Azeris See Bank Overhaul Ending After Every Seventh Lender Shut

  • Central bank revoked licenses, encouraged mergers amid crisis
  • Collapse in crude prices ignited currency rout in Azerbaijan

The Azeri central bank said the job of overhauling the financial industry is almost done after shuttering every seventh lender in the country in 15 days and pushing several others to merge.

“The process of restructuring the banking sector has mostly been completed,” Namiq Aliyev, head of the central bank’s press service, said Thursday in an e-mailed response to questions. “Depending on the situation, the central bank is taking the necessary measures to ensure financial stability and defend the interests of creditors.”

Azerbaijan rushed to consolidate the banking industry starting in mid-January amid a crisis sweeping the economy of the third-largest oil exporter in the former Soviet Union after the collapse in crude prices. The national currency lost more than 50 percent against the dollar last year, with the central bank shifting to a free float after burning through more than half of its reserves.

Pressure on the currency market has eased in February. The manat is the best performer this month among its ex-Soviet peers with a 5.2 percent gain against the dollar, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Not Reliable?

The regulator started culling lenders on Jan. 18, revoking the license of Bank of Azerbaijan for failing to meet a minimum capital requirement of 50 million manat ($32.3 million) and honor obligations to creditors, with the central bank saying its management wasn’t “reliable or prudential.” Five other lenders were shut for the same reasons over the following two weeks.

Three more -- NBC Bank, Parabank and Kredobank –- have started the “consolidation process” of merging with each other, said Aliyev, who’s not related to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev.

The Azeri president last month urged banks to invest in the real economy to create more jobs and expand non-oil industries. He said banks with “serious shortcomings” can’t operate in the country.

Some of the banks swept up in the cleanup have complained that they were being unfairly targeted and said they weren’t in breach of the capital requirements.

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