Ajay Banga, the corporate executive nominated by Washington to lead the World Bank, has a track record that will be put to test if he becomes the next leader of the multilateral lender.
The Indian-American ― who is the front-runner to take over after David Malpass announced plans to step down early ― has been praised for his work in addressing financial inclusion and climate change.
Mr Banga, 63, is vice chairman of private equity firm General Atlantic and was previously chief executive of US payments major MasterCard for 12 years, before retiring in December 2021.
During his time at the helm of MasterCard, Mr Banga led the second-largest US card company through the aftermath of the 2008-2009 Great Recession and spearheaded its digital and international expansion.
The company's annual revenue tripled to $15.3 billion during his tenure, according to regulatory filings.
Before that, he served as chief executive of Citigroup's Asia Pacific region where he was responsible for the company's business units in the region, including institutional banking, alternative investments, wealth management, consumer banking and credit cards.
The executive also held positions at Nestle, PepsiCo and Kraft Foods.
“Ajay is uniquely equipped to lead the World Bank at this critical moment in history,” US President Joe Biden said.
“He has spent more than three decades building and managing successful, global companies that create jobs and bring investment to developing economies, and guiding organisations through periods of fundamental change. He has a proven track record managing people and systems, and partnering with global leaders around the world to deliver results.”
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Mr Banga's record of forging partnerships between the public and private sectors and non-profits will support him in mobilising private capital and pressing for necessary reforms.
Mr Banga's efforts have helped bring 500 million unbanked people into the digital economy, deploy private capital into climate solutions, and expand economic opportunity, she said.
“This experience will help him achieve the World Bank’s objectives of eliminating extreme poverty and expanding shared prosperity while pursuing the changes needed to effectively evolve the institution to be fit for purpose for the world we face today,” Ms Yellen said.
An outpouring of support for Mr Banga came from various corners of the corporate world, government offices and financial institutions.
“Happy to hear that Ajay Banga, who I have known for many years, has been nominated as a candidate to lead @WorldBank … I admire his commitment to sustainable development, to do good and help those most in need,” Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said.
“Great to see Ajay Banga nominated to lead The World Bank,” said Mike Bloomberg in a LinkedIn post.
“He was a strong partner for our administration in City Hall and we've teamed up on other issues since. I'm looking forward to working with him on climate change and other crucial global development challenges.”
US Vice President Kamala Harris said Mr Banga “will be a transformative World Bank president. I have seen first-hand the great insight, energy, and persistence he brings to address global challenges and promote economic opportunity”.
Mr Banga's selection also attracted praise from supporters who said, having been raised in India, he brings a different perspective to the institution.
“A proud day for India, its diaspora and a great day for the World Bank,” Harit Talwar, a board member of MasterCard, said.
“I might be biased as a friend, but honestly few as qualified as him for this job. He’s a global citizen, has led large complex organisations, has valuable experience in the development sector but more than anything else, is grounded, passionate, skilful and insightful. He will make a mark in leading World Bank in its mission to make our planet more equitable and hospitable for all.”
Mr Banga, who has a bachelor of arts in economics from Delhi University and is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, is also involved in social activism.
He was an honoree at the International Peace Honours held by PeaceTech Lab, the award-winning non-profit organisation founded by the US Institute of Peace, held in January 2022.
However, the nomination also drew criticism from some groups who decried the nomination of an ex-Wall Street executive for the role.
“Nothing in Mr Banga’s resume inspires confidence that he will turn the World Bank away from a path of neocolonialism and predation by Global North corporations upon Global South countries,” said Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, a non-profit that fights corporate influence in Washington.
He called on the Biden administration to retract the nomination.
“While Mr Banga may have extensive experience on Wall Street, we had hoped that President Biden would use this opportunity to ditch the old gentlemen’s agreement of World Bank and IMF appointments in favour of a more transparent and merit-based global process,” said Christian Donaldson, Oxfam International’s senior policy adviser on international financial institutions.
“The World Bank president will serve billions of people living in poverty, and the bank needs a leader who can tackle the extreme and intertwined crises of economic inequality and climate change,” he added.
The World Bank has started accepting candidate nominations in a process that is set to run until March 29.
The lender's executive directors will conduct formal interviews of all shortlisted candidates with the expectation of selecting the new president by early May 2023.