‘It is important to continue to push the reforms and progress’

What are clients looking for during the COVID era, what is the market sentiment and how to be a trusted partner – read in the interview with Alexander McWhorter, Head of Citi Ukraine.



-It’s been more than a year when COVID-19 appeared. How has investors’ behavior changed over this period?

- It’s been a journey for investors, and really investor behavior has gone through phases. At first no one knew the outcome, no one knew how long it’s going to last, how the economy would be hit. But then the vaccines started to roll out and we see clients becoming more optimistic. The conversation we are having with our clients are starting to be about longer term capital expenditures, and longer term planning. Capital market players are starting to come back to the Ukrainian bonds market. All in all, the Ukrainian economy performed much better than many people expected during COVID, but there are clearly a number of industries which have been severely impacted.

-What industries in Ukraine do you think worth investing in?

-It’s hard to find an industry in Ukraine which doesn’t have strong potential. Obviously there are the traditional economic drivers in Ukraine, such as agriculture and mining, but we are starting to see very successful companies in other sectors too, like telecom and IT which are growing incredibly fast. With highly educated workforce, it’s a great place to do manufacturing or any other value added industry in Ukraine.

-How did Citi Ukraine adapt to new working conditions, including taking care of employees?

-Сiti has been gone through the crises all around the world for the last 200 years, so we are good at crisis management. Worldwide and in particular in Ukraine, we focused on two key priorities and those are the safety of our employees, and continuation of services for our clients.

Most of our staff - from 70 to 95% - successfully worked remotely, and we are able to work remotely for a long period of time imposing safety restriction and all sorts of things in the office, while maintaining our full suite of services for our clients. We also realized that the pandemic would create financial pressure on many of our employees and we were able to make the special payments to 26% of our employees to help them deal with a challenging period – Citi did this globally for our staff around the world.

Generally it was a stressful period for people with a lot of challenges around.  There have been a lot of discussion about mental health and resources to try to help people to manage this challenging experience. As we are starting to come back to the office a little bit more and more over the time, we keep that focus going to ensure that we continue to serve our clients globally and maintain the safety of our staff. 

-Which of the challenges posed by the pandemic have been turned into successes?

-We have developed a number of digital solutions. For example, moving clients from paper based solutions to digital solutions was very successful. We also started switching for new digital products since we are the Best Corporate/Institutional Digital Bank in Ukraine by Global Finance World’s Best Digital Bank Awards 2020. This recognizes some of our digital capabilities. We have materially expanded the use of qualified digital signature, so that clients can pass documents back and forth and we have really done a lot to keep our clients and staff safe. We are becoming more digital and this is absolutely where we will be going forward.

-What are your plans from new solutions perspective?

-We are trying to find ways to help clients make payments including in foreign and domestic currencies more easily. We have a number of digital solutions in order to facilitate and automate a lot of this payment and we are developing more so it becomes easier for our clients to do business. And so that it also becomes a pleasant experience to work with us, so that is our key focus.  New regulations, such as the Derivatives law, enable us to start offering new risk management solutions to our clients. These are tools that are commonly used throughout the world to enable clients to manage risks such as FX, interest rates and commodity prices, and we are looking forward to start offering these to clients in Ukraine.

-What projects in Social Corporate Responsibility area were implemented over the past year?

- Citi in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world is very much focused on supporting the communities especially in the challenging times. Here in Ukraine we were able to make a large financial donation to UNICEF of $60,000 thousand dollars for the purchase of equipment and means of protection for more than 20 Ukraine hospitals. We had a number of volunteers, we helped communities, we are helping children in schools we are fundraising for disabled children, seniors, animal shelters and most recently we had a Global Community Day - where around the world all Citi colleagues do some sort of community initiatives. Unfortunately we are not able to get together as a group this year, so this year we asked our employees to go out in the woods to their grassroots or whenever they want to go with their families or anywhere around to pick up trash and help cleaning parks or streets. Overall more than 100 employees in Ukraine together with families and friends collected almost 400 kg of waste. This is something we feel very important about at all levels of the firm.

-What is the secret of Citi's success in the world? What defines Citi among other banks? 

-We have been here in Ukraine for 23 years, we have seen a lot, and we take a long term view of our firm here. So our focus is really around how to best serve our clients from a long term perspective. We are not trying to make a quick dollar or two, but we are building a long-term relationship and stay a trusted partner.

Citi works in more than 160 countries and jurisdictions, so we are able to bring the best investment practices from anywhere in the world across our global network as well as we are able to take our best solutions in Ukraine and take them to other countries from our experience here. We are able to bring our know-how experience from other countries to here as well and bring multinationals coming to Ukraine, investing in Ukraine at the same time as we are able to take Ukrainian companies to make them access to global markets to help them grow abroad. I think it’s a global know-how to combine with our local on ground presence, our legacy and history and been able to connect all things together.  This what makes Citi special.

-What is your advice to business and bank industry in Ukraine? 

-There is a lot of successes, and a lot of great things that we see every day in banking industry and we need to celebrate these more. While it is important to continue to push the reforms and progress, we need to recognize the great progress that has been made and the incredible transformation of the economy that has occurred. In Ukraine, there are a lot of incredible companies that are starting to go global and become global leaders, and we need to celebrate these successes and showcase these incredible stories to attract more investment to the country. We are sharing the same perspectives with our clients and investors.

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