Evolving processes to make good decisions quicker – with Ajmal Ahmady

In the months before the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan, central bank governor Ajmal Ahmady had to evolve the institution’s decision-making processes so staff could reach good conclusions more quickly

13/10/2021

Juan Torres Rodriguez

Juan Torres Rodriguez

Fund Manager, Equity Value

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Over the years, the array of experts we have been privileged to host on The Value Perspective podcast have offered some great insights into our chosen theme of decision-making in conditions of uncertainty. Few will have experienced greater levels of uncertainty in so condensed a period of time as Ajmal Ahmady, who was at his desk as governor of Afghanistan’s central bank the day Kabul fell to the Taliban on 15 August 2021.

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“In uncertain times, you definitely have to take decisions more quickly – and, in such an environment, it helps to think in terms of content and process,” he says. “In the months before Kabul fell, for example, there was obviously increasing risk throughout Afghanistan’s provinces so one of the first things I did as governor was create a provincial committee within the central bank, comprised of the heads of different departments.

“That way we would get together on a quarterly basis and focus more on what was happening in the provinces – and then, as things deteriorated even further, I created a smaller committee, comprised of just the head of provincial affairs and the head of banking operations at the central bank and I increased the frequency of meetings. First we met on a weekly basis and then, towards the end, on a daily basis.

“As you see risk increasing, your priorities have to shift and you have to create structures that can be ad hoc but allow you to make quicker decisions in the face of greater uncertainty. With these smaller committees, I asked my team to develop a map of Afghanistan and colour-code it based on risk. Next to it, we had a table with the amount of dollars and [local currency] afghanis held in each of our provincial branches.

“That way, we could monitor those levels and, based on our internal analysis, we would decrease dollar and afghani limits held in each of those provinces – first on a daily basis and then, towards the very end, multiple times per day. The process can be seen as successful in the sense that no dollars fell to the Taliban – until the very end, of course – and the local currency deposits also held very secure.”

Uncertain future

In the 14 months or so that Ahmady was in office, the central bank set up a number of initiatives to increase financial inclusion across Afghanistan, where even now barely one in eight people have a bank account. Clearly the outlook for such projects – and indeed for the country’s finances in general – has become a good deal more uncertain but how would Ahmady characterise what lies ahead?

“I believe a new central bank governor has been appointed, who was part of the Taliban Economic Commission but does not have a background in banking or finance,” he begins. “That points to one issue, which is you are obviously going to have a lowering of standards in people with the experience to lead these kinds of institutions – and that is going to hurt the ability to manage the sector.

“A second point is that some staff have already left and those who remain tend to be professionals with years of background, who have been trained by, say, International Monetary Fund staff. As such, they will tend to be educated and have other options and so are most likely capable of finding a job in another country. Over time, then, you are probably looking at people leaving the institution and a further reduction of capabilities.

“A third issue, really, is that no matter who is in charge of the central bank or among the staff, the economic situation in Afghanistan has significantly deteriorated. So, while we had been able to build up more than $9bn in international reserves, which represents almost a year and a half of coverage, the freezing of assets has seen that amount drop to maybe two days coverage. So it is a much tougher economic situation now and, putting those three points together, it looks set to be a challenging environment moving forward – whoever is in charge.”

Author

Juan Torres Rodriguez

Juan Torres Rodriguez

Fund Manager, Equity Value

I joined Schroders in January 2017 as a member of the Global Value Investment team and manage Emerging Market Value. Prior to joining Schroders I worked for the Global Emerging Markets value and income funds at Pictet Asset Management with responsibility over different sectors, among those Consumer, Telecoms and Utilities. Before joining Pictet, I was a member of the Customs Solution Group at HOLT Credit Suisse.  

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