FAST MOVER: CÉSAR GONZÁLEZ-BUENO, GULF BANK
It’s been nearly a year since César González-Bueno took the helm at Gulf Bank, and it’s clear the company’s new chief executive hit the ground running. Global Finance interviewed González-Bueno in his Kuwait office, where he spoke about the bank’s resurgence since the financial crisis—and his plans to dramatically expand the company’s footprint and boost profits over the next five years.
Global Finance: How do you feel about the direction the bank is headed in now? Obviously, the bank has had some problems in the past.
González-Bueno: The bank has been cleaned up. I think my predecessors, including the regulator, have done a phenomenal job. The bank is on its feet. You look at the major figures and they reflect that. Because of the high provisioning in the past, many of our assets have more value than their book value.
So the good thing about the bank is that it’s not only very well-provisioned now, but that on top of that, you have assets that have more value than what is reflected in the books.
[The bank is] more solvent than even the numbers reflect, which is why we are getting a lot of traction with rating agencies. It’s because of this new situation of the bank, of being “clean,” that the board decided that it wanted to go more to what we could call a growth model.
GF: So are you talking about expanding the product line or hiking the number of branches. Or are you talking about more acquisitions?
González-Bueno: We are in the process of implementing them and finalizing them—research, implementation and so forth. And there are several sources, there is not only one source of growth. I think we will be more innovative than the average.
GF: Do you plan on offering a larger selection of wealth products?
González-Bueno: That would be one of the elements. We do have mutual funds—some very successful, mainly in real estate. We have just launched another fund that is very attractive. It is replicating trade finance products that have a very stable yield over the years, a very good track record of very stable yields for the most conservative [investor]. We have taken initiatives for this year. Ten of them are related to products and services, both in retail and wholesale, and one of them is around wealth management.
GF: Would you describe these initiatives as a new vision?
González-Bueno: Yes, but not in a grandiose way…. There is no vision in saying that the world is changing at very rapid speed. There is no content in that.
The major thing is implementation, not strategy. Everybody knows that to serve your clients better you have to have better products that differentiate you. The question is, how will you adapt to that and how will you make a difference? The other important question is how are you…going to be a winner in doing that transformation? That is what we are hoping to do better than the rest.
GF: Where do you think the bank will be in five years’ time?
González-Bueno: I think the bank will be more or less twice its current size. The question is what will the profitability be? The profitability will have multiplied by several times.