Bank Republic: Spotlight on Corporate Banking
 Tbilisi 12:09 - 08.07.14 «GHN»
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This is the second installation in a series of articles that highlight Bank Republic Société Générale's corporate banking philosophy. Last month I had a chance to sit down and speak with Chief Commercial Officer of Bank Republic Mr. Ramaz Kukuladze and discuss how the bank's emphasis on relationship banking has helped Georgian companies achieve success. This month I met with the Head of the Corporate Banking Division of Bank Republic, Mrs. Ia Gabunia and discussed the bank's corporate banking strategy and achievements.
Société Générale Group celebrates 150 years of excellence

Société Générale Group (SG) is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. In Georgia, SG is represented by Bank Republic. Currently, Société Générale Group owns 93.64% share in Bank Republic stock, with the EBRD holding the remaining 6.36%, making Bank Republic Société Générale Group a purely European-owned bank. Reporting total assets of more than 1 billion GEL, the bank enjoys status as one of the most successful financial institutions in the country. Thanks to its universal business model, Bank Republic Société Générale Group remains a reliable long-term financial partner for individuals, micro, small and medium-sized organizations, as well as large corporations. Today, Bank Republic Société Générale Group ranks fifth on the Georgian market in total assets and is third in lending, generating a hefty GEL 88 million Net Banking Income (net interest income + net fee income)

Head of Corporate Banking Division of Bank Republic, Mrs. Ia Gabunia, explained that this anniversary is a remarkable event. As such, for this momentous occasion, Société Générale wanted to provide an additional dimension to its traditional corporate responsibility practice by expanding it to include a solidarity-based challenge, which is open to employees worldwide.
"With its emphasis on commitment, team spirit and solidarity, this event embodies the values that Société Générale wants to promote on its 150th anniversary. Team spirit is in fact one of the key aspects to our success with regard to building close relationships with our corporate banking clients. This is our number one value. We have always been convinced that a team's strength does not come solely from its members' individual talents, but rather from its collective spirit.
Keeping with the entrepreneurial spirit of many of the top corporate entities in the world, corporate responsibility is a facet of business that Bank Republic takes very seriously.

"We make a great effort to contribute to the development of small and medium sized businesses in Georgia. We aim to accomplish this by implementing and sponsoring projects directed at assisting Georgia's business community," Gabunia said.

Gabunia explains that aside from the traditional projects Bank Republic implements, BR recently decided to establish a newly created pro-bono business forum to assist local small and medium businesses.

"The pro-bono forum was a one-day interactive event with the participation of our business clients. During the forum, senior management of Bank Republic and specialists from various fields share their expertise with local businesses," Gabunia said.

"By offering our financial consultancy, we are then able to contribute to the development of local businesses. Why is this so important? Because of the expertise we offer. By sharing the wealth of knowledge the bank has accrued over the last 150 years, we are able to offer small, medium and corporate clients financial insight that might not otherwise be readily available to them. We hope that the experience, expertise and insight we provide will help them grow and achieve greater success in their business pursuits."

A Relationship is Born

Gabunia points out that Bank Republic's dedication to assisting the client is not just relegated to corporate responsibility projects. The bank understands that each and every business is unique, and attributes significant importance to understanding the characteristics and intrinsic details of each company. This approach includes a detailed study of the client, after which the bank then advises its clients on the best possible solutions, services and products, which are tailor- made to suit the company's individual needs. The Georgian-based Borun Agro-Chemistry LLC is no exception.

"Borun Agro-Chemistry recently approached us with a financing request. The move was made to better accommodate the company's needs and to position it for greater market success in the future. One of the chief reasons that Borun Agro-Chemistry selected Bank Republic as its financial partner was due to the emphasis Bank Republic places on relationship banking," says Gabunia.

