celebrating excellence

FinanceAsia Country Awards 2020: why they won, part 2

The rationale for the winners in India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Laos.

In May, we named the winners of our annual Country Awards. Today, we present the rationale for our decisions covering India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Laos.

The competition was as fierce as ever and took place against an unprecedented global backdrop thanks to COVID-19. As we went through the pitches, what stood out was all the firms' resilience and ability to adapt to fast-changing conditions. 

For the second year running, an editorial advisory board also aided the editors by providing a peer review across the region. So in addition to congratulating the winners, the editors would also like to thank the board members for their help and guidance on the banks, brokers, law firms and rating agencies that were shortlisted and selected. 

The members of the advisory board comprised: 

Terry Mahony - deputy chairman VinaCapital; former CIO emerging markets equities TCW and Indochina Capital, plus launch CIO of HSBC's GEM fund.
 
David Morton - advisor Helsinki Foundation Asia Pacific and chairman Yojee; former Asia Pacific head of corporate, financials and multinationals banking HSBC.
 
Susan Yuen - non-executive director Alliance Bank Malaysia; former regional CEO NBAD and CEO ANZ Hong Kong, plus head of corporate and institutional banking HSBC Malaysia and head of multinationals banking Maybank.

Sadly, due to the current global situation there will be no awards dinner this year. However, plaques will still be available and where possible, we would be more than happy to arrange individual ceremonies to present the awards.

You can find out more about our judging criteria for the domestic and international categories. 

 
INDIA
 
 
BEST BANK: HDFC
 
HDFC Bank’s hold on this award has only strengthened during the awards period. As many financial analysts have noted, India’s most profitable private sector bank has become a safe port in very stormy seas for an Indian economy beset by slowing growth and a banking sector weighed down by bad loans. 
 
S&P Global Market Intelligence data shows that HDFC bank’s deposits rose 15.5% between the 2019 and 2020 Financial Years, while net loans to customers were up 10.4%. HDFC consistently reports above system growth in both metrics because it is continually taking market share from competitors.  
 
It feels like a secure home for depositors aware of rising levels of fraud cases across the wider financial services sector. The bank’s conservative retail lending policies also means that financial analysts believe it will be able to navigate through the COVID-19 storm that put the country under a strict curfew.
 
This safety first ethos is reflected in the bank’s capital and NPL ratios. S&P data shows an overall CAR of 18.25% for FY 2020 compared to 16.77% the year before, of which core tier 1 amounted to 17.01%. 
 
NPLs have ticked up slightly from 1.39% to 1.43% between the 2020 and 2019 Financial Years. But the bank’s own stress testing envisages a small uptick and it has strong provisions resulting in a 148% coverage ratio at the end of the most recent financial quarter. 
 
This is backed up by the international rating agencies. In its recent ratings summary, S&P cited HDFC’s “better risk management and portfolio diversity,” compared to its nearest competitors.
 
Over the longer-term, the bank’s strategy remains unchanged. It wants to push into more semi-rural areas and improve productivity through its five-pillar programme.
 
This has already started to bear fruit thanks to an improvement in its cost-to-income ratio, which fell below 40% for the first time in 2020 to 38.9% compared to 40.05% the same time the previous year. 
 
BEST INVESTMENT BANK: Kotak Investment Banking
 
Kotak wins the overall award despite not winning Best ECM House and Best DCM House because of its incredibly strong M&A franchise, which had one of its best years in decades.
 
The breadth and depth of its achievements on the advisory side stand testament to its long-standing relationships with India’s top corporates and its structuring skills whether that involves domestic, cross-border, or special situations. 
 
During the awards period, Kotak advised on 14 transactions amounting to $8 billion in aggregrate value. These covered five different sectors (industrials, consumer, healthcare, TMT, FIG) across listed and unlisted stocks. 
 
There was also a good mix of domestic transactions (five deals) and cross-border (nine deals). Undoubtedly the marquee transaction was ArcelorMittal’s acquisition of Essar Steel.  
 
Kotak was the buy-side advisor for a deal that was not only large ($6.98 billion), but also extremely significant for the country as a whole. It has been the first to really test India’s new insolvency regulations at a time when economic growth is being weighed down by system-wise NPLs and bankruptcies. 
 
