Interview: Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari
What is the scope for Qatari banks to further expand their footprints overseas?
ALI AHMED AL KUWARI: International expansion is one of the cornerstones of the QNB Group’s strategy to achieve its vision of becoming a leading Middle East, Africa and South-east Asian (MEASEA) bank by 2020. MEASEA markets will continue to enjoy some of the fastest global growth rates. These regions require further trade and investment flows as they build the foundations for socio-economic development. By strategically positioning our business across these markets, we are securing our vision. QNB will continue to expand its international network through controlled, strategic and opportunistic growth in target markets. This will positively contribute to QNB’s growth by diversifying our sources of revenue and profit.
It should also be noted that, despite economic headwinds, the domestic banking sector in Qatar is healthy and well capitalised, with a capital adequacy ratio of 16.1% at the end of 2016, return on equity in the mid-teens and a low level of non-performing loans. Strong supervision by the central bank and prudent lending policies have ensured the health of the sector, as reflected in the strong credit ratings awarded by leading international agencies. This has enabled banks to tap international markets to raise liquidity at competitive prices through conventional and sharia-compliant debt structures.
How is the banking sector nurturing the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as part of National Vision 2030?
AL KUWARI: Financial institutions play a vital role in nurturing the private sector, especially SMEs, which are still at a nascent stage in Qatar. The government and Qatar Development Bank (QDB) are actively working to promote this segment’s development and growth, and we are pleased to play a supporting role. After launching our first dedicated SME centre in Doha in 2015, we have continued to enhance it so that it may serve as a one-stop shop. Furthermore, QNB regularly sponsors a number of events to promote SMEs in Qatar, such as QDB’s Al Fikra Business Plan Competition. This educational and coaching program is designed for Qatari-led start-ups and entrepreneurs to develop and realise their business ideas. In addition, QNB has expanded its existing strategic alliances, such as with the Qatar Businesswomen’s Association, and forged new ones, such as with the Qatar Business Incubation Centre and Manateq, a new government-led initiative to accelerate entrepreneurship and the growth of SMEs.
Beyond working with SMEs, there are a number of other policy initiatives aimed at increasing the participation of the private sector in the economy. One of the most notable initiatives is the proposed law covering the use of public-private partnerships. Beside public infrastructure developments, the new law should open up opportunities for private companies in the sport, health and education sectors.
To what extent have Qatari banks diversified into specialised wealth and fund management services for high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs)?
AL KUWARI: Qatar has the world’s highest per capita GDP on a purchasing power parity basis, and the proportion of HNWIs residing here is large. Consequently, this market is actively targeted by both domestic and international banks. Overall, most domestic banks have begun to expand their offering for this segment.
QNB was an early mover in this area and began offering private banking services more than a decade ago. Strengthening and expanding our asset and wealth management services is now one of QNB’s core strategic initiatives. Today, we offer an advisory service that manages our clients’ wealth both onshore in Qatar and offshore through our wholly owned subsidiary in Switzerland. We have also refined our private banking service in our offices located in London and Paris.
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