Interview with Veselina PETROVA, Accounting Standards Analyst, CACIB
and Ali LHAF, Credit Risk Analyst, CACIB
By: Mireille de Kerleau, Communications Manager, CACEIS
Launched by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and Crédit Agricole S.A. in 2018, Solidarity Bankers is a skills volunteering programme open to all Crédit Agricole Group employees in favour of microfinance institutions and impact businesses supported by the Foundation. Discover the 2nd episode of the series of podcasts dedicated to Solidarity Bankers, the skills volunteering scheme run by the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and Credit Agricole SA. The first episode covered Carolina Viguet, Communications and partnership Director of the Foundation and co-initiator of this programme, and the second Andreas Brunner, Inspection Supervisor at Amundi in Paris, Solidarity Banker who went on a mission to Kyrgyzstan. With this 3rd episode, we will share the experience of Veselina PETROVA, Accounting Standards Analyst, and Ali LHAF, Credit Risk Analyst, both at CACIB.
They carried out a field mission in pairs for Faten, a microfinance institution created in 1999 and which is supervised by the Palestinian monetary authority. Faten’s mission is to meet the financial services needs of low- and middle-income Palestinian entrepreneurs and individuals. It operates throughout Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza, through a network of 37 branches and 277 employees.
Before giving the floor to our speakers, allow me to briefly review the economic and social situation in Palestine.
In a context marked by conflicts and geopolitical tensions, access to essential services in Palestine is a major problem. With a banked population rate just over 25% and an economy heavily dependent on agriculture, microfinance plays an essential role in supporting income-generating activities and rural development. Faten is a key player in financial inclusion in the Palestinian territories by financing economic and agricultural activities and improving housing with its some 26,000 customers. Now a large institution with nearly $140 million in portfolio, Faten is embarking on a process of structuring and transformation into a multi-channel and multi-product bank requiring cutting-edge expertise. That is why Veselina and Ali, specialists in risk assessment, reporting standards and accounting standardization at CACIB, support this transformation as part of a Solidarity Bankers mission.
Hello Veselina, hello Ali. So to start this interview, I would like you to introduce yourself to our listeners.
Veselina: My name is Veselina and I have been working in the accounting analysis team at CACIB for five years now. I am originally from Bulgaria and I come from Varna, which is a city on the shores of the Black Sea, where I did part of my studies. I finished my studies in France and since then I have been working here. In addition, I am the mother of two young boys. I like to learn and share and this mission is an opportunity for me to immerse myself in a new environment which is microfinance, with issues that have nothing to do with those of a bank such as CACIB.
Ali: My name is Ali Lhaf. I arrived in France in 2005 for my studies and since 2010 I have been working at CACIB where I have been a credit risk analyst since 2017. At the same time, I am also a professor. I teach finance at the CNAM in Paris. For my part, it is extremely important to reach out to others, to really try to share what we have and this type of mission allows me to use my technical skills to help others.
Did you know each other before the mission, given that you work in the same company, or did you meet on this occasion?
Ali: We actually met on this mission and, for this mission in particular, we needed someone who was a little expert in IFRS, this is the case of Veselina, and someone who had more of the profile of credit analyst and who speaks Arabic, which is my case. Our work is complementary.
You are located in the same buildings, are you both in Paris, in Montrouge?
Yes, we are based in Montrouge
You met physically along the way.
Veselina: Yes we met during the presentation of the mission. Ali, I believe that you were the first one to have contacted the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation for the mission because when I contacted them they told me that there was already someone, an Arabic speaker who had proposed for the mission, and therefore they expected a person who had knowledge of IFRS accounting standards.
Ali: Indeed, I have a former colleague who is now on the communication side, and it was her who actually told me about this mission. She told me that the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation was looking for someone who spoke Arabic and who knew a little about credit. And here, I told her, if I can do something, it is with great pleasure, and it started like that.
And you Veselina, how did it go for you?
Veselina: So I had attended a videoconference presentation of the ongoing missions of the Grameen Crédit Agricole Foundation and so I saw that there was this mission for which they were looking for someone who matched my profile. This mission was the only one where the skills I have were required and I found it interesting. So I contacted the Foundation and that was it. It happened like this.
So you went through a selection process on your own and then you were selected.
Veselina: As far as I am concerned, when I contacted the Foundation and expressed my interest, they asked me to send my CV, with a brief description of what I could bring and then they confirmed to me that my CV corresponded to some of the skills sought. It could be complementary to Ali’s profile, and I met them. And I met Ali afterwards.
And from that moment, did you immediately start working on this mission?