Other transactions with a disclosed transaction value ranged from the $100 million to $200 million range. These were led by the sale of Cancer Treatment Services International to Varian (sell-side advisor), followed by Air Water’s acquisition of part of Linde and Praxair in the country’s Eastern and Southern regions (buy-side). These latter two transactions were launched and closed in 10 months, a fast turnaround by local standards.
 
On the ECM side, Kotak also had a strong showing. One thing that sets it apart from much of the competition is the fact that while syndicates are large, Kotak is normally the main bookrunner (lead left) on the transactions it takes part in. 
 
This included Bajaj Finance’s Rs8.5 billion ($1.2 billion) qualified institutional placement (QIP). The deal represented the largest ever of its kind by one of India’s non-banking financial companies (NBFC). It was also lead left on SBI Card’s Rs103.4 billion ($1.44 billion) IPO, the country’s largest ever from the private sector. 
 
BEST ECM HOUSE: Axis Capital
 
This award is often a tough call between Axis and Kotak. This year we felt that Axis had the edge.
 
The bank topped the league tables ahead of all the domestic competition with $1.8 billion accredited to it according to Dealogic data. The 17 deals it was involved with gave it an 8.24% market share during the awards period. 
 
But it was not just about league table strength. The bank was also lead left on a number of the country’s key equity offerings of the year as well as a bookrunner on a host more.
 
Most notably, it was lead left on both Bharti Airtel’s rights issue and QIP. Together, they raised a staggering Rs39.33 billion ($5.6 billion). 
 
The QIP had a healthy 3.5 times oversubscription ratio and solid placement to long-only investors, which took up 80%. These were said to include both of Singapore’s sovereign wealth funds as well as Warburg Pincus, which is an existing equity holder.
 
Axis Capital was also advantaged by the fact that its parent bank raised Rs12.5 billion ($1.76 billion) through a QIP deal of its own. This ranked as the country’s fourth largest equity deal of the year and the largest-ever fundraising undertaking by the parent bank. 
 
Axis did well to get the deal away against a volatile market backdrop in September 2019. 
 
When it comes to IPOs, 2019 was not a banner year for India with many companies put off by the wider economic slowdown. The main exception was the listing of SBI Cards, which Axis acted as a bookrunner on. 
 
In total, it was a bookrunner on five IPOs over the course of the awards period. It was lead left on Spandana Sphoorty’s Rs1.19 billion ($170.3 million) offering, the first IPO from the NBFC sector since it hit the buffers in September 2018. 
 
BEST DCM HOUSE: Axis Bank
 
Axis Bank has had a strong hold over this award for a number of years thanks to its leading league table position, its constant market presence no matter how volatile the markets and its reputation for innovation.
 
This year has proven no different to the past despite the fact that India’s domestic bond markets continue to have a very hard time weighed down by problems among public sector banks, NBFCs and a rising number of insolvencies. 
 
Then there was the change of guard at the top of the bank at the beginning of 2019 when new CEO Amitabh Chaudhry came on board and immediately introduced more stringent risk management criteria. Many wondered whether a more conservative approach to underwriting would see Axis lose the top DCM spot.
 
However, that has not turned out to be the case and there was a pick up in the number of deals the bank executed over the course of the calendar year: 293 compared to 232 the previous year. In total, the bank flags 843 primary deals from India compared to 729 the year before when IF&FS blew up and shut the market down for a number of months. 
 
Axis Bank has always had a strong distribution network among mutual funds, insurers and pension funds. This gives it confidence to place on a sole arranger basis, most notably a Rs30 billion ($398 million) three year deal for Bajaj Finance. This marked the largest-ever single tranche offering by the financial services arm of the Bajaj group.
 
Then there was its deal for Tata Steel as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and corporate spreads widened sharply to Treasuries. Axis was sole advisor on the Rs6.7 billion ($88.9 million) five-year deal for the double-A rated credit.
 
