Soneri Bank Limited : Case Study for MBA

soneri bank

Soneri Bank Limited

Banking Scenario in Pakistan

Commercial banks, which were operating in the private sector, were nationalised in 1974 and merging the smaller ones created five large banks. This field remained out of bounds for the private sector for almost 18 years. In late 1991 it was decided to privatise the existing public sector banks and induct new banks to meet the growing needs of the economy.

Two of the large public sector banks were privatised and ten new banks came in the field. The existing banks at that time had a large network of branches that totalled more than 6,000 branches. Each new bank was initially allowed to open only ten branches with the restriction of only one branch in a town. These new branches had to compete for business among themselves as well as with the old established banks with a large network of branches.

Banking operations in Pakistan are governed by the Banking Companies Ordinance 1962 whereas State Bank of Pakistan, being the Central Bank, is the regulatory and monitoring authority. Strict control is exercised by the State Bank in sectors like credit deposit ratio, liquidity and interest rates.


Introduction of Soneri Bank

Soneri Bank Limited is a low profile bank performing Commercial Banking activities in Pakistan and is engaged in providing working capital and trade finance facilities to small to medium sized traders and business concerns.


The 24 branches of the bank are spread all over Pakistan and are located on a policy of maintaining a balance between the urban and rural areas with a view of offering services even in the remote areas of Pakistan.


Soneri bank is listed in all the three stock exchanges of Pakistan and has  its registered office at Gulberg, Lahore.


History of Soneri Bank Limited

Soneri Bank Limited was incorporated on 28 September 1991. The bank was sponsored by the Rupali Group. Rupali Group is one of the Pakistan’s Leading Business Groups having a very significant presence in Polyester and textile segment. Soneri Bank Limited was one of the ten new commercial banks that were granted permission on 26 August 1991 to be established in the private Sector. The permission for the formation of establishment of private bank was seen as a shift in government’s economic policies.


Due to the boom in the stock markets of Pakistan in early 90s and the excellent reputation of the Rupali Group, Soneri Bank’s subscription for local issue was oversubscribed by 28 times and the subscription for the non-resident Pakistanis was oversubscribed by 3 times. The total subscription received against an offer of Rs. 150 million was a sum of Rs. 2,138 million. This response was superlative as compared to the other ten private local commercial banks. The sponsors of the bank are very proud of this public response despite the fact the sponsors had no previous experience of running a bank or a financial institution.


Initially the bank was given a licence of opening a maximum of ten branches. In the first year of its operations the bank opened 5 branches followed by 3 in 1993, 4 in 1994, 4 in 1995, 1 in 1996, 5 in 1997, 1 in 1998 and finally 1 in 1999. The bank is very proud of its expansion in terms of number of branches in the period between 1992 and 1995. But some of the members of the senior mamagment of the bank still think that the number of branches opened by the bank were less and the bank could have opened at least 30 more branches.


Almost all of the members of bank’s senior management team are with the bank since 1992.


How Do They Work

The President of the Bank, Mr. Safar Ali Lakhani is very keen in all the operations of the bank and therefore likes to interact with each hierarchical level and even issues directives to the lower hierarchical levels without even informing the intermediate levels.


The organisation is basically spread in three units, each being headed by a Senior Executive Vice President. Those three units are Southern Region, Northern Region and Finance-O&M. SEVP Finance and O&M has a functional authority over the two regions. Two Senior Vice Presidents assist the northern regional SEVP. But in case of SEVP southern region, the management does not feel any need for the SVP level assistance, however SVP Southern region is exclusively assisted by an Executive incharge-Credit.


The Nothern Region consists of all the 13 branches of the bank that are geographically located in the Northern Pakistan except the Gilgit Branch. Out of thirteen northern region branches, two are being managed by chief managers, seven by senior managers and rest by managers.


The Southern Region consists of 11 branches of the bank that are geographically located in the Southern Pakistan plus one additional branch of Gilgit which is not geographically located in Southern Pakistan. The bank gives the Gilgit branch an eminent status because of the preference and the communal interest of the sponsors of the Bank towards the Gilgit region. Out of eleven Southern region branches, three are being managed by chief managers, one by senior managers and rest by managers.


