NUR-SULTAN – The Astana Times spoke with David Livingstone, Citi’s Managing Director for EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), about the company’s activities and priority investment areas on the eve of the 34th Council of Foreign Investors, held today in Nur-Sultan.
As one of Kazakhstan’s largest multinational investors, Citi has embarked on a strategic partnership with the country through various projects amid new economic realities.
In Kazakhstan, Citi is used to support multinational companies, international investors, the public sector and national companies. Its subsidiary Citibank Kazakhstan JSC is recognized among market leaders as a major payment provider in volume of corporate payments via correspondent accounts. In 2021, Citi Kazakhstan received the Kazakh Government’s Long-Term Partnership Award and was named Kazakhstan’s Best International Bank for the third consecutive year in the Asiamoney Best Bank Awards.
What projects in Kazakhstan is Citi currently engaged in? What have been Citi’s main activities in the past year in Kazakhstan?
Citi has a long-standing commitment to Kazakhstan, where we have been in the country for 28 years, serving our multinational corporate clients operating in the country, in addition to domestic corporate clients, financial institutions and the public sector. Under the leadership of Saule Zhakayeva, who was named Chair of the Board of Citi Kazakhstan last year, we continue to strive for excellence with our clients, while being the country’s financial services employer of choice. .
Acting as co-advisor with one of the US investment banks on the sovereign rating mandate, we are working with the Kazakh government and were pleased to see the country’s credit rating upgraded by Moody’s for the first times in nine years.
Demonstrating our continued commitment to the communities where we operate, we expanded our sponsorship partnership with the National Paralympic Committee of Kazakhstan. The Citi Foundation also works with the World Wildlife Fund in the country on various social programs and recently held a series of workshops to help boost local tourism in the Lake Balkhash region.
How do you assess the reforms proposed by President Tokayev? In your opinion, what should reforms focus on to maintain a favorable climate for future investments?
The reforms announced by the president aim to create a new Kazakhstan. They are very encouraging and very well received by the international investment community. Concretely, they should create a more open society that better reflects a range of views and ideas, and I expect them to become a vital part of supporting continued investment in the country.
How do you assess the activities of Citi and Citi Kazakhstan in the current geopolitical situation in the region? How do you think the sanctions against Russia will affect banking and investments in Kazakhstan?
The world faces several challenges, including geopolitics, macroeconomic headwinds, inflation, and supply chain disruptions. Despite the external environment, we believe Kazakhstan’s banking sector is robust, with sufficient capital and liquidity buffers in place. Supply chains are inherently flexible and tend to adapt much faster than expected. As a truly global bank, we are uniquely positioned to help our clients manage these adjustments.
Our mission is to enable growth and economic progress and our business model is especially valuable to our clients in times of transition. As a trusted long-term partner in Kazakhstan for our multinational clients, local businesses, public sector and financial institutions, we are uniquely positioned to offer international and local expertise, helping to navigate uncertainty.
From an investment perspective, Kazakhstan’s economy is robust enough to withstand external shocks and it remains an attractive destination for foreign investors. By the end of 2021, foreign investment in the country had returned to pre-pandemic levels, and this remains an important focus of government policy. With the government’s ambitious reform program underway, we continue to see opportunities for growth and investment in the country.
Last month, Citi led a $500 million Eurobond for the Development Bank of Kazakhstan, the region’s first bond issue since late February and the first US dollar-denominated issue in the CEEMEA since February. This execution testified to the status of the country in the minds of international investors.
What are Citi’s priority investment areas in Kazakhstan? In your opinion, which sectors of the economy, in general, will be the most attractive for investors?
Since gaining independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has attracted more than $370 billion in direct investment. Much of this investment has been in the energy sector, where demand remains strong and prices high. Kazakhstan has also been a big beneficiary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has given the country a boost in infrastructure funding.
We are excited about the progress made to date and see the opening of the country’s capital markets as an important step. It has allowed entrepreneurship to thrive and attracted fintech and emerging companies looking for new sources of funding. We expect the innovation to contribute significantly to the government’s national development plan through 2025.
In terms of our capital markets credentials, Citi is the only arranger to co-lead all four international hard currency bond issues by the Kazakh government over the past eight years.
Citi is committed to the region and I am personally a member of the Council of Foreign Investors. My Citi colleague, Julie Monaco, our global public sector head, is a board member of the Astana International Financial Center, which also coordinates these efforts.