Having posted performances in the red for years running, MauBank returned to profits in the year through June 2017 and is now eyeing expansion to Dubai, Singapore and Mumbai. A Mauritian bank that specializes in serving SMEs in the agriculture and fishing sectors, MauBank is now casting the net further by upgrading its online services through collaborations with fintech companies. Sridhar Nagarajan, former CEO of MauBank, explains the bank’s new chatbot and mobile service projects, and why he believes Mauritius is capable of being a hub for such technological developments in Africa.
Do you think Mauritius has potential to become Africa’s next fintech hub?
There have been a lot of measures to strengthen the finance sector and encourage more investment in fintech. Our private sector is investing heavily in fintech. I think that every corporation in Mauritius has already started taking steps towards fintech integration that could potentially lead the country to become the next major fintech hub of Africa. Fintech has gradually become a vital part of our everyday lives, and we are trying to embed it to our core and mainline services.
What does a fintech-based future mean for MauBank?
MauBank is working closely with more than six fintech companies. For example, we already launched YVA, a chatbot that can be found on our website, a result of cooperation with fintech companies. Furthermore, our first online lending and leasing service is going to launch within the next few months, and artificial intelligence is being embedded as we speak. For the bank’s 50th anniversary, we are going to launch mobile banking services.
In your opinion, what is holding Mauritius back in terms of fintech?
There has been a notion suggesting that Mauritius does not have enough business incubators. Mauritius is now working on ways to form private-public partnerships in order to create an incubation industry. The country is also tied up with the US University of Arizona. Through that interaction, specialists from the university have provided us with specific guidelines on how to set up these incubators with their help. There has been a lot of focus on the incubators, given that they can help very qualified youngsters come up with viable fintech solutions to current problems.
What business segments does MauBank draw from to strengthen performance?
As a bank we are very focused on SMEs. Our ambition is to become the modern agency for facilitating SMEs and startups, especially in the agriculture and fishing sectors; these were some areas where banks were not as comfortable. We have been providing support to over 400 entrepreneurs, who normally would not have the support from other financing institutions, given that they did not have the security to cover it.
Can you provide some examples of how you have enabled growth in the agriculture and fishing sector?
In 2017, we were a catalyst in putting up 83 acres of sheltered farming, which has added around 133 tons of tomatoes to the overall national capacity. Another example is in the fishing industry. Fishermen avoid going into deep sea, as they need different types of equipment and vessels. For that reason, we partnered up with Minister of Fisheries and funded nine fishing vessels. Through this initiative, the total amount of available fish will rise immensely.
What is MauBank’s current performance and how is it impacting growth and expansion plans?
We began with a $40-million loss in 2015, while in 2016 we had around $9-million loss. In 2017, we transitioned into profit. Our new three-year strategy aims to set up offices in at least three locations: Dubai, Singapore and Mumbai, as we clearly feel these places are strategic. However, we still have a lot to do in Mauritius. For example, in January we launched a project, as a gift to the community for the 50th anniversary, regarding the infrastructure of banks and post offices. Thanks to that new project, people can go to their local post office, log in their system, which is completely connected to our system, and withdraw funds. Post offices will not be able to see their balance, given that bank confidentiality is in effect.
What makes Mauritius an outlier in the Africa context?
Mauritius always started ahead of time. It was one of the first countries that supported the African Union. It has always been a part of the African community. Mauritius believed in Africa right from the beginning, from its days of independence. Despite its European, Asian and Indian connections, it was an entity that believed that its place was in the African Union. Mauritius may be a small country, but it certainly is not a country that can be taken lightly. And for a small economy like ours, maintaining 3.5 to 4% GDP growth is a huge achievement.
What are the truly profitable growth markets going to be for Mauritius?
I see a few main avenues for growth in the years to come. First, through the real economy that is connected to the port, e.g. transshipment, bunkering activities, etc. Second, through services activities that are leveraging the great human capital Mauritius has built. Additionally, a third avenue could be the blue economy, which includes a 2.3-million-square-kilometer Exclusive Economic Zone the size of Kenya. However, this is not something that we are rushing into, as Mauritius has a tendency to wait and see.