Citi Sees Opportunities For Growth and Investment in Kazakhstan

NUR-SULTAN – The Astana Times spoke with David Livingstone, Citi’s Chief Executive Officer in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), about the company’s activities and priority areas for investing on the eve of the 34th Foreign Investors’ Council, which is held today in Nur-Sultan.

David Livingstone

As one of Kazakhstan’s largest multinational investors, Citi is committed to strategic partnership with the country through various projects amidst new economic realities. 

In Kazakhstan, Citi serves to support multinational corporates, international investors, public sector and domestic corporations. Its subsidiary Citibank Kazakhstan JSC is recognized among market leaders as significant payment provider by volume of corporate payments through correspondent accounts. In 2021, Citi Kazakhstan received the Long-Term Partnership Award by the Kazakh government and was named the Best International Bank in Kazakhstan for the third year in a row in the Asiamoney Best Bank Awards. 

What projects in Kazakhstan is Citi currently engaged in? What were the main activities of Citi over the past year in Kazakhstan?

Citi has a longstanding commitment to Kazakhstan, where we have had an in-country presence 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 appointed as Chair of the Management Board of Citi Kazakhstan last year, we continue to strive for excellence with our clients, while also being the employer of choice in financial services in the country. 

Acting as co-advisor with one of the American investment banks within sovereign rating mandate, we work with the Kazakh government and were gratified to see the country’s credit rating upgraded by Moody’s for the first time in nine years.

Demonstrating our ongoing commitment to the communities where we do business, we have extended our sponsorship partnership with the Kazakhstan National Paralympic Committee. 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 area.  

How do you evaluate the reforms proposed by President Tokayev? In your opinion, what should be the main focus of reforms to maintain a favorable climate for future investments?

The President’s announced reforms are aimed at creating a new Kazakhstan. They are very encouraging and are very much welcomed by the international investor community. Practically speaking, they should create a more open society which better reflects a range of views and ideas, and I expect them to become a vital element in supporting continued investment in the country.

How do you evaluate the activities of Citi and Citi Kazakhstan in the current geopolitical situation in the region? How strongly do you think sanctions against Russia will affect banking and investment in Kazakhstan?

The world faces several challenges, including geo-politics, macroeconomic headwinds, inflation, and supply chain disruptions. Despite the external environment, we see the banking sector in Kazakhstan as robust, with sufficient capital and liquidity cushions in place. Supply chains are inherently flexible and tend to adjust much faster than people expect. As a truly global bank, we are ideally positioned to help our clients navigate these adjustments.  

Our mission is to enable growth and economic progress and our business model is especially valuable for our clients in times of transition. As a long-term trusted partner in Kazakhstan to our multinational, local corporate, public sector, and financial institution clients, we are uniquely positioned to offer both international and local expertise, helping navigate through 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 was back to pre-pandemic levels, and this remains an important focus of government policy. With the government’s ambitious reform agenda 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 first bond issue since the end of February from this region and the first US dollar-denominated issue in CEEMEA since February. That execution was testament to the status of the country in the minds of international investors.

What are Citi’s priority areas for investment in Kazakhstan? What sectors of the economy, in general, do you think will be the most attractive for investors?

Since independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has attracted over $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 large beneficiary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, giving the country a boost in infrastructure funding.

We are excited about the progress to date and view the opening up of the capital markets in the country as an important step. It has enabled entrepreneurship to flourish and attracted fintech and emerging technology companies seeking new sources of funding. We expect innovation to contribute significantly to the government’s National Development Plan through 2025. 

Speaking to our capital markets credentials, Citi is the only arranger to co-lead all four international hard currency bond issuances by the Kazakh government over the past eight years.

Citi is committed to the region, and I personally serve as a member of the Foreign Investors’ Council. My Citi colleague Julie Monaco, our Global Head Public Sector, is a Board Member of the Astana International Financial Center, which also co-ordinates those efforts. 

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