BEST BROKER: Edelweiss Institutional Equities
 
Was there ever a more prescient call that the one Edelweiss made in January when it released its thematic research piece of the year – a coffee table book highlighting 10 companies that marked a renaissance in Indian business? One of the 10 was Cipla, the company with a soul, which did so much during the 1980’s with its $1 a day Aids vaccine.
 
It has turned out to be one of the few Indian stocks to soar in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic after its legendary founder, Dr Yusuf Hamied, pledged to manufacture potential vaccines even before they had finished clinical trials in a bid to save the world.
 
Edelweiss is a very worthy winner of this award on a number of levels. Its research stands out from the competition for its breadth, depth and innovation. 
 
Last year’s piece de resistance covered the ESG space. This featured a number of companies that are not obvious ESG candidates including oil giant Reliance Industries. 
 
But Edelweiss argued that its telecoms business and its work with disadvantaged women were flying under the radar. It may well have helped persuade the MSCI to increase the company’s weighting in its India ESG Index later that year. 
 
The breadth of Edelweiss’s coverage encompasses 258 stocks, covering roughly 75% of the market cap. 
 
Some 85 of those stocks sit in the mid-cap space. This is another area the brokerage is pushing, not only setting up a dedicated mid-cap research team but also establishing a dedicated mid-cap strategy separate to its overall market strategy.
 
About 55% of the firm’s business is offshore and it has developed a lot of momentum in the high frequency trading space, winning the three largest traders as clients last year. 
 
It has also worked hard to build up its trading of blocks, rising from a 1.5% market share three years ago to just under 6% by the end of the first half of the 2020 calendar year. 
 
BEST PRIVATE BANK:  Kotak Wealth Management
 
The Indian economy has been going through the mill over the past couple of years but this has not dented Kotak’s ongoing dominance of India’s private banking sector. 
 
If anything, the severe problems experienced by the country’s credit markets spurred a flight to quality that boosted its AUM. In the one year since FinanceAsia’s last Country Awards, it has seen AUM jump 17.6% to $40.38 billion and the number of families it banks rise from 3,100 to 4,400. 
 
It says that it banks 50% of the top 100 families ranked by Forbes in 2019. What many of them probably appreciated was Kotak’s very early call to reduce exposure to the domestic credit markets following IL&FS’s blow up in September 2018.  The advice since then has been consistent: keep it simple, safety first.
 
The private bank also took a momentous step in the spring of 2019 when it switched its entire model to an annuity basis. This not only smoothed out its income, but pleased clients who were starting to chafe about the industry’s high-up front fees.
 
Kotak had already structured the business around an open architecture model, which meant that it was not conflicted when it came to selling products. 
 
During 2019, there were a number of key initiatives. Taking a cue from global trends, Kotak launched a discretionary asset allocation based platform for clients that wanted to give their relationship managers more decision making over their portfolios.
 
Like all of Asia’s leading private banks, it is also very focused on meeting the needs of succession planning for the country’s leading entrepreneurs and their families. Acknowledging the greater emphasis, which the next generation places on social impact investing, it has also boosted resources to provide strategic planning to invest in areas that create social and environmental returns alongside financial ones. 
 
BEST INTERNATIONAL BANK, BEST INTERNATIONAL INVESTMENT BANK: Citi
 
Citi is a towering presence among foreign banks in India and has a pretty much unassailable hold over this award. During the 2019 Financial Year, it continued to storm ahead in terms of profitability and efficiency across nearly every single metric that FinanceAsia measures.
 
According to S&P Global Market Intelligence data, Citi saw net profits rise 13.5% to $599 million. While the rest of the banking sector was suffering from rising NPLs, it managed to bring its ratio down from 1.54% to 1.38%.
 
It also improved its ROAE from 15.37% to 17.94%, its ROAA from 2.18% to 2.39% and its cost-to-income ratio from 237.02% to 36.58%. The only ratio that dipped, according to S&P, was its NIM, which fell 23 points from 5.15% to 4.82%.
 
The bank continues to grow headcount, adding a further 1,900 people in 2019, bringing the total up to 19,000 as of April 2020. Citi retains the number one spot across a host of product and business lines, serving 1,750 corporate clients, 2.9 million retail clients and 18,500 SMEs across 35 branches in 22 cities. 
 