Borun Agro-Chemistry LLC is a member of the Borun Group. The company is involved in the import and distribution of a wide array of agro-chemical products. Among other well-known brands, Borun Agro-Chemistry owns the rights to distribute such prominent manufacturers' products as Agro-Sciences (US), Scotts International (The Netherlands) and Agrofill (Italy).
Borun Agro-Chemistry LLC was originally part of Agro Georgia LLC, a company that had been operating on the Georgian market since 2002. During this period, Agro Georgia LLC was a leading force in the industry, covering 30-40% of the Georgian agro-chemical market.
In 2009, the Borun Group purchased 50% of Agro Georgia, becoming a managing partner in a group that would later be renamed Borun Agro-Chemistry. Soon after the merger, the company began to expand its product range and classification. Currently, the company imports products from 14 countries and offers the widest range of products and services on the Georgian market.
The company also runs 10 farming centers where it offers agro consultations for farmers, laboratory services for plant and land testing, as well as the rental of heavy equipment. Covering nearly 85% of the total Georgian market, Borun Agro-Chemistry has 80 sale-points throughout the country.
"At the beginning, when we receive all the information on a specific client, we carefully structure the deal according to the client's needs. And because agricultural industry is often seasonal with regard to peak output, Borun Agro-Chemistry approached Bank Republic with a fixed timetable for which it needed financing. So, from the very start, we set out to address this need along with the company's desire to secure financial terms that suited its immediate and long-term interests," Gabunia underlined.
"The main issue and number one point was flexibility. Our business is seasonal, so each day is important for us. There was an urgent need to receive an answer in a short period of time, and they came through for us," explains Levan Aroshidze, the Director of Borun Agro-Chemistry, adding that "the cooperation between us and Bank Republic on each detail of the loan agreement, as well as our need to receive additional financing, went very smoothly. We were very satisfied with Bank Republic's relationship-approach to corporate banking."
Because time was absolutely critical to Borun Agro-Chemistry, Bank Republic worked very hard to accommodate the company's specific timetable. In the end, the client's satisfaction can be attributed to Bank Republic's corporate banking philosophy that aims to tailor its products and services to the client's particular needs.
Asked if there was a particular aspect to working with Bank Republic that stood out in the process, Aroshidze underscored that it was the quickly-established relationship the bank brokered between them that was so remarkable.
"First of all, from a business-to-business point of view, our cooperation started very smoothly. However, if you put aside the business aspect, it was the personal relationship that they fostered between us that really stood out. The banking managers who worked on our loan had a very friendly approach, and this made things very easy. What I want to emphasize is that, we did not just become business partners, we also became friends," said Aroshidze.
Reiterating again how crucial the company's timetable was in the loan structuring process, Aroshidze explained that "each issue during the process that would normally take at least two weeks or one month at other institutions, was solved in one week's time working with Bank Republic."
Aside from its aim to develop close, long-term personal relationships with its clients, Bank Republic also seeks to provide its clients with terms that will ultimately assist them in achieving greater business success.
"Because of Bank Republic's international presence, we offer flexible terms for our clients with regard to international trade finance. Given the fact that the client's main activity is import and trading, it was important for them to receive terms, that were not only favorable, but also structured in a way that mitigates the risks associated with international trade. Our experienced and professional corporate banking staff provided a payment method that corresponded to these needs exactly," Gabunia said.
This ease of doing business can be attributed to the fact that Bank Republic maintains a direct channel of communication with the other international branches of Société Générale, so their products are much more flexible and attractively priced than other local Georgian banks.
According to Aroshidze, the biggest issue in Georgia is time.
"Businesses may ultimately receive the loan and finance terms they desire, but they lose too much time in the communication aspects with the international banks that are also involved in the process. In our case, the flexibility of Bank Republic's international network made the whole process move quickly," Aroshidze explained.
Aroshidze says that his company's experience with Bank Republic has been a very positive one, but Bank Republic's relationship approach is what really sets it apart.

"At the end of the day, our decision to partner with Bank Republic was not just based on the favorable interest rate they offered us. It's not about this. You feel protected with a good partner, and a bank must be a real partner. There are many important business details that require a bank's close support, so it is important to know that the bank is together with you. This is much more important than simply the financial aspects. Working with Bank Republic provided us with all of these things," Aroshidze said.
Looking to the Future
With another client satisfied with Bank Republic's personalized corporate banking approach, I asked Ia Gabunia how the bank achieved the success that it has and where the bank stands going forward.
"If we have succeeded in making our bank into what it is today, after successfully navigating through even the turbulent times, it is largely due to the strength of our universal banking model, our capacity to maintain our clients' trust, our ability to learn from our mistakes and our exceptional determination and commitment. We hope that we can continue moving forward by improving the products we offer and fostering personal relationships with our clients. Entrepreneurial spirit, innovation and teamwork... These are our historical strengths that provide us with the momentum to project ourselves into the future. Added to this is Société Générale's expertise, and our ongoing commitment at the service of our clients," said Gabunia.

By Shota Machavariani

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