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Wednesday May 12th, 2021

The Impact Banker: Senarath Bandara’s vision for Sri Lanka’s youngest bank

Senarath Bandara Managing Director and Chief Executive of Cargills Bank

Before becoming Cargills Bank’s Managing Director and Chief Executive, Senarath Bandara managed the largest state bank in the country. Now, at the helm of Sri Lanka’s youngest bank, he is determined to make a big impact.

You have moved from managing the largest bank in the country to taking leadership of the newest local entrant into the sector. What excites you about this challenge?

Having worked in the state sector throughout my career I was excited by the opportunity to serve in the private sector and still contribute to the development of the country. Cargills is a trusted household name with a legacy of over 175 years, and leading a company within such a reputable group motivated me to take on the role. Importantly, the vision of Cargills Bank “to be the most inclusive bank” resonates with me. I passionately believe that banking services should be accessible to all and provide equal opportunities for every citizen to improve their living standards. This is vital for the sustainable development of our country.

How is Cargills Bank differentiating itself in the banking sector?

Cargills Bank is a licensed commercial bank and is authorized to carry out business in any sphere of banking. Our business model focuses on being a retail bank, while supporting the SME and agriculture sectors to develop the rural economy.

The strong links that the Cargills Group has with the agriculture, dairy and SME sectors allows us to support farmers, entrepreneurs and people engaged across the value chain. The market provided by Cargills instills confidence in farmers and entrepreneurs to invest in their businesses. Meanwhile, the bank provides the finance to capitalize on these opportunities.

Technology is critical to how we differentiate ourselves. We became the youngest bank to establish an island-wide network through our agency banking operation with Cargills Food City (CFC), reaching people in all parts of the country. Our ‘Cargills Cash’ solution enables all checkout counters across the CFC network to function as ATMs and cash deposit machines, allowing our customers to deposit funds, withdraw cash with no fee, remit money locally, and pay for groceries and utility bills. This has allowed us to expand our reach at a low cost, which is critical especially as consumer preference shifts towards digital solutions and physical branches become less viable. We are now playing an active role in the development of the digital payments space in Sri Lanka, working with many FinTech partners to facilitate their access to the people through our platform. We have also deployed technology to automate processes, improve our customer service experience, and reduce paperwork as we are conscious about our responsibility to the environment.

How do you intend to support the development of the Agriculture sector?

The backing of the Cargills Group is a key differentiator in our approach to developing the agriculture and dairy sector. The group’s field officers have established strong relationships with farmers, and provide them with market information, technical expertise, training, and a marketplace. Cargills Bank enhances this offering by providing financial services and training, giving farmers a complete solution.

We provide concessionary lending facilities and financial grants through the Central Bank’s re-finance schemes and other development agencies to enable farmers to invest agriculture modernization and dairy development, allowing them to improve their productivity and resilience to climate change. Further, we have established branches closer to farmer communities across the country, and plan to launch a Mobile Branch to serve customers in interior areas with limited banking services.

Leaders need to keep an eye on the future while managing the everyday challenges. How do you balance these competing demands as a CEO?

For an organization to thrive, it must adapt to changes in the environment and collectively drive forward towards a common goal with identified strategies. We see tremendous growth opportunities for Cargills Bank and understand that we must remain agile to deliver on this promise, adapting to changes in the operating environment. I am fortunate to have an experienced and capable team that is fully aligned with the objectives of the bank and is committed to deliver upon them. My role is to support and guide the team, while foreseeing the journey of the bank.

Can you identify one leadership lesson you learned the hard way?

You must believe in what you do and have the passion and commitment to face adversities knowing that you are on the right track. To deliver growth for the benefit of all stakeholders takes hard work, determination, and composure to face challenges. If you believe in the path you have taken, you will find solutions to the challenges coming your way and help maintain focus on the organization’s goals.

I passionately believe that banking services should be accessible to all and provide equal opportunities for every citizen to improve their living standard