In line with India’s rising wealth, the private bank is also becoming a more important proposition and had AUM of $5.3 billion at the end of the awards period.
 
Digitization is important for all banks and the same is true for Citi, which is trying to digitalise a customer journey from one end to another. It speeded this up in the first quarter of this year when it launched CitiDirect Digital On-Boarding, which enables new corporate clients to open an account within two days. 
 
Last October, it also launched Direct Presentation Service, which facilitates a speedier turnaround time for Letters of Credit (LoC). It piloted the service with one of its stalwart multinational clients, BASF.
 
When it comes to corporate and investment banking, Citi is consistently strong year-in-year out. This year, BofA Securities gave it a very close run for its money when it came to our investment banking award.
 
The two US banks were neck and neck. Had the $15 billion sale of a 20% stake in Reliance Industries to Saudi Aramco closed by the end of the awards period, then the situation would have been different since BofA was advising India’s leading blue chip. 
 
Instead, Citi pipped BofA when it came to the equity and M&A league tables according to Dealogic data. Citi also numbered Reliance as one of its clients, advising Reliance Brands on the acquisition of Hamleys, the well know British toy store.
 
Other notable M&A deals included its work with GVK Power & Infrastructure in the $1.1 billion sale of its subsidiaries GVK Airport Developers and GVK Airport Holdings to a consortium including the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. 
 
On the ECM front, there were two stand-out transactions in terms of size and quality of execution – the QIPs for Bharti Airtel and Axis Bank, raising respectively Rs14.4 billion ($2.02 billion) and Rs12.5 billion ($1.76 billion). 
 
One of Citi’s strongest suits has always been DCM and it was a banner year for offshore fundraising as Indian corporates and NBFCs headed overseas to tap the plentiful liquidity among international investors looking for yield pick up. 
 
There were a large number of significant transactions. Among these was Shriram Transport’s $500 million bond issue in January 2020. This was not only India’s first-ever social bond, but also the first issue globally of the year. 
 
India is fast gaining a strong reputation in sustainable finance and Citi was at the forefront of this too. It was also a lead manager on the first green project bond from South Asia – a $362.5 million deal for Adani and a $950 million dual tranche renewable offering for Greenko.
 
 
INDONESIA
 
 
BEST BANK: PT Bank Central Asia
 
It has been another exceptional year for Bank Central Asia (BCA), the perennial winner of this award. As we have remarked many times before, BCA enjoys the kind of profitability ratios that most other banks can only dream of.
 
Its high CASA ratio and low exposure to Indonesia’s more troublesome sectors are two of the key bedrocks of its success. At the end of 2019, BCA reported a CASA ratio of 75.9% compared to a 58.6% average for the country’s 10 largest banks.
 
This seems likely to strengthen further during 2020 given the bank’s reputation as a safe haven in troubled times. Its management say that disciplined risk management and a concentration on existing borrowers will help the bank to navigate successfully through a virus-related economic downturn.
 
At the end of the 2019 Financial Year, it reported a low NPL ratio of just 1.3%, 10 basis points better than 2018’s 1.4%, plus comfortable provisioning at 200%. 
 
BCA remains confident that it can hit its forecast 5% to 7% loan growth during 2020, although this is predicated on the economy growing by 5% and one interest cut of 25bp. When FinanceAsia spoke to management in 2018, they forecast 8% to 10% loan growth during 2019. 
 
The bank hit the middle of that target at the end of the year, with loans growing 9.1% compared to 6.4% for the country’s 10 largest banks. Deposits, meanwhile, were up 11% compared to 5.4% for peers.
 
All of this enabled net profit to climb 10.5% to Rp28.6 trillion ($1.91 billion). Financial analysts expect BCA to be the most resilient during 2020.
 
The bank expects corporate and commercial loan demand to remain fairly strong, with a tail-off in retail loans. The former two business segments account for respectively 39% and 35% of the overall loan book. 
 
BEST INVESTMENT BANK, BEST DCM HOUSE, BEST BROKER: PT Mandiri Sekuritas
 
This is an investment banking franchise and accompanying brokerage business that continues to motor ahead at a rapid clip. Mandiri’s decision to internationalize its operations has paid huge dividends over the past few years.
 
