How did Bulat Utemuratov set up a financial institution attractive for foreign investors?

In mid-2000s the economy of Kazakhstan showed an incredible growth. Hence, the banking system was also growing. It looked exciting and promising not only within the country but also for foreign investors. It’s not so easy, Kazakhstan – a large oil country located between China and Russia. All banks were growing fast at that time and at some point they came up to an ambitious mission – to become a systematically important financial institution for the entire economy. And what does one need to do for that? Increase capitalisation.

The task of capital expansion, among others, also confronted ATFBank, a dynamic emerging financial institution set up by businessmen Bulat Utemuratov. Over 10 years after its opening, ATFBank, according to the Fitch Ratings data for 2007, in the height of the credit boom, thanks among other things to the clever management, was one of the four largest commercial banks of Kazakhstan. The ATFBank assets in 2006 comprised EUR 6.3 billion, capital – EUR 345.7 billion, net profit – EUR 26 million. But even with such results, it was not possible to move forward like headline players – Kazkommertzbank or Bank TuramAlem, therefore the ATFBank management decided to take on a strategic investor.

To build up the capital and to create a really powerful financial asset, the top management of the bank started thinking of a strategic investor – a foreign commercial bank which was unlikely to be interested in the minority share. As early as by the end of 2006 the managers arrived at an idea that the optimal option would be to sell 100% of the bank. In this case the potential pool of investors was becoming larger as at that time foreign banks were hunting for assets in the territory of Eastern Europe and the CIS. Understanding the necessity of global changes, ATFBank started selection of a potential investor. Two potential investors – UniCredit and BNP Paribas – came through to the final after long discussions and scrupulous research.

And thus, on 21 June 2007 a subsidiary of the Italian holding UniCredit and private shareholders of ATFBank have signed an agreement on acquisition of the majority package of the ATFBank shares; and in October Bank Austria Creditanstalt (the Vienna representative office of UniCredit) announced the purchase of 91.8% of the bank assets. The amount of the transaction consummated in the second half of 2007 comprised USD 2.2. billion. The transaction was beneficial for all participants. So, UniCredit has got the bank with 155 branches in Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the insurance and leasing companies and the pension fund.

According to analytics, purchase of ATFBank by UniCredit (with assets of over EUR 800 billion) is an illustrative example of the increased focus on Kazakhstan on the part of significant world investors. This interest is also stipulated by the fact that one of the major ATFBank shareholders, Bulat Utemuratov, has already got the reputation of a reliable and promising partner: back in 1994 he helped Bank Creditanstalt in opening the first Kazakhstani credit line. It’s also worth noting that during all twelve years of developing the bank up to the moment of its sale to the UniCredit group all profits generated by ATFBank was reinvested in its own capital and in strengthening of its financial market positions.

Who would have known that a global financial crisis would strike just less than a year after the consummation of this transaction. However, in the words of Romeo Collina, ex-Chair of the ATFBank Board, the UniCredit Group has no regret for the acquisition of ATFBank. “We have bought ATFBank in 2007 when everyone was looking to the East. Actually, when everyone was heading to China, we did not go to China, we went to the country which had an economic potential. The only thing is that we were unlucky with a crisis beginning just 3 months after we have acquired the bank”.

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