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Hesham Abdulla Al Qassim

UAE, DUBAI - Finance

Ready, Steady, Sukuk!

Vice-Chairman, Emirates NBD

Bio

Hesham Abdulla Al Qassim studied Banking and Finance between 1991 and 1995 before heading on to complete his Master’s in International Business. He has extensive experience in the banking sector of 14 years in the former National Bank of Dubai, which is now Emirates NBD. He has held various senior management positions in the bank and is currently the Vice-Chairman. He is also the Deputy Chairman, Managing, and CEO of Dubai Real Estate Corporation.

"Emirates NBD actively participates, supports, and in many cases leads these sukuk projects."

Emirates NBD was listed in October 2007 on the Dubai Financial Market as a result of a merger between Emirates Bank International and the National Bank of Dubai (NBD). What strengths did the bank achieve by combining the second and fourth largest banks in the UAE?

Through the merger, we became the largest bank in the UAE and one of the leading banks in the Middle East. We have achieved a great synergy between the two banks and this has added to the economy of Dubai, and the UAE as a whole. The rationale behind the merger was to create a large and strong bank that is capable of expanding both regionally and internationally. One of the focal points that needed to be highlighted was that the NBD was the first bank in the UAE. It began its operations in 1963, prior to the creation of the UAE Union in 1971. The bank has a long heritage, deeply rooted in the culture of the UAE, and this has allowed it to play a vital role in shaping Dubai. There are several companies that have made a difference in the city, and the bank supported many of the start-up projects from 1963 to the 1980s. The success of the bank is irrelevant compared to the success of the city. Without Dubai, the bank would not be as big as it is; therefore, we are linked. The success of Dubai, having the right business base and being a multinational economy, has supported the financial sector and guaranteed the success of the city’s economy. Dubai’s trade is international. A large majority of the imported goods to this country are coming in a transit capacity. Similarly, Dubai Airport is now the second biggest in the world, and has surpassed other prominent and leading airports around the globe. Dubai has created the right circumstances to become the international hub that it is, and this is reflected in the success of its financial institutions and our bank. Dubai has a unique character and a different flavor to other GCC countries. It is a genuinely multicultural place, but the locals still manage to keep their own traditions. As a modern and established city, Dubai has an excellent and unsurpassable infrastructure, allowing families to live comfortably and to prosper. Dubai’s welcoming environment invites talent and business from around the world as well as a large number of tourists who visit the UAE for leisure purposes. Ultimately, it is the result of the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai, as his vision for the city is what has brought about this success. His Highness is the strong driving force that is leading Dubai in the right direction.

Which products do customers demand the most from the bank?

Any customer that needs financial services looks for a full range of banking services. All customer needs, starting from opening an account to obtaining finance for cars, mortgages, credit cards, and travel, among many others, must be fulfilled from our side. The services must be accessible too, and Emirates NBD has excelled in terms of technology and the offering of technology platforms to its customers. Today, Emirates NBD has a physical side as well as a virtual offering, and we have focused on user-friendly services by developing applications for all platforms, namely the iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android. For our consumers, Emirates NBD offers a host of products and services as well as banking packages and investment opportunities that provide exceptional privileges for our Priority Banking and Private Banking customers. At the same time, we are a very sophisticated bank in terms of our corporate services making Emirates NBD a major player in the corporate banking arena.

“Emirates NBD actively participates, supports, and in many cases leads these sukuk projects.”

You won the “eBanking 2013 Excellence Award” for best mobile banking application. What is the customer profile of Emirates NBD?

We cater to a wide range of profiles, and from a broader perspective, we are catering to every person in this country. Today, we are looking at being a fully fledged bank, and we look to every customer and do our utmost to address their specific needs. If we categorize our customers into age brackets, education level, and through other demographic statistics, we have profiles for these customers. For example, for the eldest category, these customers would not typically use technology, so for those customers we have our branches and staff that help them with everything they need. When it comes to our younger customers, we provide them with mobile banking services through enhanced platforms that allow them to easily and safely access their accounts and carry out transactions even when they are on the go. On the corporate front, we have platforms for SMEs as well as large local and international corporations and financial institutions.

You are present not only in the UAE and GCC region, but also in China, Singapore, the UK, and Egypt, amongst others. What opportunities does Emirates NBD foresee in these markets?

The opportunities depend on the country. Take Saudi Arabia for example. There are many financial institutions there, and it is a very large market. We are one of the financial institutions proud to have a presence in the country. It is a GCC nation with a huge economic base, and as a bank we have developed an excellent reputation in the market there. Emirates NBD has been there since 2003, and the bank is doing a successful business. The Saudi market is very sophisticated, and in fact we are learning a lot from this market. We do not see Saudi Arabia as being a different country, but rather a natural extension of our own market and economy. When we set up abroad, we do so with the intent of supporting our customers’ expansion plans in new markets. Dubai, and the UAE, is a regional hub, so many of our customers already have established businesses in their country of origin. Unfortunately, we are not always able to set up in another country as most of them have restrictions on financial institution licenses. This idea of growing with our customers is part of our broader attempt to offer a complete range of services.

HH Sheikh Mohammed envisions Dubai as a global center for the sukuk market and Islamic finance. Do you see any opportunities within this sector for Emirates NBD?

Emirates NBD actively participates, supports, and in many cases leads these sukuk projects. We are certainly supporting His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai’s vision to establish Dubai as a center for Islamic banking. Emirates NBD provides its clients a variety of Islamic banking offerings through its subsidiary, Emirates Islamic Bank, which has almost 70 branches across the UAE. We also have an Islamic banking window within Emirates NBD called Al Watani Al Islami, which offers sharia-compliant banking.

Which products and services do you find your customers demand the most from your bank?

Emirates NBD is a bank that caters to a variety of customer segments. After the merger, Emirates NBD has been able to provide its customers with services ranging from retail to corporate to private to investment banking. If the question is whether we can cater to any customer, I can proudly say, “yes,” regardless of whether it is Islamic or non-Islamic banking. The merger has created a banking group that caters for anyone. We are seeing more activity on the corporate side for advisory services and more movement on the real estate front. I think many areas have seen significant improvements and growth, for example with credit cards. This area has seen significant growth, and this is also the case with SMEs. We have the biggest SME portfolio in the country.

What efforts do you make to attract and retain skilled staff?

We are in the service industry, and the most important part of that is the human talent. Therefore, we have made a huge investment in terms of human capital, as this is the organization’s most valued asset. Emirates NBD has more than 9,000 staff, representing more than 60 nationalities, and we can proudly say that they will always be the pillars of the Group’s success. We always focus on ensuring that our staff are happy and that they are sufficiently trained to be among the best in the region, and we do this by hosting a number of programs that cater to employee development and career growth.

© The Business Year – January 2014

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