Interviews

AFM Barkatullah, Deputy Managing Director & Head of Retail Business, IPDC Finance Limited.

Leader by instinct, forward looking banker by profession, AFM Barkatullah has been working in the financial industry for the last 16 years. Besides being the Deputy Managing Director of IPDC Finance, he is leading the retail business unit of the organization. His business acumen, people leadership, and ability to challenge the convention have made him an inspirational leader in the industry. He is now involved in transforming the oldest private sector finance institution towards the next generation consumer focus organization.
Prior to joining IPDC, Barkatullah has worked with Citi, Standard Chartered, and HSBC in Bangladesh as well as in emerging Asian markets in various cash management, credit risk, treasury operations, project management, and trade products roles.

“We want to set new benchmarks in product innovation, services delivery, and customer care in the industry, while remaining to be a humble and learning organization.”

Please tell us about your journey in IPDC Finance Ltd.?
I joined IPDC back in 2013. It’s been 4 years in calendar, but to me it’s just like yesterday. As the oldest private sector financial institution, IPDC has a strong heritage; at the same time, IPDC is a vibrant organization led by the youngest management team of the industry. Last 4 years have been extremely engaging for me. Keeping customers in mind, we have taken initiatives to rebuild and reorganize IPDC for a sustainable future. We have diversified our business in different new verticals, such as channel financing, medium market enterprise, and retail, with the support of technology and robust end to end operational excellence. I am fortunate to be a part of these transformations.
Since January 2017, I am leading the retail business unit of IPDC Finance Ltd. The consumer market is evolving rapidly as the country is progressing; our customers are our inspirations. I am thrilled about the journey till today and ahead.

What are the strategic areas you are focusing on now?
We are a lucky generation. We are living in a time when 50% of country’s population are aged between 20 to 50. This talented and hardworking people are involved in income generating activities. This is the time when consumerism is having exponential growth. We want to build our business based on this. I am thankful to our board for rightly guiding us to unlock this growth. Our interest is in the areas where our customers demand is. As a result, we have set our vision to be number one consumer brand of the country by 2020. We have keen interest to work on household things such as home loan, bringing convenience to home, with special focus on women.

IPDC seems to get momentum among consumers, what is the secret behind it?
This company is run by passionate people, who put their customers at the heart of everything. Since our rebranding, in just less than a year, we have transformed IPDC in to a more human-centric brand rather than just a colorful visual. Our slogan “Jaago Ucchashe” has been accepted and appreciated by our consumers. We have successfully implanted the same value among our people, who are dedicated to ensure the best service experience for every single customer. As we are evolving, we are becoming a more approachable and persuadable company. The doors of the management team members are always open, which speeds up the swiftness of our deliverables. At the same time, we have successfully improvised our products with relevant value-added services and competitive offerings. Most importantly, we are fortunate to have talents from across the industry and the team is relentlessly delivering excellence in our day-to-day operations.

Consumers these days are fast and demanding. How do you plan to serve this group in the future?
Customers are our stimulus to go extra mile. We welcome the evolution of customers’ preferences, and the way they seek new solutions. Customers are more informant than ever before. This trend makes us think and act in an unconventional way. Instead of preparing for a particular plan, we are willing and prepared to be more versatile. We are building platforms instead of straight-forward offerings. Our platforms will enable our customers to seek more from us, and at the same time, we aspire to deliver the same.
Our nation is in a highway of development; thus, we are enhancing our capacity to offer home loan across the country. We believe, this will be the most popular product at least for the next decade. I strongly believe, this will make IPDC the most cherished name in every household. We are gearing up for consumer white goods financing. We see a potential of consumer white goods financing beyond credit card based EMIs. Our offerings are targeted for the people and their household. In every life event of our customers, IPDC will be there.

How close is IPDC towards its goal?
The more we are touching milestones, the far we are targeting. It is like a never-ending journey. This year we are going to achieve 3 times growth in retail business than 2016. I doubt if there is any other company with such growth extent. We have been blessed to serve customers who are excellent, and as a result we are having the lowest NPL in the industry. Our productivity per person is the highest in the industry. All these achievements are not limiting our hunger, rather we are aiming even higher. It is difficult to set a goal for a young and spirited team like IPDC team. We want to expand our presence across the country so that we are accessible to all people across the country. We want to set new benchmarks in products innovation, services delivery, and customer care in the industry, while remaining to be a humble and learning organization. That’s how we are heading towards our goal, you can say.