It has enabled the securities firm to become a serious competitor to some of the more established foreign investment banks that have long dominated Indonesia’s bigger deal flows. Indeed, as some foreign banks pull back, Mandiri has stepped up and taken their market share across capital markets and brokerage.
 
Its majority state-ownership means it has close links with the government and it has used this to work alongside the government to further the overall market’s development. One example of this was the establishment of a new instrument to aid Indonesia’s infrastructure financing – a Collective Investment Contract Infrastructure Investment Fund called KIK-DINFRA for toll road operator, Jasa Marga.
 
Mandiri has also been working with the Jakarta Stock Exchange and securities market regulator, the Otoritas Jasa Keuangan (OJK), to get derivatives and securities based lending (SBL) off the ground. The firm hopes that the first equity call warrants issued soon, virus permitting. 
 
It has also followed the government’s lead and put government bond trading on its online retail platform as part of efforts to encourage wider national participation in the domestic bond market. 
 
The majority of Mandiri’s revenues come from broking and the firm was able to increase its market share from 4.8% in 2018 to 7.5% in 2019, retaining its hold over the number one spot. Some of this increase relates to crossing the shares for two big Japanese-driven bank mergers: MUFG’s takeover of Bank Danamon and Sumitomo Mitsui’s acquisition of Bank Tabungan Pensiunan Nasional (BTPN).
 
However, even if these two M&A deals are stripped out, bank officials say that Mandiri would still have ranked top of the broking league tables. This was also helped by the fact that the firm has been steadily building its retail franchise. Active clients jumped from 87,000 at the end of 2018 to 117,000 as of April 2020.
 
The investment it is ploughing into its digital offering Mandiri Online Securities Trading (MOST) will undoubtedly pay off during the current virus-related crisis. In particular, new clients can now sign up entirely online. 
 
Over the first four months of the year, the brokerage added 11,000 new clients and average daily transactions grew 34%. During that time, retail generated 43% of brokerage revenue compared to 20% for the 2019 calendar year.
 
One new focus for the research team will be ESG following specialised analyst training. This is an area where Indonesia as a whole lags many of its peers. But Mandiri is determined to lead the way forward spurred by the enthusiasm of foreign investors for more environmentally friendly stocks.
 
The capital markets side of the business also continues to win market share especially in DCM. During 2019, the firm underwrote $2.3 billion in G3 currency bonds. 
 
This was the same figure as 2018, but overall issuance volume from Indonesia had fallen from $22 billion to $13.1 billion over the same time period.
 
The firm was a lead manager on a total of nine G3 bonds. Unsurprisingly, it has proven very good at winning mandates from the government and its fellow SOEs many of which populate its loan book.
 
Notable achievements include Pertamina’s $800 million maturity-busting 40-year deal in mid-February and the sovereign’s triple tranche and dual currency offering in January. The country scored another first with its €1 billion ($1.2 billion) seven-year euro-denominated tranche. The 0.9% coupon marked the first instance of sub-1% pricing. 
 
Mandiri acted on seven of the 10 Indonesian G3 deals that were printed during the first quarter of 2020. What this demonstrates is not just the firm’s ability to win deals, but also its advisory skills since those borrowers that were able to access the market pre-pandemic have proven to be the most adept.
 
Advisory is another business line that Mandiri plans to further extend. Last year, it made new inroads after advising PT Krakatau Steel on its $2 billion debt restructuring in addition to advising PT Kimia Farma on its Rp1.36 trillion ($91 million) purchase of a 56.7% stake in pharmaceutical manufacturer, PT Phapros.
 
BEST ECM HOUSE: PT Indo Premier Sekuritas
 
Indo Premier won this award last year and winning it again stands testament to the huge strides it has made in the equity capital markets in recent years. It has completely outclassed Indonesia’s longer-established securities firms and now become the go-to house for the country’s biggest flotations and follow-ons.
 
Its nearest competitors are now other Asian houses like UOB-Kay Hian and CIMB.
 
However, unfortunately for everyone there were not many deals during 2019. According to Dealogic data, there were just two deals over $100 million and eight over $50 million. 
 