The holding of the bank are mainly with the Feerasta  (Rupali) family. The Fareesta family does not interfere much in the operations of the bank and the only link between the sponsors and the management is Mr. Lakhani. At the time of inception of the bank, the sponsors communicated the mission of the bank to Chief executive of the bank; a formal mission statement is not available in the written form and not communicated to anyone down the line. The President, states the mission statement as;


“The mission of this bank is to serve small and medium sized businesses and traders, a sector that has been more or less neglected by nationalised and foreign banks.”

This mission was given to the President by the sponsors and was asked to follow it. The three SEVPs are unaware of the mission statement and following their own agenda to sincerely elevate their organisation.


The lower staff takes decision on a day to day basis and mostly the matters of the bank are of routine nature. Although the staff acts on day to day basis but the President and few of the Top management personnel are sure about the future path. The vision as defined by the President is;

“By 2005 we expect deposits more than 25 billion, profits up to 500 million, import/export up to 60 billion, new branches level up to 50 in number, Command over Online business, E-commerce and ATMs”.


The bank has entrusted each and every employee with the marketing function, therefore there is no proper marketing department present in the bank. Mr. Shahnawaz Siddiki, Vice President says “we are not selling consumer goods such as tooth pastes or creams, so why should we have a marketing department, we are saving money by not spending on marketing”.


But the branch heads have a different view, they say that with the support of a full-fledged marketing department they can grow very heavily. Mr Siraj Ali Mithani, Chief Manager of the Karachi Main Branch says “we can beat all of our competitors once we are given a good marketing backup such as the one which Askari (Bank) is giving to its branches.” The President, Mr. Lakhani is of the view that if the bank is doing better every year as compared to the preceding year, there is no need to worry.



The decision making process in the bank is very simple, as all the decisions are made at the top level as the top management does not want to waste the time of the lowers or intermediate levels.


The main source of decision making is with the President, who some times shares this privilege with the SEVP’s at his own discretion. However the lower and the intermediate level management can give their comments at the time of the two semi-annual conferences.


The bank believes that the planning is always an ongoing process; therefore there is no need for formal planning sessions.

The Customers

While being selective, the bank has focused on small and medium sized enterprises and by providing highly personalized and efficient services, has captured a substantial segment of the market. Most of the customers are satisfied with the bank as their needs are adequately met.


The reason for this focusing on this segment is that the small and medium sized clients who are presently dealing with large government owned banks are generally not satisfied with the quality of service available to them. The foreign banks operating in this market do not deal with this segment and also their level of fees is much higher.

The bank is also careful while choosing its customers and this has led to a negligibly small-infected portfolio. Although the target customer base of the bank is very large and widely scattered, it makes every effort to make sure that they are well known to them. This conservative approach of the bank has diverted much of its potential customer base to its competitors.


The People and their Development

Soneri Bank Limited is a good pay master, the average monthly salaries of the SEVP level is Rs. 115,000, EVP level is Rs. 90,000, SVP level is Rs. 60,000, VP level is Rs. 40,000.


This attractive salary structure has kept the staff turnover rate very low. At the top level the average stay in the bank is 6.3 years, this stay rate also incorporates the staff which has recently joined the bank due to the inauguration of new braches. In the backdrop of the banks overall life of 8 years, this stay average is very good. Mr. Nemat Ali, E.V.P. International Division, Training and Personnel affairs is very much proud of this low employee turnover rate. Mr. Nemat is of the view that the low employee turnover rate endorses the top management view that the policies of the bank are very employee friendly and the employees are happy as they do not want to indulge unnecessarily in the decision making and planning processes.


The management is very professional and they do not feel handicapped because of their low average professional educational level. The bank has only one Chartered Accountant and one MBA, the remaining configuration consists 6 MAs, 12 BAs, 5 BScs, 9 BComs, and 2 FAs. Incidentally one Vice President is and one Assistant Vice President are FA.


The average age of the senior Management is 49 Years. The Average ages level-wise are Senior Executive Vice Presidents – average age 60, Executive Vice Presidents – average age 57, Senior Vice Presidents – average age 50, Vice Presidents – average age 48, Assistant Vice Presidents – average age 46. Mr. Nemat is very proud of the fact that almost all the managers of the Bank are very aged hence they are very rich in experience. But Mr. Jafri has a different view, he says that the bank is not recruiting young people in their ranks at management level and therefore in the next 10 years almost 70% of the top management will reach the retirement, then who will run the affairs. He is also of the view that the new generation always brings new ideas and styles in the culture of an organization.


