News Column

A vision of the future

May 18, 2014

What is the strategic plan for 2014? How well are you positioned to meet these targets?

"As I've already outlined, 2013 was a very strong year for the Barwa Bank Group and the momentum has continued with a very positive start to 2014 as we continue to deliver innovative Shari'ah compliant banking services to our clients and add value to our shareholders and the financial sector in Qatar. We intend to continue to build the infrastructure that supports our strategic growth plans, including additional investment in information technology and premises, and we plan to open two new locations during the first half of 2014. Additional key targets include building our human capacity and we have been very successful in attracting bright Qatari talents in the banking sector to join us. We will continue to expand and improve our banking channels whether through new branches, enhanced online and telephone banking services or our ATM network. We also continue to leverage the synergy between all of our departments and business units to be the Shari'ah-compliant banking partner of choice for customers in Qatar. There are major opportunities in Islamic capital markets and we have a proven track record of Sukuk issuances that support our growth plans in this sector. We have healthy financial results and a strong team and that makes us confident that we can maintain our growth momentum."

What is your view on your new role as acting CEO? What makes for good leadership skills?

"I'm extremely excited to take up this new position and very humbled to have this trust placed in me. My predecessor, Mr. Steve Troop did a wonderful and insightful job of establishing Barwa Bank and giving the organisation strong foundations for its future growth, and I am committed to building on this considerable achievement. I believe the qualities for good leadership are being able to inspire action, to have integrity and to support and facilitate your team. All those I have looked up to in my career have been good role models, knowledgeable in their fields, and worthy of respect. I believe that for people to do their very best work, they need an environment that supports and facilitates their progress toward attaining organisational goals. We already have a strong and accomplished team at Barwa Bank and I fully intend to continue to support its development in order that we can fully realise our potential in the years to come. Furthermore, we have a clear vision and road map in Barwa Bank that is shared and supported by the board of directors and this is a crucial element to our past and future success."

Has it been an advantage working through the ranks at the bank to reach this position and why?

"It most certainly has. Having been part of the Barwa Bank Group journey has helped me to understand the obstacles and challenges we faced as a start- up, as well as our unique strengths, and I am extremely committed to the bank and its continued progress. As an organisation, we are dedicated to the philosophy of hiring people across our various operational departments who can develop into leaders and continue to grow with us."

What operational areas need immediate attention at the bank?

"This year, we will be looking at further centralisation, streamlining of operational processes and to leverage the significant investment we are making in technology. Customers should be able to manage most of their transactions from their mobile or laptop in real time without the inconvenience of having to visit a branch or wait for the bank to process a payment which has already been sent electronically. In order to deliver this we will be streamlining operations to deliver straight-through-processing of many payments during 2014."

Which segments are you planning to grow? What type of investment will be made into supporting this growth?

"We made early progress in corporate and business banking and these remain our core revenue generators. Our retail footprint is an area which is rapidly developing and one we will continue to invest here. Building our personal financial services business is another priority and although this always takes time, we are confident that we are doing the 'right' things, a view reinforced by regular customer feedback."

What new Islamic products and services are on offer?

"A highlight is the upcoming launch of our new mobile banking application as part of our commitment to investment in digital channels and services. This application allows customers to manage important account information anytime, anywhere. We believe the future of banking lies in mobile and online banking, and the launch of this new mobile banking application is part of our effort to provide our customers with a seamless banking experience through a number of channels. Ultimately this is part of our commitment towards improving the banking experience for customers in Qatar and we look forward to introducing more innovative Shari'ah- compliant products and services to the market."

Where is the demand coming from in Islamic products and how can the bank capitalise on this?

"We see potential in areas of corporate finance, Sukuk issuances, retail banking and private banking. Islamic banking traditionally enjoyed a niche market based on cultural preferences but that changed following the financial crisis when the industry proved to be more resilient and robust than traditional banking. This led to demand being generated from markets that have not been historically interested in Islamic banking. We see, for example, huge increasing demand on Sukuk from European and North American markets, and furthermore we have seen recently some corporate Sukuk issuances from these markets. I personally think that Islamic banking is set for more future growth and we can capitalise on this by being innovative and drive the development of modern Shari'ah compliant products, services and tools. We have launched the first Sukuk trading platform for example last year and it was very well received by a lot of investors who did not have access to such a tool before. We will continue this model of innovative thinking and progressive action while we maintain a robust risk management at the heart of our work. This is how we drive the industry's growth and benefit from it to create value for customers, shareholders and the markets we work in."

How important is reporting and compliance for the bank? What challenges are there and how can the Central Bank guide local banks in this? What new technologies are being implemented, to these ends?

"Complying with regulations is among the top priorities of Barwa Bank management; the bank is applying QCB regulations in all related activities and promotes the culture of compliance throughout various departments. Since establishment, the bank invested heavily in its Compliance Department which equipped itself with needed human resources and systems to fulfill its important role.

"Anti-money laundering is one of the major challenges facing the Qatari financial sector due to the nature of the Qatar economy as being a tax haven. Regulatory authorities implemented international standards through a set of local laws and regulations and strictly following its implementation, this issue caught the management's attention and considerable efforts were given to mitigate and manage this risk."

What regional and international growth plans are there in the next two years? Where will this be and what are the needs of the market?

"We recently opened a representative office in Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). We have been providing facilities to public and private sector companies in the UAE for three years now, so opening a representative office was a logical next step as we seek to deepen existing relationships and enhance the level of service we can provide. This is the first time Barwa Bank has opened an office overseas and is testament to our commitment to developing the Shari'ah-compliant financial market outside as well as within Qatar. Qatar remains our core market, as we aspire to being the most recommended Islamic bank group in Qatar, acknowledged for our progressive ethos, excellent service, outstanding results and contribution to society. However, we are now looking to selectively grow our representation across other regional and international markets in the coming years."

We will continue this model of innovative thinking and progressive action while we maintain a robust risk management at the heart of our work

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Source: Islamic Business & Finance

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