The largest was the Rp4.76 trillion ($337 million) IPO of Asuransi Jiwa Sinarmas MSIG Life, solely led by the issuer’s securities arm Sinarmas Sekuritas. But it was far from the best, performing extremely badly during secondary market trading and losing half its value in the space of a few months.
 
Indo Premier was the only local bookrunner on the second largest deal of the awards period. This Rp4.2 trillion ($298 million) deal for Map Aktif Adiperkasa was in fact more like an IPO since it had done a technical listing to meet the minimum freefloat requirements the year before. 
 
It has also traded down, but most of that decline mirrored the overall market and it was able to hold its own immediately after the deal priced. Indo Premier timed the deal particularly well from the issuer’s perspective.
 
Indo Premier’s second major equity deal followed a similar trajectory. This Rp855.6 billion ($61 million) offering for Merdeka Copper required careful handling since the company is still at the exploration stage. 
 
It meant that Indo Premier needed to source demand from institutional investors with a long-term investment horizon. Distribution was therefore skewed to insurance funds rather than mainstream fund managers, with 90% of the paper also placed domestically.
 
BEST PRIVATE BANK: Mandiri Wealth Management
 
It has been another solid year for Indonesia’s premier private banking operation. Mandiri Wealth Management, known locally as Mandiri Prioritas, does not really have any domestic competition.
 
But it does have the world’s foreign private banks to contend with in both Jakarta and Singapore. As such, it does not rest on its laurels and continues to innovate and forge forwards.
 
Since 2018, Mandiri has had a tie-up with Switzerland’s Lombard Odier, which gives its clients access to a wide international product suite. This has helped the bank to continue reporting healthy AUM growth.
 
In 2019, the figure stood at Rp213 trillion ($14.5 billion), up 8.9% from the Rp195.56 trillion it reported at the end of 2018. 
 
It was also able to use these assets as a springboard to higher revenue growth. This figure rose 26.9% between 2018 and 2019 from Rp3.68 trillion to Rp4.67 trillion.
 
The bank attributes this to higher fee income and improved cost control. Indonesian clients also became more adventurous in their asset allocation, with the investments to deposit ratio rising from 33% to 45%. 
 
The bank currently segments its clients into two buckets: priority banking customers with assets of $100,000 to $2 million and those with more than $2 million. 
 
Both sets will be better served thanks to the digital initiatives it is undertaking. It has revamped its back-end systems so that relationship managers have a 360 view of clients’ portfolio data. 
 
For 2020, its focus will be overhauling the front-end so that clients can use their mobile phone to assess their risk portfolios, buy products and seek advice. 
 
BEST LAW FIRM: Hiswara Bunjamin & Tandjung
 
This is the second year that FinanceAsia has recognised a Best Law Firm in Indonesia and Hiswara Bunjamin & Tandjung (HBT) still remains in a league of its own. For clients, it provides the winning combination of local knowledge and global expertise through its two-decade formal partnership with Herbert Smith Freehills.
 
It is consequently well represented across every major business line and has a roster of local blue chips and international investors active in the country.
 
The best showcase is its M&A work. During 2019, it worked on a number of key transactions particularly in the banking sector where there has been a lot of activity over the past few years. 
 
Notable deals included its advisory role to PT Bank Danamon, which sold an 80% stake in its general insurance subsidiary, PT Asuransi Adira Dinamika, to Zurich Insurance. This was a complex transaction, which took almost three years to close and involved both a competitive auction process and an IPO that did not involve a listing on the Indonesian Stock Exchange.
 
Then there was HBT’s advisory role to Bank Permata in its acquisition by Thailand’s Bangkok Bank. This will rank as the first purchase of a publicly listed bank under new regulatory guidelines. 
 
Finally, there was its work as Indonesian counsel to PT Indosat in relation to the sale and lease bank of 3,100 telecommunication towers to PT Dayamitra Telekomunikasi (Mitratel) and PT Profesional Telekomunikasia (Protelindo).
 
HBT has many close relationships with the government and related SOEs. It was, therefore, also very prominent in many of the largest DCM transactions out of the country. It acted for the lenders and lead managers on a number of deals relating to PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) including the upsizing of its MTN programme from $5 billion to $15 billion.
 
