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Commerzbank is a leading international commercial bank with branches and offices in more than 50 countries BASED IN Germany. The core markets of Commerzbank are Germany and Poland.
Commerzbank finances more than 30 percent of Germany’s foreign trade and is the unchallenged leader in financing for SMEs. In total, Commerzbank boasts approximately 15 million private customers, as well as one million business and corporate clients. The bank, which was founded in 1870, is represented at all the world’s major stock exchanges. In 2013, it generated gross revenues of more than EUR 9 billion with approximately 54,000 employees on average.
The Commerzbank opened a representative office in Ethiopia in October 2007. The office’s main target is to maintain close contacts with the National Bank of Ethiopia, local banks and other institutions. The office will also perform representative functions and carry out market research. Commerzbank’s Chairman of the Board of Managing Directors Martin Blessing on February 6, visited Ethiopia and met with officials of the country. During his visit he talked to Capital’s Groum Abate about the purpose of his visit and what office have been doing so far. Excerpts;
Capital: What is your main purpose of visit?
Martin Blessing: Personally, it’s my first time in Ethiopia. But Commerzbank started doing business here in 1958, so for 57 years. We opened an office here in 2007, and actually it has been a very successful development. If you look at the numbers of your country, its growth has been fantastic over the last couple of years. And as one of the major trade banks in Europe but also globally, we are happy to be here in Africa. We have just opened our 7th office in Africa last week in Abidjan, and being in Africa we see one of our most successful places.
Capital: What is the main area of focus for your bank here in Ethiopia?
Blessing: Commerzbank was actually founded in 1870 to promote trade. So the DNA of the bank is trade services, so we try to be present in countries where there are interesting opportunities for trade related services. We normally do business with other banks – you have a good banking system here – and we basically try to help companies to import and export through the banking system by providing financial services. Eastern Africa and your country in particular are very interesting – and we wish to use your country as the hub for some of the neighboring businesses.
Capital: Your main focuses have been small and medium enterprises in Germany, so do you have any plans to support this in Ethiopia, to some sorts of assurances and such?
Blessing: We help them in becoming international companies by providing export help. We do pure business financing of these companies here in Ethiopia because we believe that the banks in Ethiopia are better at deciding who has the good credit and doesn’t have such a good credit. Therefore our competitive advantage is the international focus and housing of exports and knowing the global market, while a local lender here in the Ethiopian market means the Ethiopian banking system is much better equipped to do this than we are.
Capital: Do you facilitate large loans to the government and other large projects?
Blessing: If there are large international trade projects: Yes. What we could also help with is in providing access to markets that is needed or wanted. These are the kinds of things we do. But what we mainly focus on as a bank is the trade business. So, a lot of trade from what you import here from Europe and Asia is basically managed through Commerzbank. And these are some of the things we will continue to do in the future.
Capital: You met with the minister of finance and economic development, what were you talking about?
Blessing: We talked about the development of your country. How the economy is growing. What the different investment plans are. How the banking system is structured and developed. How the banking system might develop in the future. Whether we can provide additional services, not only in trade but, for example, access to capital markets – there were a range of topics that we debated. Actually, I learned a lot about the structure of the Ethiopian market and the government’s plans to develop your country.
Capital: Do you help German companies to invest here?
Blessing: That is actually part of our business model. We try to give as much support to German companies that want to go international. I mean we can’t force them to invest, we can only offer to help and offer knowledge about the country, and that is something we would definitely do if some companies wanted to invest in other markets – we also provide consultancy for them.
Capital: If the banking sector opens up to foreigners, would you consider coming here?
Blessing: At this point in time, I can’t accurately answer your question because I know that your government is basically focusing on projects in investment – that is still high on the agenda. On the other hand, I also have the feeling that the banking market here is not fully opened yet.
Capital: You operate formal banking businesses in other African countries…
Blessing: In Africa, we are mainly doing trade services so we have those certain office. We don’t do booking services in African but we also do a lot of capital market business for different companies and governments within Africa. But in terms of booking hubs, we are not currently doing that in Africa.
Capital: You mentioned being involved in the capital market, do you plan to involve in the euro bond Ethiopia is going to issue in the future?
Blessing: Well we are always happy to provide services when we can, but we believe that, in terms of acquiring business banking is a conservative industry so your clients don’t like it when you talk too much about future potential businesses so the likelihood of winning that business is diminished the more you talk in advance about it. But, of course, we are in the business of making money and deals so we are always interested in making more deals in general and if we think we can offer good services, we will try to convince clients and future clients the same.
Capital: Do you have any specific projects you are involved in Ethiopia?
Blessing: Nothing that I could basically mention here
Capital: But you have one?
Blessing: Well, we are involved in several transactions but, as we say, there are certain bank secrecies so I never talk about certain names and companies specifically. If they are not already public, I never talk about individual transactions.
So we are very happy to be in your country. If we look at the growth, for Ethiopia within the last couple of years, it’s higher than the Chinese growth rate and most European countries would be happy if they had 20% of your growth rate. So we are quite optimistic that the country has bright future, and will continue to develop. We are happy to be here and that we can support the country and the businesses in this country.