The bank has a very strong training culture and the bank has set up its own training centre. The bank trains its own staff and by now more than 200 people have been trained internally by the bank. The reason for taking the fresh applicants is this that the bank does not want people from other banks to come in their system and put up their own parallel cultures.


Training is the only expenditure on which the President has no objection and approval is very swift. Every year a couple of Executives travel abroad for training. But this training is purely focused on the banking sector with no exceptions, not even the management trainings or subjects.



Business of the bank

Soneri bank has been able to offer a variety of products like current and savings accounts and term deposit facilities for private and corporate clients. The bank has been extending lending facilities to its customers (over drafts, loans and other credit facilities), trade finances, remittances and fund transfers. Deposit schemes include current, savings and term deposits, monthly income scheme and capital growth certificates. Further, FC travellers’ cheques, safe deposit lockers and telephone banking is also available in addition to the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) facility, which is limited to two installations only.[i] Non-Fund based services include Import letter of credits, handling of export documentation, inland clean and documentary collection and issuance of bid bonds and performance and advance payment guarantees.


The bank is also active in the field of International trade finance like the opening of letter of credits and bills purchasing. One main reason for this is that the bank is largely export oriented.[ii]  Hence, in order to offer good rates to the exporters while negotiating bills with them, the bank offers lucrative terms to the importers while opening their letters of credit.


“We concentrate on our customers but believes that ethics has the top most priority”, says Mr. Siraj Ali Mithani, SVP and Chief Manager, Main Branch Karachi. According to him, procedures are strictly followed as far as the credit policy and lending operations are concerned. Emphasis is given to the legitimacy and credibility of the customer.[iii]


According to Mr. Qamar Wahab, Senior Executive Vice President, the logo of the bank symbolizes the prudent policies and the resulting safety being provided to the depositors’ money (the logo shows “gold” being preserved in a safe vault).[iv] The personnel at the bank accept that too much emphasis on prudent policies has created an image of Soneri as a conservative bank.


Operations Management:

Internal Environment, Procedures and Audit

The bank has managed to establish its branch network at suitable places giving due importance to the overall outlook. However, its head office (or controlling office) is scattered around in different buildings at the I.I. Chundrigar Road, Karachi. The offices are also small and piled with papers and files. This has led to little co-ordination between various functional areas. Almost every executive at the bank mentioned the need for a bigger and open office and work space. The management realises this problem and expects to obtain some good place as soon as sufficient funds are available.


The bank has effective operating and audit procedures in place. Mr. S. B. Jafri, who is Executive Incharge for operations and manuals, chalks out operating procedures for the implementation of the internal and external policies. Before Mr. Jafri joined the bank in 1996, it was informally following Habib Bank’s procedures. Mr. Jafri with an experience of 25 years at the Standard Chartered Bank, was able to work out different operating procedures for the bank. He has only one typist as his assistant and he is not interested in increasing the number of his assistants. Mr. Jafri says that he reports to the President, but Mr. Qamar Wahab, SEVP claims that Mr. Jafri reports to him.


The main idea behind the whole exercise is to identify risk loopholes and to adequately plug them in. The bank does not have a formal procedure for identifying the needs or receiving feedback from the branches. Rather occasional queries seeking clarifications or changing reporting requirement from the Central Bank lead to the formulation or refinement of the internal procedures.


Like Mr. Jafri, the bank also has Mr. Ehsan-ul-Haq as the Executive Incharge of Audit and Inspection. There is a regular audit (performed twice a year) and ongoing resident audits (where resident auditors are placed at the branches). The resident auditors send a bi-monthly report to the controlling office regarding any irregularity. For the regular audit, special teams are sent from the controlling office who inspects record of the branches. Initially a rating of A, B or C is assigned to the bank based on its deposit base.  The rating is then reduced after a particular number of irregularities are noted. During an audit, not only the operational irregularities by the branch management are taken into account but unattended customer complaints are also dealt with. Most of the staff members at the audit department are commerce graduates. The President of the bank keeps in close touch with the audit and operations personnel. According to the audit department, communication channels are well developed and irregularities and problems are immediately reported to the upper management.