It was an extremely quiet year for Indonesia’s equity markets and this was also reflected in HBT’s deal flow. Nevertheless, it advised two companies on their IPOs (PT Uni-Charm and PT Bank Amar), in addition to a handful of selldowns.  
 
BEST INTERNATIONAL BANK: Citi
 
If you get banking right in Indonesia, it consistently ranks as one of Asia’s most profitable markets and Citi has long been a beneficiary of this. It continues to show considerable momentum in terms of revenues and profitability, as well as some impressive operational metrics.
 
There are not many markets where foreign banks are able to achieve an ROE of 17.9%, as Citi was able to do in 2019. This was also a big jump from 2018’s 12.56%. It is the highest among foreign banks in the country.
 
It also notched up a pretty impressive 4.7% ROAA, up from 3.2% the year before. Underlying this, net interest income grew 5% year-on-year to Rp4.4 trillion ($295.47 million), driven by higher average loan balances. 
 
Citi’s global footprint means it has a very strong hold over the many multinationals active in the country. In 2019, this was underlined by a landmark collaboration agreement, which the bank forged with the government through the Indonesia Investment Co-ordination Board to attract more investment to the country. 
 
The bank also stands out because it is well balanced across consumer, commercial and investment banking. On the consumer side, it has been working hard to expand its API partnerships to Indonesian consumers. In November 2019, it set up digital acquisition with PT Cermati and PT Tokopedia, Pay with Points via Tokopedia and Points Transfer with PT Traveloka and Air Asia. 
 
When it comes to investment banking, Citi is always a strong contender for the award because of the extremely lengthy list of loans, bonds and other fixed income services it provides each year. Its 2019 roster of clients span the country’s entire gamut. 
 
These include the sovereign for whom it not only executed a number of international bonds but was also the swap agent for the Ministry of Finance’s loan currency amendment agreement with the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Then there were loans and bonds for state-owned entities like PLN and Pertamina, bank capital instruments for FIG clients like Bank Tabungan Negara and high yield bonds for the likes of PT Lippo Karawaci and PT Sri Rejeki Isman. 
 
BEST INTERNATIONAK INVESTMENT BANK: Credit Suisse
 
This award is always Credit Suisse’s to lose. It has a phenomenal Indonesian franchise and it knocked the competition for six during the awards period. That figure matches the number of years that Credit Suisse has come out on top in FinanceAsia's Country Awards.
 
It does not always top every league table. In 2019, Citi had a far more dominant fixed income franchise, but there is no other bank that has its consistency across all three of the main investment banking product areas. 
 
It is always especially strong in M&A thanks to its long-standing client relationships. In 2019, the sector was dominated yet again by MUFG’s multi-stage acquisition of PT Bank Danamon. CS advised Temasek’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Fullerton Financial.
 
Then there was its exclusive financial advisory role over Mitratel and PT Telkom’s $315 million acquisition of telecommunication towers from PT Indosat Ooredoo. 
 
On the ECM front, Indonesia had one of its worst years on record. Activity was extremely low with just four IPOs above Rp500 billion ($33.5 million). 
 
However, there were a handful of secondary deals and Credit Suisse was one of the lead managers for the two largest: a $298 million follow-on by PT Map Aktif, which had done a technical listing the year before and a $730 million rights offering by Indonesian property developer, PT Lippo Karawachi. 
 
When it comes to DCM, Credit Suisse is not as ubiquitous as other houses, but it is very good at finding the fee-paying high yield deals.
 
It continued to underscore its close relationship with PT Lippo Karawachi by leading its $325 million bond deal and a subsequent $95 million tap. Both deals subsequently proved to be extremely well timed from the issuer’s perspective, coming just one month before COVID-19 pushed spreads wider.
 
Other bond clients included PT Bumi Serpong Damai, Medco Energi, PT Sri Rejeki Isman and Lippo Malls Indonesia Retail Trust (LMIRT).
 
 
KAZAKHSTAN
 
BEST BANK: Halyk Bank
 
This is the second year that FinanceAsia has given out this award and it is one for which Halyk Bank has no obvious competitor.
 
