Dear colleagues, we very much appreciate the opportunity to share with a wider audience some of our experiences here in Kiev. We want to thank all colleagues who reached out to us during difficult times and ask them not to stop. Ukraine is currently on the surface quieter than it has been for 18 months. But neither on the geo-political nor on the financial front we believe the end-game has taken place. Deep elements of de-sovereignization and de-industrialization have taken place and will continue for some time, maybe years. The outline of a new economic and financial model is not visible yet, as sovereign debt restructuring has only just started and the country’s largest industrial companies are only just beginning to face the reality of debt restructuring. Both processes will be long and cumbersome, and the financial system will need to go through much deeper pain and redesign before it gets better.
The country has a large batch of new faces in government and in charge of governmental institutions, first and foremost at the National Bank of Ukraine. We meet very regularly with our ex colleagues, Valeria Gontareva, now Governor, and Alexander Pisaruk, now First Deputy Governor of NBU. Overall we support their management and their relentless efforts to reform the sector and build a new financial future for the country. The new Minister of Finance Natalie Jaresko is also well known to us and we must admire how over a short period of time she has successfully managed the negotiations with IMF. General support does not mean we endorse all measures of the Central Bank, and indeed privately we also express concern about the multitude of measures and the rapid changes made to instructions and orders. We believe the system would benefit from more stable and balanced messages, but we also understand that some firefighting is unavoidable. Contacts at IMF told us yesterday that they almost never require the highly trained IMF translators anymore for their meetings with the Central Bank, as all positions with managerial authority now have English speaking staff. An extensive range of capital control measures remains in place and our currency control and settlements departments spend long hours trying to collect, understand and apply these measures, impossible as it is to satisfy all customers. Clients are impacted across the board, and the medium term effect of these measures will make business for importers very difficult, apart from the fact that the purchasing power of the population at large has reduced so much that imported products have become unaffordable. At the same time, the very poor overall status of the infrastructure in the country, and the impact this has on the availability of the otherwise ample natural resources of Ukraine, mean that even at the deeply devalued level of exchange rate, the country’s exporters appear to have lost core competitiveness, with exception maybe for a small selection of agricultural exporters.
Our office has gone through unprecedented stress over the last 18 months, starting with massive popular demonstrations on 1st December 2013, then the incredible stress of shootings on the main square of the city, with the victims sweetly memorized and remembered as the “Heavenly Hundred”. Everyone contributed to healing, comfort and support, and ING made a lot of efforts to assist staff during the deepest distress, sometimes with simple measures like organizing taxi’s to get home or pick up children from school. Shortly afterwards the war in the East of the country started, and inevitably our office was in distress when military mobilization notices arrived, and as a company we were forced to become intermediary in the distribution of these letters. This episode has subsided for now, but we remain alert and have sharpened, re-designed and stress tested our business continuity planning yet again.
Our employees have been admirably resilient and stable throughout this difficult time, and we are grateful we can count amongst us some of the country’s best specialists and bankers. We continue to have a great reputation in the market and it is unavoidable to bump into ex staff, partners of staff and ex-staff, often going back to the Retail days of 2008-2009, when attending functions and meeting clients or government officials.
Though everyone has been extremely busy, especially with the not-yet-ended and unfortunately predictable influx of debt restructuring files, we managed to engage staff with a number of great projects. Most readers know that Ukraine is infamous for its paper mountains and love of bureaucracy. Well, our office made a choice to counter this and last month we were proud we could announce that ING Ukraine had become a truly Green Office! We eliminated 56 different printers and replaced them with multi function units per floor, and our average consumption of printing immediately dropped by 50%. A very large number of archives were removed from our premises, and hundreds of empty cabinets taken out. We returned a whole floor of office space to the landlord and are now all sitting on 2 floors, excluding the entry level floor where we still have some cash desk services and which area will be transformed into a super modern area for client and internal meetings. All our internal meetings are mandatory paperless, with screening of documents and on-line support. We are very proud of this achievement.
This year we will also join the Global ING Unicef run, and we have mandated Maarten den Otter already to design a new trajectory (last year’s was considered “too easy” with half the track uphill!). We are proud that thanks to the ING cooperation, Unicef finally managed to change their internal status of Ukraine, making it possible to use proceeds of the fund raising in Ukraine, instead of having to send it their Head-Office for use in lower than middle-income countries. Obviously, with more than a million involuntarily displaced people in Ukraine, thousands of children are in desperate need of help, accommodation and basic necessities. Some charities are in full swing, but more is needed. Let us know if you can contribute.
Colleagues, I want to repeat how grateful we are for the support and sympathy you have provided. This article is begging you not to stop. So much more help is needed.