Businesses must face competition to grow. How do you combat the competition you face from other players in the market?
Competition benefits customers. Yes, there are competitions in the market and we appreciate our competitors. But I would defer with the term competition in this industry. See, this nation is growing, the people are aspiring for development. We need more consumer-centric offerings, more accessible solutions, and that too beyond megacities. We merely complement each other rather than competing with each other. We all can grow, and eventually that will enable our customers to grow.
As you have asked about combating competition, we work to deliver the best value to the customers and stakeholders and we engage to attract and retain the best talents. You can match the market offering but cannot match the people quality. We believe, this way we will be staying ahead of others, and creating a positive impact in the industry.

What are the challenges that can create obstacle towards your goals? How are you preparing to overcome those?
Speed and Distance, these are the two things that I would want to address as challenges. It is extremely important to be big, yet fast and accurate. At the same time, the more we are expanding our network, the more challenging it is to ensure service quality. The customers we deal in metros are symmetrical, predictable. The situation becomes more challenging when we go beyond metros, when we go beyond the comfort zones.
We are working on process re-engineering and process automation. We believe, technology along with the right people will keep us on track. I would say customers are helping us in this regard too. We are one of the very few organizations in the industry who offer real-time web-chat option. You will be surprised to know that most of the queries we receive are from outside Dhaka and Chittagong. A simple solution has enabled us to respond to customer queries in real-time.

You have put emphasis on talents? What do you look for when you recruit an employee?
IPDC is an extremely employee friendly organization. People love being here. We help people grow with new challenges, right management support, and learning opportunities. We send our employees overseas for training and development.
From the very first interview, we seek the right attitude and passion. We recruit those whose best is yet to come, the candidate who can replace me in next few years. We count more on attitude than experience, that’s why we have emerged as one of the most aspired employer among fresh candidates. It is the same philosophy that top European football managers follow- looking for potentials rather than existing performance.

With adaptation of new technologies, many companies are actually letting a part of their workforce go. How are you managing your workforce being dependent of technology?
People still matter. Technology marches relentlessly forward, and it would be foolish to argue otherwise, however, some things remain fundamental, and people-to-people communication will continue to be one of them. Technology cannot replace the human touch.
A service-based organization like IPDC require human interaction, a person who is good at their job and understands when to adjust and the subtleties that are required. As a matter of fact, our workforce has increased 5 times in a year. Modern technologies and process automation like implementation of state of the art Clients’ Relationship Management system have been implemented to ease the lives of our people, and speed up the processes so that we can serve our customers without delay.

Does IPDC have any innovative product now at the pipeline? What are its future plans?
There are many product options, we are working on. However, we follow a simple formula of offering simple products with great love that benefits our life as a whole.
“A Home for Every Family” – with this motto in mind, IPDC has started to roll out its Affordable Home Loan for the people beyond the megacities. Breaking the traditional norms, we are reaching out to every person of Bangladesh across the country. They get access to insured loan and can even deposit their hard-earned money in a reliable institution without worry and any hassle. Our sales forces are being spread out all over Bangladesh, from North to South, from East to West.
We have special offers for women entrepreneurs and women in general. Women are undoubtedly of supreme power. From taking a company forward to driving their kids to school; from running the country to managing their household – women are capable of multi-tasking graciously. There are so many women that need to be empowered because women empowerment leads to more economic benefits not to the individuals but to the society as well.
We are working on Girl Child Deposit at the moment. Daughters are precious, and their education, well-being, and marriage are the top priority for any parents. So, a small initiative by IPDC towards securing their future.
We have a full pledged function called Business Transformation, this function continuously drives innovation in our organization. With time, I am sure we will be bringing various new products and services for our customers all over Bangladesh.

Any last thought that you want to share?
As I said earlier, we are in our ride to development. The major catalyst of this is our spirited youth. They inspire me to deliver more. I believe this spirit will be transferred and we will be able to create multiplicity of possibilities. I am sure, together we will contribute to unleash the unbound possibilities of our economy.

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