big corporations, were “pleasantly surprised” by all that the country has to provide for foreign investors.

“Now, some people may have come not knowing much about Bangladesh. They left saying, ‘Wow, I had no idea’. Other people, maybe, knew Bangladesh from before and had disengaged for a number of years. They came back saying, ‘Wow, I need to pay more attention to this’.”

“Or, a third group, who know about it, said, ‘Thanks for the update. It reaffirms that I need to be thinking in the same way I am or I need to step up’,” the SCB CEO said, adding that the events were great networking opportunities as well.

Asked if there have been tangible effect of the past two summits, he said: “After the opening summit in Singapore, we were very proud that foreign investment funds started buying government securities in Dhaka. This means they have faith in the currency and they were buying it completely unhedged.”

And since then, the volume has only been growing, said McCabe, who has been serving in his current position since November 2009.
“It’s not an enormous amount of money, but what that means is that they want to add Bangladesh to their portfolio — and that’s a good sign.”

The SCB CEO said the government is found wanting when it comes to execution: it lays out its aspirations but the focus is seldom on implementation. “You can stand up and pick indicators all you want, but at the end of the day, you have to make it happen.”

Going forward, all public and private sector emphasis needs to be on executing; the potential is so good that there would be good targets to be met.

“Rather than philosophically discussing that inflation should be this and growth should be that, just do it — get out there, do it day in and day out and watch things happen. I think that’s attitude to take.”

The conversation is not about what is wrong — it is about what could be right or what could be better.

Still, McCabe is optimistic of what lies ahead for the country, particularly the year 2015 as all the momentum that has been picking up 3-4 months post the national elections will crescendo then.

As for his expectations from today’s event, he said he hopes it will be a good plug for the country’s potential — and that it piques people’s interests in Bangladesh.  

“If we get that alone, that’s very powerful. It will give us momentum into 2015 and beyond.”


Report : Zina Tasreen, from Singapore
Source: Daily Star 

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