It is extremely dominant within the Kazakhstan banking sector commanding a 35% share of deposits as of April this year. This market leading position puts it in an enviable position, allowing it to continually improve its financial and efficiency metrics thanks to the lack of serious competition.
 
As a result, the bank saw ROAE rise from 26.57% to 28.53% between 2018 and 2019, while ROAA was up from 2.98% to 3.72% over the same time period. It also enjoys a very high NIM that climbed from 4.32% in 2018 to 4.71% in 2019. 
 
All of this helped the bank to record 18.6% profit growth during the course of the financial year to $874.07 million off the back of a $24.12 billion asset base.
 
The Kazakh economy is currently entering a volatile period given its dependence on oil, but Halyk Bank’s ultra-conservative stance means that it is in a strong position to weather it. At the end of the 2019, it reported a 21.94% CAR.
 
One thing it does have to grapple with, are high NPLS, a legacy of its merger with the country’s second largest lender, Kazkommerts Bank. However, it was able to lower the figure during 2019 from 19.62% to 15.95%.  
 
The liquidity of the bank’s stock has also improved after its majority shareholder sold a 10% stake to institutional investors last year. The owners are ALMEX, controlled by the daughter and son-in-law of the country’s former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
 
BEST INVESTMENT BANK: Halyk Finance
 
It’s a complete sweep for Halyk group entities as the bank’s investment banking arm wins the award for the second year running. 
 
It faces competition in the domestic bond market, but it pretty much has the equity market to itself. There were only three deals during the awards period and it was on all of them.
 
The largest was a secondary offering of shares in its parent, Halyk Bank. This comprised a 10% stake sell by its controlling shareholder that should help build liquidity. 
 
A total of $344.5 million was raised, of which 80.6% was placed outside of Kazakhstan and the remaining 19.4% to domestic retail and institutional investors. The offering was structured as a GDR that is listed in London and on the Astana International Exchange (AIX).
 
Halyk Finance’s second deal was a follow-on from last year’s awards in the literal sense of the word. In 2018, the group’s largest deal was the IPO of national atomic company, Kazatomprom and in 2019, the latter returned with a $128 million follow-on offering. 
 
Selling shareholder Samruk-Kazyna divested a 2.5% stake via an accelerated bookbuild when there was no live trading of the underlying shares. This marked a first for a Kazak GDR.
 
Finally, Halyk Finanance was also lead manager of a $17.2 million secondary AIX listing by Polymetal International. This made it the first foreign company to do so. 
 
On the bond side, Halyk Finance had a 17.46% market share after executing six deals during 2019.  The largest was a KZT80 billion ($209 million) seven-year bond for Kazakhtelecom in June 2019. Halyk Finance was sole financial advisor.
 
 
LAOS
 
BEST BANK: BCEL
 
It has been another outstanding year for BCEL, which stands in the enviable position of strength in a frontier market that is poised to take off.
 
This can be seen very clearly in the bank’s assets, deposit and loan growth over the past year. Assets have risen 15.2% from NK38.99 billion ($4.55 billion) in 2018 to NK46.62 billion ($5.24 billion) in 2019 according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data.
 
Meanwhile, loans are up 12.8% to NK27.49 billion ($3.09 billion) and deposits up 21% to NK36.2 billion ($4.1 billion).
 
BCEL enjoys some of the favourable metrics that often characterise profitable frontier market banks. Its ROAE, for example, is continuing to expand, rising from 16.65% in 2018 to 17.23% in 2019.
 
However, there are signs that fast growth might be tempered by higher NPLs. These rose from 7.48% in 2018 to 14.24% in 2019. The bank’s CAR is also relatively low at 11%, down from 11.12% in 2018.
 
Where it is really making a mark is in mobile banking through BECL One an e-payments through BCEL OnePay. It now partners with more than 50 entities to allow citizens to pay utility bills, taxes and loans.
 
Last October, it established a new smart card to facilitate electric vehicle charging payments. It has also forged an agreement that enables business customers to accept payments through WeChat Pay and AliPay. Chinese tourists can also now use both in Laos too. 
 
¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.

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