The Business Year

Alex Thursby

UAE, ABU DHABI - Finance

On the Up

Group CEO, National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD)


Alex Thursby became Group CEO of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) in July 2013, having joined the firm from ANZ Bank, where he was CEO of its international and institutional banking division. Before ANZ Bank, he worked for 21 years at Standard Chartered Bank, spending time in Hong Kong, Singapore, the UAE, and the UK. He holds a degree in Business Administration.

What is your vision for leading the bank, and what are your core management priorities? While our vision is still to become the world’s best Arab bank, our route to […]

What is your vision for leading the bank, and what are your core management priorities?

While our vision is still to become the world’s best Arab bank, our route to achieving this has changed. The premise of the new plan is a simple philosophy of being driven by the customer agenda, or what we call “being core to our chosen customers.” In that regard, moving away from a scale-to-scale model is important. Part of the problem with banks globally is that they tend to talk of market share in the same way as industrial firms, when really a bank’s share of the revenue wallet is more important. In that statement, you are dealing with clear risk and return criteria. Within that context, our customer profiles may vary; in certain businesses this means retail customers, and in others portfolio customers. In the wholesale banking arena the focus leans much more toward certain industry segments, and subsequently specific customers. Our customer-oriented strategy has three major tenets. The first is to lift NBAD from the number five position in the UAE in commercial and retail banking to number one. In wholesale banking, sometimes called corporate banking—even though the two are different—we are reasonably strong. And in terms of local banks, we are the number one player. And yet, in the retail and commercial bracket, we are massively underweight. Being number five, in my view, is not acceptable if NBAD is to be a strong force in the domestic market.

How will NBAD expand abroad?

We are looking to build five franchises, in addition to our UAE Gulf franchise, in five countries. Yet, this will take place a little further down the line; we need to get rings one and two in place first. We will look at destination markets of high growth and some volatility, which allows us to capitalize on our rating, high urbanization rate, aggressive GDP per capita, and urban growth. We want to create a business model that acknowledges that we are not going to be the number one bank in any of these countries, as that status is the preserve of a local bank, but one nonetheless that allows us to deploy significant offerings across our retail, commercial, and wholesale banking businesses around specific cities and specific targeted groups. For us, the affluent are important. We don’t need 5,000 branches in these destinations to be effective and generate money. We are looking to target specific countries. It could be Egypt, Malaysia, or elsewhere. We are really only starting to formulate these five countries now. Nigeria is also a very attractive market, for example. The mistake that people make is to think that global banking works; it doesn’t—not in terms of returns. It is becoming increasingly difficult, too, because of regulatory changes. We therefore have to strategically allocate our resources.

Why should UAE depositors contemplate moving to NBAD?

One of our value propositions, and I think this has been proven in times of crisis, is a solid rating and safety value. We are now one of the world’s 50 safest banks, and the safest bank in the emerging markets. This is clearly something that corporations and individuals want to deal with. We should add to that our customer proposition in terms of improved service and dedication to a relationship, rather than a product push approach, which is something I emphasize considerably. Customers since 2008 are looking for safety and quality service. We have a lot to do, but I think we are well on the way in terms of relationships. There are few banks that take this, rather than the product approach, and all of them besides us, have major operations in Asia, or are actually from the continent. This insight and knowledge of the customer is something we have to maximize.



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