, Sri Lanka
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Mr. Nirvana Chaudhary, chairman of the Union Bank of Colombo in Sri Lanka.

UBC Chairman Nirvana Chaudhary aims for Top 5 spot in Sri Lanka’s banking sector

He says collaborations are key to driving the Union Bank of Colombo to the top.

Nirvana Chaudhary, newly appointed chairman of the Union Bank of Colombo (UBC) in Sri Lanka, has laid out a bold goal for the bank’s revival: to make it one of the top five players in Sri Lanka’s banking industry by 2026 — this, despite a challenging landscape still reeling from the financial, economic, and political crisis it suffered in 2022.

Instead of being daunted by all these issues, however, Chaudhary even floated the idea of helping Sri Lanka overcome its financial crisis.

“Once the country gets politically stable, it wouldn’t be a big challenge to revive the economy. We aim to help overcome the cash-strapped nation’s financial crisis,” Chaudhary told Asian Banking & Finance. “We are taking a strategic growth approach to make UBC among the top private commercial banks in Sri Lanka.”

Chaudhary outlined the two factors that he says will be key to achieving this three-year goal: collaborations and their growth plan.

In particular, this might involve “partnerships in collaboration with fintech companies, NBFCs and other stakeholders, which helps to innovate and expand the bank’s service offerings,” he said.

“The banking opportunities I see in Sri Lanka and our growth plan for the bank is to drive digital leadership, tap into green funding, cater to infrastructure development needs of the country, and [drive] SME financing,” he said.

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Amongst other opportunities he listed include the potential to create a profitable digital-only bank; improve the formal sector and push for more financial inclusion, thus reducing the shadow economy; and monetisation of remittance.

He also said that they plan to take advantage of what he calls the “massive potential” of the Colombo port as a tax-efficient hub.

He even floated the idea of expanding UBC overseas. “We want to also look at the possibility of UBC’s expansion to emerging and frontier markets such as Africa, Nepal, and Bhutan,” he said.

Synergized efforts
To start, a rebrand of UBC is underway, with the aim of becoming more customer-centric and digitally driven by 2025. For this, Chaudary said he will leverage not just his decades-long experience as a bank leader in Nepal but also the strengths of UBC’s parent company, the Chaudhary Group (CG).

CG acquired a 71% stake in UBC in 2023. Chaudhary noted that CG had always wanted to enter the banking industry in Sri Lanka, where CG also owns a lot of high-end properties, luxury hotels, and resorts.

Prior to setting sights in the Southern Asian nation, Chaudhary had been a mainstay in Nepal’s banking industry for almost 15 years. He has served as vice chairman of Nepal’s largest commercial bank, Nabil Bank, since 2009. UBC’s parent company CG has owned Nabil Bank since 1995.

Chaudhary says that he plans to leverage Nabil Bank and his own experience in the financial industry to lead UBC into achieving their goals.

“While I am appointed as Chairman of UBC, I will not be the sole person contributing to the bank. Along with me, there comes a huge experience of our overall group, including Nabil Bank, which can be leveraged for the growth and success of our latest banking acquisition in Sri Lanka,” Chaudhary said.

He also shared plans for UBC to cater to helping Sri Lanka meet its infrastructure development needs —including transportation, energy, and telecommunications, all of which present opportunities for banks to finance large-scale projects.

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Going global
UBC’s strategy is in line with its parent company CG’s goals: expansion through partnerships, acquisitions, and investments.

And similar to how UBC plans to be a top five bank in Sri Lanka by 2026, CG aims to be a US$5-billion enterprise in 2025.

For the latter, Chaudhary — who also serves as managing director of CG Corp Global — says that they will expand the company’s pièce de résistance: its instant noodles manufacturing business, notably the Wai Wai noodles 

His father Binod Chaudhary famously acquired the rights to distribute the Thai brand in Nepal in 1984, which earned him the title of Nepal’s “Noodle King.” Today, Binod Chaudhary is Nepal’s sole billionaire as the owner of CG Corp Global, which employs more than 30,000 people across 20 countries worldwide.

“We want to continue to expand our global presence through strategic partnerships, acquisitions, and investments majorly focusing on the manufacturing of instant noodles across the world,” Chaudhary shared.

Furthermore, CG plans to increase its headcount by another 6,000 over the next five years and expand initiatives in its foundation.

Whilst CG has no plans at the moment to enter the financial and banking sectors of other markets in Asia, they have recently expanded business in other sectors. Notably, CG entered the EV market and partnered with numerous Chinese EV Brands for Nepal and for the South Asia region — Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives and Bangladesh.

Most recently, Chaudhary represented Nepal in the World Economic Forum 2024 held in Davos, Switzerland, where he was a panel speaker for two sessions — one on the future of manufacturing in India, and the second on scaling climate action in Asia

“[The] major highlight of my Davos journey was my speech on climate change and its far-reaching impact. I depicted Nepal as a custodian of the Himalayas and focused on the fact that the impact of climate change is greater in the Himalayas despite having the least emission of greenhouse gases,” Chaudhary said.

Chaudhary follows in the footsteps of his father in attending WEF. He cited lessons from his father and grandfather, who expanded and founded CG, respectively, in guiding him as a leader.

“Of the continuous lessons learned from my father and grandfather throughout my life, the following stands at the top: network equals net worth; the power of humility; [having] a frugal mindset; [appreciating] the value of money; and the power of giving,” he noted.

“In life, 50% is hard work-commitment-honesty and 50% is luck and karma. One hundred percent (100%) is actually in our hands. Being a kind human, doing good and giving back for a good cause and not harming others determine the outcome of the 100%,” he said. “Business is a spiritual game of how you add more value to others, how you do more for your customers than anyone else would do.”

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