Ali: Actually, the mission was remote. It’s not easy to start right away. So we took stock with Faten and they explained what they are doing. Afterwards we received a good part of their documents. We spent a lot of time with Veselina to really understand what the institution does and try to detail their mission so that we can really have a fairly global idea of their accounts, their business model. And it started like that. And we also translated because there are documents in Arabic, in English, so we had to understand their documents. And then little by little we had two, three meetings with Faten and there we started to get into the technical IFRS / NAF part and there it was Veselina who brought her skills in this area.
Have you exchanged with several people from Faten or do you have a particular correspondent? Who are your correspondents there?
Veselina: We have two main correspondents at the moment. At the presentation meetings there were three or four people if I’m not mistaken. So we have the finance manager of the microfinance institution, one of her collaborators who is competent in the preparation of the accounts to IFRS standards and for the credit risk models that they want us to review. So here we are, two main interlocutors and then we will see if for the other subjects that we have to review we will exchange with other people.
Do these people mainly speak Arabic or do they also speak English?
Ali: They speak English too.
That way it also allows Veselina to follow I imagine.
Veselina: Yes in English it is easier for me indeed
I was wondering if you had any idea of the culture of the country or not at all? Or are you learning as you go by relating to these people?
Ali: Personally, I know the culture a little. I come from Lebanon. Lebanon is not very far from the Palestinian territories, indeed. It’s not 100% identical, but there is a lot in common. It is the Orient, … I know a little bit. This simplifies communication. Frankly, for the moment, things have gone well with them. They were very available… I don’t know Veselina what your feeling is but…
Veselina: Yes, yes, they are reactive. In my case, I don’t really know the cultural or other environment there. They are very responsive, they communicate in a natural and professional way like us, so I don’t see any obstacle in that regard.
I see that the mission will take place one day a week for 15 weeks. Is that more or less the idea?
Veselina: Yes, that is a general framework, it is indicative. And then we also modulate according to our own workload every day at CACIB.
Ali: Indeed. I note that this is quite a technical mission, honestly, which requires a bit of personal work on our side as well. These are not necessarily 100% subjects of our daily life because we work in an investment bank. We are really talking about microfinance here, so it is not the same kind of job. On our side it takes a little time.
Veselina: Yes, that is it. We have our knowledge, the general framework, well not just general. We also have specific knowledge that can be useful for the mission. But on the other hand, due to the activity of the entity, in fact there are very specific points which require other additional expertise. And for example, we are trying now to find someone from Crédit Agricole more on the retail banking sector. Finally, we need additional expertise. So there are pluses and minuses. The minus is that we cannot directly work on the subject 100% from the start. But afterwards, the advantage is that it will allow us to learn other things and then also to exchange with other teams at Crédit Agricole and we hope that people will be able to bring us what we lack.
Ali: The first part is really the technical part on accounting standards and the second part is more the organisation between their holding company in Ramallah and the subsidiaries around. So it is the communication between the holding company and the small subsidiaries. So I think those are the two big topics on which we have to work with Faten.
And when you have meetings with them, you are systematically the two of you or sometimes you alternate, once one and then the other?
Veselina: Up to now, we tried to be both. Afterwards, there is no obligation in itself but at the beginning it is important that we attend together, in case there is a need to switch to Arabic, Ali can do it, not me.
When the mission is complete, I imagine you’ll do a bit of follow-up on what’s going on and how it is implemented?
Veselina: Yes, yes. That’s what the Foundation told us. That generally the mission ends with a meeting which concludes precisely on the achievement of the objectives. And on the achievement of goals, we can always keep in touch.
And maybe one last question that comes to me. I wanted to talk in a more general way about the skill donation mission. Do you already feel that it is a gift of your skills and that you will be useful, that it makes you happy? What does this bring you to do that?
Veselina: Already we hope that we will be useful. But again, we’re not even halfway through the mission yet. So we strongly hope that we can achieve a result that will be useful to Faten. As far as I’m concerned, I was initially interested in being able to participate in a mission like that, volunteering. I think it will be really rewarding in the end, once we have seen that the result of what we have been able to produce corresponds to the expectations, I hope, of our interlocutors.
Ali, maybe you have a feeling about that too?
Ali: While waiting for the result, I hope we will bring good things to Faten. But on a personal level, giving and sharing is something that touches me a lot, so I really try, on quite a few levels, to do it, either as a teacher if I give lessons, or else I do interpreting for refugees here in Paris, … I think that if you have something, you must above all share it with others.
Veselina: Yes and then we too will surely learn a lot.
Ali: Actually personally and also technically, yes really.