Financial Operations:

The total assets of Soneri Bank have increased by 157% from about 7 billion in 1995 to 17.7 billion rupees in 1999. Continual accumulation of reserves has resulted in a growth in equity from 607 million to 1.1 billion in 1999. Simultaneous growth trends can be observed in the liquid assets of the bank, which also grew by 163% to 8.3 billion in 1999.


Declining economic and market conditions led the bank to increase its investments in the government securities. Another major reason for this was that almost all the banks were investing heavily in the Federal Investment Bonds of the government which were providing an almost guaranteed return and were also eligible for the statuary liquidity requirement of the central bank. Hence, the bank increased its investments in government securities from 1.9 billion to 6.5 billion in 1999. However, this decreased the interest spread as the main line of business of a bank the advances portfolio. In 1998-99, the government followed a policy of tightening monetary policy resulting in a decline in the interest rates. Rate of return on government securities has gone down significantly. Further, the banks (and later on other institutional investors) were barred from investing in the National Savings Scheme (NSS), thus forcing them to find new avenues in advancing. Soneri Bank also has to follow this path and find new ways to invest their funds.


Foreign banks in Pakistan are now moving towards the retail level customers offering them personal loans to buy homes and cars. Soneri Bank do not have any such scheme to offer for individuals. The Supreme court of Pakistan has also asked the government to Islamize the banking and financial sector. Soneri Bank is waiting for instructions from the State Bank in this matter. According to the President of the bank, he does not believe in Islamic Banking and so he does not have any specific plans in this direction.


Between 1995 and 1999, gross advances also grew from 3.3 billion to 8.5 billion as the bank increased its exposure in the commercial and industrial sector. Textile forms a major part of Pakistani exports. Soneri’s main exposure in advances has been in the textile sector (50% in 1999). However, during 1999, it was lending more to the cement, chemicals, pharmaceutical and leather industries also. During the first three years since starting business, the bank increased its loan loss reserve but it was still relatively smaller in times when the banking sector of the country was beginning to feel the pressure of bad debts accumulated over a period of the last ten to fifteen years.[v] The bank was also able to increase its deposit base by 146% to 12.3 billion in from 1995 to 1999.


The competitors like to mention that Soneri Bank is serving a particular community (the Ismailis) and has targeted it as their customer base. This is because of the fact that Soneri has been expanding its operations in areas known to be hubs of this community (for instance Garden, Karimabad and the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi and Gilgit where they have established a fully automated and state-of-the-art branch). Even, one of the two ATMs installed by them is in the Aga Khan University Hospital. Soneri Bank strongly denies this[vi]. However, the bank has been extending donations to various establishments of the Aga Khan Foundation.


Soneri Bank also targeted the international trade sector right from the beginning. Its import and export business grew from 5.4 billion to 31.4 billion from 1992 to 1999[vii]. In fact it emerged as a strong export oriented bank. As Nemat Ali, one of its Executive Vice President explains “being export oriented has not only enabled us to offer good rates on bills being purchased or discounted but it also allows us to serve the importers as well. We are able to match our imports and exports quite effectively without taking inappropriate exposure”.  The foreign exchange market in the country was liberalised in 1999 by the State Bank of Pakistan thus reducing chances of circumvention and rent seeking by way of devaluation. The strong treasury operations of the bank can enable it to take this opportunity.


Soneri also had one of the lowest returns on its assets among its competitors. The bank was not able to decrease its interest expense despite the fact that its interest income was on the higher side in the industry. As a result the interest spread of the bank gets squeezed (2.06%). However, Soneri was able to reduce its operating expenditure and increase its other income. Soneri has active treasury operations, which earned Rs. 188 million from dealing in foreign currencies in 1999. Soneri has also increased its provisioning expenses in order to reflect the true picture of its advances scenario. As a result Soneri faces tough competition from Metropolitan Bank (which is almost similar to the Soneri Bank as far as the customer segment, financials and business is concerned), which leads the way by posting higher profits.


Soneri has been paying higher taxes than its competitors. It has some tax issues with the authorities, which includes the treatment of tax on accrued interest from subsidised loans to the employees as well as on the income taken to suspense account as per SBP rules.[viii] The State Bank, in its prudential regulations, has set some rules for treating the accrued income from bad debts. It requires the banks to take such income in a suspense account rather than in the income account. The Central Board of Revenue however treats this as income and levies tax on it. Soneri Bank has not been able to cope effectively with this situation.


