“Globalization gives an opportunity of doing business in almost every corner on the globe, but we prudently plan new market entries. It is important that the country, in which we are present is similar to us in the term of mentality” – says Bartosz Urbaniak, Member of the Board, BGŻ BNP Paribas.
PolandWeek.com: How did you start your banking career?
Bartosz Urbaniak: It is already a tradition. I represent the third generation at this bank. It was BGZ, now it is BGZ BNP Paribas. However, during my studies already I had an internship at the bank, then I got involved in the stock market. I have worked for Warsaw Commodity Exchange for a few years. I have introduced term contracts on agricultural products to the market. At that time I felt that that was in what I was indeed interested. I moved on in that direction. I got to work into BGZ. I met people there, who remembered my uncle – he was Member of the Board at BGZ in the 80s.
You are specialized in agriculture.
I studied banking and finance. However, part of my family worked in agriculture in the Ministries and the foreign trade centers. Now I consider it a destination. I have never plan to work in that domain. But that’s life that if one doesn’t want something very much, that something certainly will happen. Looking back, I have the impression that I have been doing that job since I was five (laughing). At home conversations on agriculture were being held at every opportunity. My family was meeting and discussing financing issues of agriculture or other industries in general.
What position does BNP Paribas hold in the French market?
BNP Paribas group is not only the biggest French but also European bank. We are an international company at the core. What is pretty unusual for an average European bank only over a dozen percent of income is generated in France. The majority comes from other countries across Europe and the world. We operate in seventy-five countries, so one can say that BNP Paribas is an European bank with global exposition. However, one needs to strongly emphasize that we are a bank with European roots and traditions. And we will always share values that are important for Europeans – tolerance and openness. We believe in Christian democratic ideas, the same that underlie the European Union.
What is the role of the bank in the economic ecosystem?
We are a large bank. We took on enormous risks by financing of a restructuring of sugar and poultry industry. Only from today’s perspective, it is possible to unambiguously assessed that those undertakings were spot-on. That kind of long-term financing contributes to the economy’s development. We grant exactly such type of credits.
Does the newly introduced banking tax influence your activity?
It is a paradox that banking tax is paid by the largest institutions, exactly same that bore the greatest risk by providing credits to industries at risk during the time of transformation. At that time no one could have predicted that restructuring would be successful. Of course, we don’t evade paying banking tax. BNP Paribas group respects all rules of the countries where we conduct business activity.
BNP Paribas is a bank with a rich history. Today it has the greatest exposition in the USA and Benelux countries. Among the most important markets Poland is also mentioned. What is the reason for that?
BNP Paribas was established in France by Napoleon III. It is and has always been a state- and socio -forming institution. First acquisition was held in the XIX century and it was a purchase of the bank in Hawaii. Globalization gives an opportunity of doing business in almost every corner on the globe, but we prudently plan new market entries. It is important that the country, in which we are present is similar to us in the term of mentality. For instance, Poles are much like French. We get excited over similar issues, have similar perception of the world. For the same reason we are present only on the coasts of the USA. It is simply a matter of communication. It became clearly visible by the merger of Daimler-Chrysler. One side spoke mentally German while the other had the American way of thinking. Therefore, it was so difficult to achieve consensus. I think that it was a question of a lack of common corporate culture.
French culture at the bank – is it a culture of a broad horizon?
Bank has duties to the society. In our policy of social responsibility, there is a strong belief that some things bank not only should but rather is obligated to do. We will certainly never resign from participating in the reconstruction of the Polish economy. Bank also has a package of wide services aiming at counteracting of social exclusion.
Bank conducts the business activity of a broad spectrum.
We enable our Clients to participate in the commercial transactions worldwide – BNP Paribas Group operates in 75 markets. Our employees are all there, ready to act in support of the Client. A broad spectrum of activity is probably a French specialty. When looking at the complexity of the BNP Paribas one can consider who can be able to bring all that under control. It is like a giant supermarket. French were those who invented a supermarket. What is more, one can see that if something is large and requires thousands of people to operate, it comes from France or it is a French technical concept. Our bank rests in the hands of very good managers whom I consider my colleagues. That yields good results.
It is my understanding that if a Client comes to your bank, what counts is not only the balance sheet but you also take perspective into consideration.
That is true, but there are some fields to which we are sensitive. It is a provenance of money.
We are rigorous in this regard. We understand challenges of globalization. We favor American idea of holding back terrorism by cutting off access to financing. Our group treats that seriously. If a Client refuses to disclose a source of money, if there are some ambiguities, then we resign from cooperation.
What is important for us is social responsibility of our clients. We don’t finance weaponry and palm oil production as well as companies that contribute to environment pollution.
We manage to resign from additional profit to maintain coherence at the level of ethics. In our opinion, high standards preservation is more beneficial in the long run than pursuit of profit. However, I noticed a return to the morality in business in recent times. I’m very happy with that.
You are often present in new media. You gave farmers wishes on youtube. Hence my question. Is it your idea or the top-down bank strategy? Director of the bank without a tie, in a jacket and checkered shirt, is rather an unusual view.
My activity has developed gradually. I have been observing changes in the agriculture market for over ten years. In the past, almost exclusively scientists were speaking on important issues during industry conferences. They were starting a new sentence but when they were ending no one remembered a beginning. I always try to address issues that are interesting to final customers, for example, poultry breeders. At some point in time questions from journalists started being risen. That was the beginning. After merging BGZ and BNP Paribas Poland (April 2015) my efforts were appreciated. We may say that green light for further activity in that field came on.
Recently, there is more and more talk about New Silk Road between China and Europe. Does BNP Paribas back this idea? For example one of our interviewee, Former Deputy Prime Minister of Poland Roman Jagielinski together with his food producers group looks with interest at that market.
It is important for BNP Paribas to support our Client all there, where they do business. Therefore the Group has stakes in one of the Chinese banks. The Middle Kingdom is a huge market with 1,5 billion of potential customers. Regarding apples, projected consumption uptick during the next 2,3 years is equal to the entire Polish production. Poland can build a market presence in certain niches and be important within them. However, China is not a market that can be conquered.
Are among your clients, companies that have been with the bank since the beginning? I mean those that have developed and entered new markets in cooperation with the bank?
Naturally, such companies exist. Those are companies operated not on agriculture market but they are giants in their sectors. We just believed that someone who started in the garage could create a good product.
Last question. How do you spend your free time?
I used to spend significant time on sport – now I don’t have enough of it. Sport is my passion, though. The most important will remain boxing which I think is the best discipline. I have also successfully encouraged my daughter. I think that it helped her in life.
How long did you train?
Over a dozen of years.
Bernard Hopkins. In the age of 49, he became the World Middleweight Champion. He won with a man in the age of his kids. Middleweight is not a category where a power of a punch matters. He won by points, surviving 12 rounds in the ring.
Is there any other discipline that you like?
I like riding a bike. I go to the football that takes place in Warsaw. I also love reading books.