Carlos de Cordoue: Ukraine can offer huge opportunities to those who are here at beginning of reconstruction story
Carlos de Cordoue is the CEO and Chairman of the Management Board at Credit Agricole in Ukraine (courtesy photo)

In May 2023, France’s Credit Agricole marked thirty years in Ukraine, being the oldest international bank on the Ukrainian market. In normal circumstances, such a milestone would be an occasion to stage a major corporate celebration, but that was obviously not possible this year due to the realities of Russia’s ongoing invasion. Nevertheless, Credit Agricole marked the anniversary with international large-scale charity initiatives in support of Ukrainian society and a good deeds flash mob entitled “Our 30 for Credit Agricole” organized by the bank’s employees. “It was really impressive,” says Carlos de Cordoue, the CEO and Chairman of the Management Board at Credit Agricole in Ukraine. “We received thousands of photos from employees across the country, with teams organizing 37 different good deeds to mark the thirtieth anniversary in Ukraine.”

Over the past eighteen months since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Cordoue has come to expect this kind of improvisation and team spirit from his Ukrainian colleagues. Looking back to the first day of the invasion in late February 2022, he says the remarkable response and dedication to their work of Credit Agricole employees set the tone for the bank’s approach to the unfolding crisis. “The Western mindset in such circumstances would probably be to close everything and then wait to see what happens, but our team in Ukraine were certain from the very beginning that we should keep working. From day one, the message was clear: our clients need us and we must be there for them. For me personally, this was the first demonstration of the Ukrainian resilience that has become such a feature of the country’s wartime identity.”

By the second day of the invasion, Credit Agricole was able to operate around 60% of its Ukrainian branches. Following the retreat of Russian forces from the Kyiv region and northern Ukraine in mid-spring 2022, this number rose to approximately 90%. Some branches in liberated regions had been badly damaged during the Russian occupation and required major reconstruction work before reopening, says Cordoue. He speaks at length about efforts to help Credit Agricole employees evacuate from front line regions and occupied areas of Ukraine. Credit Agricole Group has continued to provide full support to all its employees and has allocated almost EUR 2.15 million since the beginning of the war. At the same time, Credit Agricole has taken an active social stance, implementing around 25 charitable initiatives and allocating UAH 26 million for various charity projects. Meanwhile, in order to support Ukraine during the wartime period, Credit Agricole Group allocated a further EUR 700,000, with regional banks of the Group contributing an additional EUR 435,000.

With almost zero visibility regarding Ukraine’s future economic prospects during the first few months of the invasion, Credit Agricole initially paused its lending activities in Ukraine and focused its efforts on existing customers to provide them with maximum levels of support, especially in the agribusiness sector, where the bank plays a strategic partner role. The bank provided financing within the framework of the Affordable Loans 5-7-9% state program, the Government Program of State Guarantees, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s risk-sharing program. By summer 2022, the bank felt confident enough to resume car financing, where Credit Agricole has long been among the market leaders in Ukraine. The results have been encouraging, with car sales now around 60% of prewar levels and no sign of any growth in defaults despite the uniquely challenging wartime conditions in the country. “One year on, we can now say with confidence that the quality of the loan portfolio is very high. This is a positive signal – it indicates the Ukrainian economy is stabilizing,” notes Cordoue.

This upward trend is visible throughout Credit Agricole’s Ukrainian activities, says Cordoue. He notes that the Ukrainian banking sector in general has performed strongly during the eighteen months since the start of the Russian invasion, and points to ample signs of everyday business activity in Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities. “We have been extremely impressed by the capacity of Ukrainians to adapt quickly to the situation with so much flexibility,” says Cordoue. “I have seen how Ukrainian businesses have been able to reduce costs where they can, while investing when opportunities present themselves. With the obvious exception of areas under occupation, many Ukrainian businesses are actually doing OK in the circumstances.”

With the economic outlook showing signs of stability, Credit Agricole is moving ahead with the development of its services in Ukraine. With millions of Ukrainians forced to relocate both inside the country and across the border in the European Union, the past eighteen months have witnessed a surge in the use of the bank’s digital services. Credit Agricole is seeking to keep pace with this growing demand for digital banking convenience. The bank continues investing in digital, launching a number of cutting-edge digital solutions for business including CORPEX and СА+ Pro during the wartime period, while constantly upgrading the bank’s mobile app for CA+ individuals.

One of the target audiences for the bank is Ukraine’s large community of small business owners and private entrepreneurs. This demographic, which includes the majority of professionals in Ukraine’s booming IT industry, offers attractive growth opportunities and allows the bank to focus on one of the most vibrant sectors of the Ukrainian economy. The app is currently being trialed with a group of 1000 clients, and Cordoue reports that initial feedback is excellent.

Cordoue currently splits his time fairly evenly between Kyiv and France. While engaging with colleagues in Paris and members of the French business community, he tries to share a message of informed optimism regarding the opportunities Ukraine has to offer. “I strongly believe that now is the right time to visit Ukraine and begin building up networks of potential future partners. This country can offer huge opportunities to those who are here at the beginning of the reconstruction story.”

Looking back at his own experience over the past year-and-a-half in wartime Ukraine, Cordoue returns once again to the idea of Ukrainian resilience and reflects on how his team has consistently found ways to operate in the most difficult of circumstances. “In wartime conditions, it is no longer possible to hold big meetings or engage in long discussions, but in many ways we have actually become more efficient. Things are much more straightforward, with all our projects on schedule,” he notes. Cordoue credits this success to the Credit Agricole team’s resolve to overcome the difficulties presented by the Russian invasion. “When you are a CEO at such moments, it is the people around you who make all the difference,” he says. “When I saw the energy of my colleagues, it was strong motivation to continue our work.”

About the interviewee: Carlos de Cordoue is the CEO and Chairman of the Management Board at Credit Agricole in Ukraine.

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