Armeconombank has a wide international cooperation network, and throughout the over 30 years of activity has successfully accomplished about 120 projects by attracting financial resources equivalent to about USD 640m directed to the development of the economy in Armenia.

We spoke with Astghik Manrikyan, Deputy CEO for International Operations and Development of Armeconombank OJSC, on successful international cooperation of the Bank, achievements, current challenges, plans, and the role of female entrepreneurs/employees.

  1. The cooperation of Armeconombank with leading international institutions has a long history. How did it start, what impact did those relations have on the Bank's development, and what approaches does working with international structures require?

Since the 2000s, the Bank has chosen the strategic path of working with international partners, and in 2004 it took a more active and radical course as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) acquired 25% shareholding in Armeconombank, which remained a shareholder about 15 years.

Such a launch significantly affected on external strategic trajectory in terms of building a culture of managing sensitive partner relationships, ability to use an attractive set of cutting-edge expertise, and fulfilling its mission of embedding such expertise in our economy.

Currently the Bank cooperates with almost all leading financial institutions, and it managed to accomplish about 120 successful projects aimed at the development of micro, small and medium enterprises.

Along our way of becoming a reliable partner and being accepted as a reliable partner we have constantly gained knowledge and even now we continue to learn from our partner international institutions within the framework of our joint activities, the related consultancy as well as thanks to the technical support provided by them. The work with international partners is a continuous, consistent, everyday work requiring accountability, transparency, quick responses, and sometimes even placing good relationship over business interests and approaches.

  1. What are the directions selected by the Bank to utilize the funds from international institutions, and what projects do you prefer?

It is a well-known fact that SMEs are the driving force of the economy and the Bank has been focusing on the funding of that sector of business for quite a while, which the international partners also consider important. As for prioritizing specific types of projects, they appear due to the imperative of time. For example, 5-10 years ago preference was given to the financing of female entrepreneurs or projects aimed at reducing inequality in general, and before that, to import and export projects without any special features, and now, due to climate challenges, the financing of green projects has gained priority as they are aimed at environment protection, resolution of urgent environmental issues, or involve new technological approaches.

  1. In the context of international cooperation with reputable international institutions, what are the existing challenges and opportunities, and what new collaborations are expected for the near future?

Of course, challenges change relative to the specifics of the particular time period. For instance, in the past, when collaborating with correspondent partners, the primary concern was the number of transfers we would be able to secure with a particular correspondent to make the collaboration efficient for all parties involved or, for example, how we could ensure that all of the required fields for transfer were properly filled in without human intervention to be valid and make the transfer reach the final beneficiary. Currently, the main challenges have prioritized the need for compliance with the rather stringent requirements of AML/CFT and international sanctions, which Armeconombank has been implementing continuously, and often on the account of its business interests.

From the resource attraction perspective, if in the past the initial steps of negotiations with each new international institution was difficult enough, because we had to put efforts in demonstrating the Bank’s strength and the country’s potential, today, based on our accomplishments and experience parallel to the opportunities that emerged after geopolitical changes, the dialogue is somewhat easier. On the other hand, the resources offered have become less attractive in terms of cost effectiveness, yet we keep trying to find beneficial common points with our partners and sustain the important collaboration instances.

I would like to mention that last week Yerevan hosted the EBRD annual conference for the first time and is bringing together about 3000 high-level representatives from international organizations. During this conference, the Bank signed a loan agreement for USD 10m equivalent in AMD with EBRD to finance micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises. This projects aim to promote economic inclusion intending to allocate approximately 30% of the loan proceeds for on-lending to businesses in the regions of Armenia. This agreement is already the 15th signed between the Bank and EBRD since 2000, and it will bring the total of the facilities received from this partner to USD 83.0m. By the end of the year, the Bank plans to sign several more credit agreements with existing and new partners.

  1. You referred to lending to female entrepreneurs. What is the situation with these borrowers and how has it changed over the past 5-10 years as you mentioned?

For many years now, we have been implementing such projects with several financial institutions, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Dutch Development Bank (FMO), and others. Alongside financial packages, we have also received significant technical assistance ranging from product recognition and enhancement of financial literacy to associated advisory services and even allocation of a dedicated information platform in the Bank's website, success story sharing, and incorporation of similar projects in the Bank's overall development strategy.

The significance of the financial support to women in business has not declined until now, and the priority of the relevant projects has not decreased either. However, they have gradually undergone noticeable changes. If previously the success of such projects required significant efforts aimed at enhancing financial literacy or human resource development among women and running marketing campaigns , now these undertakings have gained appropriate momentum and keep developing quite dynamically while female entrepreneurs meanwhile have become more experienced, assertive, and proactive.

In my opinion, the nearest future these gender-based dividers will wither disappear or, at least, will transform into something very insignificant.

  1. What is the Bank’s approach to female employees? Does the Bank provide equal conditions for female employees and their progress, and what values do women add to the Bank’s development.

Recently, the World Bank published an employment rating for women, where Armenia ranks the first in the world with an indicator of about 53%. Nevertheless, it is important to look at the ratio of female managers in the overall number of employed women – I believe we still have things to improve in this area.

For years, the Bank has been emphasizing the importance of female leaders within our institution and sharing the relevant approaches of international institutions regarding their employment and progress.

I should mention that the female workforce in our Bank constitutes around 65% among 1000 employees, and 14% of them hold managerial positions - heads of departments and divisions, branch managers, and 4 of them are in top management. I have no intention to differentiate the role of women in generating work results, so I would simply state that that women with their consistent and, in the positive sense, ”restless" approach complement their male colleagues.

Updated: 17/05/2024 17:32