Ahmed Issa, chief executive officer of retail banking at CIB: My Morning Routine looks each week at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions just for fun. Speaking to us this week is Ahmed Issa, who leads retail banking at CIB.
My name is Ahmed Issa, and I’m a grateful son, a loving husband, and the proud father of three children, as well as a dedicated Egyptian banker. I live in Cairo with my family, and I’m the chief executive officer for retail banking and a member of the board’s executive committee at CIB, the country’s largest private sector bank and the EGX’s largest listed company.
I’m fortunate enough to regard what I do as a vocation. Bankers go to work to collect the savings of the nation and choose who should areceive them. We also facilitate payment and trade by assuming risk. These are very important goals. Banks now intermediate about EGP 4 tn of the savings of Egyptians. There might be a quarter of a mn bankers currently working in Egypt, and they go to work every day to collect these savings and deploy them. That’s a great purpose in life, and it fills me with a huge amount of energy and drive.
At CIB, I’m in charge of business activities within consumer and business banking and distribution networks. This means that my team and I are in charge of all the bank’s relationships with consumers and small and medium-sized businesses that have a revenue of less than EGP 200 mn. Our customer base is growing rapidly: We currently serve 1.7 mn and I believe this number will grow to 2 mn in 2020 on the consumer side. On the business banking side, we currently serve some 50,000 business customers, and we hope to double this figure by the end of 2023. I’m also part of the team (with four others) that runs the bank on a day-to-day basis.
I have a couple of other affiliations: I chair the Banking Committee at the American Chamber of Commerce, and I sit on the boards of the EgyptAir holding company and the Egypt Trade Development Authority.
My retail banking team is the best, without question. In 2015, when I assumed my current role, we were only serving 700k customers. We’ve managed to increase the number of customers we serve to 1.7 mn, while only growing our branches by 16-17% and our workforce by 15%. So everyone’s productivity has grown quickly in a very short period of time.
Friday mornings are my favorite mornings. I wake early, go to the gym, and prepare breakfast for my family and, often, some close friends. Then the extended family will join us for lunch and we might gather as a group of 20 between 2pm and 5 or 6pm. I really enjoy this time a lot. The day is always busy, but it’s important to break from work and spend quality time with the people in my life. On weekdays and Saturdays, I typically wake at 6am. I check my emails, and read Enterprise, Bloomberg and the FT before usually leaving home within the hour. I commute an hour each way to the office, and like to use this time for reading or making personal calls. I still enjoy reading print newspapers, so usually have Al Ahram and Al Masry Al Youm in the car, and will read a couple of pages from the Qur’an there as well.
There is no such thing as a typical day, but usually my days are filled with meetings and pre-arranged tasks, from 9am to 9pm. On some days, I might have huddle meetings with my team, committee meetings, or a board meeting. On others, I’ll be moderating a panel at AmCham or chairing the banking committee. I try to make Tuesdays an exception, keeping my schedule empty to leave some time for thinking or chances to communicate more personally with my team. The schedule usually ends up being filled at the last minute, but I aim to keep it available for that purpose.
I often visit CIB branches, especially when work is stressful. I find it gives me a lot of energy, and honestly I find the efforts that I see the tellers do on a daily basis very humbling. It also reminds me of how I started my CIB career: As a customer service clerk in our Mohandiseen branch, back in 1993.
I’m a strong believer that time is the most important resource anyone has, and the shape or design of my days regularly changes based on what I believe will generate the best return on my time, and in alignment with my priorities and objectives of the moment.
Recently, I found myself re-reading The Mystery Of Capital by Hernando de Soto, which examines why capitalism triumphs in the West and fails everywhere else. The book looks at how nations deploy their savings, which is a topic I’ve always been passionate about. I recommend it very highly, and believe it’s something that all emerging market policymakers should read, especially those that set policies on the ownership of real estate assets and the deployment of savings in their countries.
People often ask me why banks don’t build companies. I believe this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the value banks add to our stakeholders. We manage risks in the economy — so the key skill set of banks and bankers lies in estimating the creditworthiness of a borrower. Bankers typically don’t know how to manage a manufacturing facility or an agri-business, but we know if the company’s manager is capable of managing his or her own business, so as to eventually return the capital of the savings of Egyptian people. These are two different sets of skills.
Without a doubt, the banking industry will be impacted by digitization and the risk of disruption. When blockchain, AI, cloud computing and data analytics collide at a point in the future, banking will be changed irrevocably. And bankers who are not preparing for that day will face huge disruption. They may face the same fate as Kodak and Nokia.
Throughout my career, I’ve been very lucky to have been exposed to great business minds, from whom I’ve learned so much. From Hisham Ezz El Arab, I learned the importance of sharpening the saw and preparing. From Jawaid Mirza, I learned resilience: Failure is never eternal unless you want it to be, and the more resilient or buoyant you can be, the more you can advance. These two lessons are based on principles of humility coupled with strong resolve — and I believe these values are essential for any successful business and any successful businessperson, to sustain success over a long period of time.