During the FYs 1997-2000, banks have made efforts to increase their efficiency by more automation. Soneri is reluctant to take this massive investment decision. Although the management realises that they need to be more automated but they are still not aware of the real impact on the profitability that this decision will have. On the other hand, Metropolitan Bank and Bank Al Habib has been able to move towards more and more computerisation.



In the year 2000, there were 15 private banks in the country. Exhibit ____ shows a comparison of selected banks with respect to the financial position, market share and products. Since 1991, Soneri Bank has been facing (and providing) tough competition from/to Metropolitan bank and Bank Al-Habib. We will briefly take a look at each of these banks individually.


Bank Al Habib:

Bank Al Habib was incorporated in Pakistan on October 15, 1991 along with 9 other banks, which were given permission to operate by the then Nawaz government as a part of its liberalization plan. The major stock holder in the bank is the Habib group which has stakes in some other banks also. The bank operates in Pakistan with a branch network of 30 branches. Initially the bank was not showing signs of good performance with one of the lowest return on equity and return on assets in 1993[ix]. But over a period of over 6 years after that, Bank Al Habib has shown signs of drastic improvements. Its total assets stands at around 20 billion rupees with the current deposit base increasing from 440 million in 1993 to 2,676 million in 1999 whereas its advances in Pakistan were Rs. 9,559 million. Its net profit has also been increasing from Rs. 96.4 million in 1993 to Rs. 203 million in 1998, however in 1999 the profit stumbled to Rs. 159 million. In 1999, the ROA for the bank was 0.76% which was the lowest only after Soneri Bank (0.75%). One main reason is the increasing operating expenses of the bank which reduces the overall operating income. The bank also has less provision for its bad debts which might be due to its healthy portfolio[x].


As far as the advances go, the main exposure of the bank is in the textile sector (55%) whereas deposits were mostly raised from the individuals (77%). Prior to the freezing of the foreign currency deposits, the ratio of these FC deposits maintained by the bank was very high (66% and 73% respectively in 1996 and 1997). In 1998 this figure dipped to 43.6% and further to 26.8% in 1999. As with the entire banking sector, the restrictions placed on the FC deposits greatly reduced the profits of the bank in 1999. Investments in government securities of only Rs. 4.9 billion shows that the bank is not conservative as far as its portfolio management is concerned.

However, despite all the difficulties being faced by the industry, Bank Al Habib continues to perform well as one analyst puts it: “this is arguably one of the strongest banks in the private sector and they have followed well formulated policy and the results have shown through. In their early years they conserved cash and did not declare any dividends and now they are in a position to announce competitive attractive payouts every year. We can expect this Bank to grow from strength to strength.”[xi] The dividend payout ratio of the bank remained good in 1996 and 1997 with 29% and 33% respectively but came down to 18% in 1998 and to 0% in 1999.


Bank Al Habib is following a policy of rapid expansion since its inception. It has the highest number of branches (30) in its peers, the closest being Askari with 28.[xii]  It is felt that the personnel policies of the bank are based on gender discrimination as there is not a single female employee however, mostly young people are hired who are then trained by the bank. The bank is one of the best automated in the industry.

However, the hard times are not over and it remains to be seen how the bank will cope with the difficulties ahead.



Metropolitan Bank Limited:

Metropolitan bank is probably the nearest competitor of the Soneri Bank as far as its structure; policies, accounts and the branch network are concerned. It was also established in 1992 along with nine other banks. The main sponsor of the bank is Habib Group, which is a well-known name in the banking sector.


The internal environment of the bank is not as friendly as in Soneri Bank and confidentiality is given a higher degree of importance. The Chief Executive of the bank is Kasim Parekh who is a veteran banker. He has served as Governor State Bank and President of Habib Bank. Unlike other commercial banks of Habib Group, Chief Executive of Metropolitan Bank has been given free hand to run the affairs of the bank. There is very little interference on part of the sponsors of the bank.


