More than 15 years and two Presidents ago, I set foot in a building I grew up watching from a distance. A landmark which I had visited many times, especially on the 14th of August. This edifice had become national identity for me. Habib Bank Plaza, now HBL Plaza and the organization as a whole, had been ingrained in the realm of my imagination as being one as Pakistan. Perhaps this was because of the very strong marketing advertisement back when I was growing up. I believe it was early 1980s and whoever was growing up at that time would know what I am referring to when I mention “Mera Bhi To Hai…”. Perhaps it was one of the first few neon sign I recall in Nazimabad, Karachi, where a coin was shown being dropped in a piggy bank. Perhaps it was my first ever savings account which I have opened as a child when I was in Habib Public School or it may be the fact that I often climbed the overhead water tank at the very same school to catch a glimpse of the great edifice, Habib Bank Plaza, and wonder if I am higher or not.
I had never thought that almost a decade and a half after the events narrated above, I would be a part of the same organization. I remember recalling all of this as I entered the organization on February 22, 1999, my first day as an employee of Habib Bank Limited (now HBL). Almost 16 years have passed and my awe seems to reach new heights with every passing year. The organization has progressed by leaps and bounds, starting from the deployment of systems to process re-engineering to introduction of innovative products and services, to higher level of efficiency. At times, directly being a part of something, at times not being a part, but just enjoying the fact that I am a part of this organization. All this, in the most challenging day and age where the customers are demanding, becoming more so with every passing moment, and an environment being more competitive than ever. Perfection is not a worldly trait. However, the desire and continuous efforts of improving service and introducing products to meet the needs of the nation defines the customer as the epicenter.
There are many who may be interested in an organizations balance sheet, profits and historical performance. For such an analysis, plenty of records are available. My purpose for writing this article, however, is not that. I started writing this with sharing how I grew up thinking HBL and Pakistan being one. This was when I was a child. Now, I am 40 years old, 16 of which have been spent with HBL. Through this article, I wish to share how my childhood imagination and belief turned into one of the most profound realities. HBL, by any corporate/legal definition, is an organization, a legal entity. To me, HBL is a phenomenon. During my orientation, Imam Sahib, then HR Head, stood in front of a group of about 250 management trainees briefing about the background. None could have imagined some of the prodigious insertions in his short speech. Persuaded by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Habib Family established Habib Bank in 1941 with its head office in Bombay (now Mumbai) with a capital of Rs.25,000/-. In the initial phases the bank played pivotal role in channelizing of funds generated by All India Muslim League for establishment of Pakistan. In 1947, the head office was shifted to Karachi and Habib Bank became Pakistan’s very first commercial bank. As Pakistan came into being, like a new-born needing care and nurturing, HBL played the role and funded expenses like salaries of government servants and catered to other developmental needs. Its role in establishment of State Bank of Pakistan is also noteworthy. Late 1950’s witnessed international expansion and since then to date, after going through the phases of nationalization and privatization, HBL stands present in 25 countries, subsidiaries in Hong Kong and the UK, affiliates in Nepal, Kenya and Kyrgyzstan and rep offices in Iran and China. Being the largest domestic multinational, HBL now has 1,600 branches across the nation serving approximately 6 million. How is it then the nation is served by this magnanimous reality which has literally nurtured Pakistan in the nascent stages? The answer is simple. By not letting go and continuing to serve and nurture, just like it was doing back in the late 1940s. HBL’s vision is “Enabling people to advance with confidence and success”. These are not just words. Continuous efforts have resulted in impacting day-to-day lives of many across the nation. Late 1950s witnessed introduction of travelers’ cheques. ‘Drive-in Banking’ was offered in a few big cities where customer would not have to get out of their cars. This was early 1960s. You read correctly…1960s! Around the same time came ‘Mobile Banking’. Not the way this term is known today but a development through which banking was taken to people of rural areas. HBL was the first to introduce credit cards in the Pakistan market in 1966. Many may find this unbelievable. Obviously this card was not equipped with all the facilities as we have today but it indeed carried the basic utility of being acceptable at various businesses for payments. 1970s witnessed introduction of various products and services like courtesy cards which helped customer of one branch be introduced to another branch or when traveling abroad, infant banking, etc. First ever ATM in Pakistan was installed by HBL in the late 1980s. Early 2000s brought on the menu various products under consumer financing, helping individuals fulfill their dreams and improve lifestyles.
The core banking products and services have continued to evolve and be introduced. It can be assumed that the same will continue to happen. The manifestation of HBL’s vision of ‘enabling people to advance with confidence and success’, however, is much beyond banking products and services. 2005, one of the years in the history of Pakistan, which no one can forget, as many lives perished, thousands were on the streets, grief stricken, disoriented, lost. A 7.6 magnitude earthquake had left many under the open sky. Those wanting to help and those needing help were equally suffering owing to a lack of infrastructure and inability of channelizing of funds. HBL set-up a branch in a container in 24 hours for facilitation of the people. Not only that, the staff contributing salary to such causes is a routine be it that earthquake or the floods which have become an annual affair. I recall plans being made at various locations to assist and help in camps for collection of food, funds and supplies while activities were being led by supervisors. Some of these activities were not officially sponsored. However, it is felt that the spirit may have been led by HBL’s vision and being a part of this organization. Keeping with the spirit of enabling people, HBL has led the way and followed a policy of recruitment through the vast network and reach by initiatives like tying in donations with transactions or spending on cards. Moving on from always being there in times of need, HBL has proven to turn its vision into reality. Meeting a few top cricketers of the nation may reflect on this. The young footballers of Lyari may also vouch for it. HBL is indeed enabling people advance with confidence. And it just may be these facts which make those associated with HBL much more passionate, resulting in a general desire of higher level of delivery in terms of overall services.
HBL is not only my employer. It is my pride. HBL has 1,600 branches. These are the inanimate buildings I refer to. Add thousands more live ones. Each person working for HBL is a branch, representing HBL. HBL does not have customers. It has relationships. And the number is not 6 million, it is closer to 182 million. HBL & Pakistan go hand in hand. Note: This article by no means represents official position of HBL. The views expressed herein are my own and based on my observation and association in the capacity of a team member and a customer. Information, views, comments contained herein can not and may not be taken as representation of HBL or or in any form thereof. During my years of association, there have of course been ups and downs, just like any other. However, the pride has only grown stronger and the association itself is invaluable.