The bank has grown considerably since its inception. Industry critics right from the beginning were lauding the performance. During 1993-94, Metropolitan was ranked first within its competitors as far as the return on assets is concerned, mainly due to the lowered administration costs.[xiii] The trend is continuing and during the years 1997-99, Metropolitan was the leader. Its total assets has also grown to Rs. 17.9 billion in 1999 with advances and deposits standing at Rs. 8.8 and Rs. 12 billion respectively. Investments in government securities of only Rs. 4.9 billion shows that the bank is not conservative as far as its portfolio management is concerned. Advances exposure of the bank is mainly in the textile sector (60%) while deposits mobilization is done mainly through small traders and individuals. The bank operates with only 19 branches.

The bank targets small and medium sized traders as their target market. They put more emphasis on geographical definition while defining their market and competitors. Any one having a branch in Jodia Bazar, Cloth Market or Boulton Market, Karachi etc is considered by them as their competitor.


So far as Human Resource Management in the bank is concerned they do not have a developed HR Department. Like Soneri bank, the Divisional Chief of international banking handles Personnel affairs. The bank does not have a unionised staff. Security and messenger related services have been out sourced. The bank does not hire female employees. The bank also does not have a comprehensive structure to train its employees, however it has recently hired its first batch of trainee officers.


They are the first bank among their competitors to offer on line banking to their customers and install the SWIFT payment system for international payments. They have the largest volume of import export business among their competitors

60% of the trade business handled by the banks is export related while 40% is import related. The bank intends to keep the ratio to the same level. (The ratio of Soneri Bank is 55% exports and 45% imports).


Major goals of the bank are profitability and growth. They do not have any explicit long-term goals and strategies. They seriously lack in strategic management. Management practices are not documented and competitors are often heard complaining about their business ethics. Unfortunately, the bank and its management are lacking the long-term vision as is the case with a majority of Pakistani organisations.


Information technology

It is being widely said that the future belongs to the information technology and it will make all sectors to be driven by it. Information technology. It is the view of the Soneri bank management, that technology in particular will change the banking industry fundamentally. Therefore, they have deputed a full time Vice President for Information Technology. Although he has no experience in this field and neither does he have the requisite educational background as he is just B.Com, he is atleast the foundation stone in this direction.



Soneri bank is commited to supplementing the computer prevalence and today has one computer for every 14 employees. Realising that technology is expensive and becomes obsolete rapidly, the bank is constantly endeavouring to rationalize the balance between human and computing resources in order to acquire the optimum cost efficient solutions.


Mr. Qamar Wahab, Senior Executive Vice President is of the view that acquiring and introducing new technology and new products in the following fields will go a long way to offset the disadvantages of a small network of branches.

  1. E-commerce should be the key focus of all the future moves of the bank.
  2. Introduce ATM machines at suitable locations. As the initial investment is very high, the new banks may get together and share the cost of the systems while the ATM outlets will accept cards issued by all the new banks (this practice is followed in Ireland and various other countries where a system is centralised.)
  3. Credit cards may be introduced for local as well as foreign currency needs.
  4. Travellers’ cheques may be introduced for the local market.
  5. Possibilities of introducing telephone banking and computer terminal for the valued clients may be explored.


The future

“Where to go from here” is a very crucial question that is cropping up in the minds of the employees of the bank. They are concerned whether the bank will keep on going like this forever or the bank will take a giant leap, this is the question for which the answer is probably in the mind of the President of the bank, or may be he want the affairs to keep on rolling like this forever.





[i] and interviews

[ii] Mr. Nemat Ali – Interview

[iii] Mr. Siraj Ali Mithani – Interview

[iv] Mr. Qamar Wahab – Interview

[v] Aftab Ahmed Khan, “Commercial Banking: New challenges”, Frontier Post 4th May 1994

[vi] Interview: Mr. Nemat Ali, Executive Vice President, SBL

[vii] Annexure: Financial Highlights of Soneri Bank

[viii] Interview: Abbas Hatim, Vice President, SBL

[ix] Dr. Farrukh Saleem, “Performance of private commercial banks”, Dawn 7 May 1994

[x] Income Analysis for 1999

[xi] Naween A. Mangi, “Strong results at Bank Al Habib”, Pakistan and Gulf Economist, February 1997

[xii] Bank Al-Habib, Annual Accounts 1996-1999

[xiii] Dr. Farrukh Saleem, “Performance of private commercial banks”, Dawn 7 May 1994



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