The Business Year

Salah Murad

QATAR - Finance

Solid Promises

CEO, Ahli Bank

Bio

Salah Murad serves as a senior executive with over 30 years of commercial banking experience. He is currently CEO of Ahli Bank. He has served on the boards of various companies and committees including credit, asset liabilities, investments, and risk, and developed strong contacts with governmental organizations, corporate and financial institutions, and the wider community. He has an MBA from Strathclyde Graduate Business School, Glasgow, UK.

"My ultimate goal is to see the bank consistently among the top three in terms of returns to shareholders."

The banking sector in Qatar is developing into a competitive market. How does Ahli Bank try to distinguish itself from the competitors?

We are a medium-sized bank. It may seem that our capital is a disadvantage, but we actually tend to think the opposite because we are able to be close to our customers. However, that is not our only distinguishing feature. When a customer comes to one of the branches or corporate offices of Ahli Bank, we promise to deliver a superior customer experience. Our team is extremely skilled, and we are proud of the people that represent Ahli Bank.

What are the recent initiatives that the bank has taken to improve its services?

In fact, when the ownership of the bank changed in 2013, we took the strategic decision to change our decision-making process within the bank and flatten the hierarchy. This should ultimately be reflected in meeting the demands and expectations of our clients. We also decided that we are not going to be a bank for everybody, but we will target specific segments. When this was decided, we also reset the delivery process. We are investing heavily in technology, such as mobile banking, in order to cater for the segment of the market in which we are present.

“My ultimate goal is to see the bank consistently among the top three in terms of returns to shareholders.”

What are the segments of the market that you are targeting?

One of our priorities is to increase our market share in retail banking. The investment plan for 2014 foresees reinforcing our brand identity and advancing our human capital and management skills. We work on a wider basis in retail than some other banks, and we have set an objective to increase that.

In 2013, the Qatar Foundation got involved in Ahli Bank by buying a 29% stake. Does that have any impact on the company?

Definitely. The Qatar Foundation has certainly raised the profile of the bank in the local market. It has opened up some interesting opportunities that we could seize. Currently, we are working with the Qatar Foundation on certain projects, which will eventually increase our revenues. The Qatar Foundation is always seeking safe and profitable investments. I am sure it has chosen Ahli Bank to support it investment objectives; therefore, it gives us comfort to know that we are considered a solid business partner.

How does the bank stand in view of the coming Basel III requirements?

The Qatar Central Bank (QCB) enforces the implementation of the Basel III rules. Most, if not all, Qatari banks comply with those rules. Ahli Bank complies with the requirements of the QCB up to 90% in terms of capital and liquidity. We are addressing the remaining 10%, too. One of the liquidity ratios to comply with has to do with liability mismatches, and we are working on that issue. I support the regulations of the QCB in terms of Basel III requirements, and they do not hinder us from growing our business. We have ample capital, so the Basel III requirements will not obstruct us from expanding.

In 2013, the bank underwent a restructuring of its operations. Could you inform us about the changes that have taken place?

Actually, there are three important aspects that we have worked on. The first was business banking. We have made the structure more intense. Secondly, we addressed the control issues, and started carrying out gap analysis procedures to understand where the risks are, allowing us to address them directly. And, thirdly, we examined our human capital. There are still some gaps left to fill, but we have already achieved a lot.

Qatar is developing rapidly, and infrastructure projects have taken center stage in that regard. How does Ahli Bank aim to contribute to the development of the country?

Geographically, our focus is Qatar. We are a 90%-95% Qatar-exposed company in terms of the balance sheet, so we have to demonstrate that commitment to the country as well. Ahli Bank, as well as other Qatari banks, have invested their capital in funding many infrastructure projects. The country is growing, and its population is swelling. The current infrastructure network cannot cope with the pace of growth and cannot effectively address some of the arising issues. It is only natural that we feel obliged to support this move forward.

What are the main challenges for the financial sector in the coming years?

I can foresee several major challenges. The one that I would like to point out is corporate governance. There will be changes to it in the future, with new regulations coming up. Banks are now limited in terms of product range. It is now shrinking to loans. The loans, however, require capital. Therefore, banks need to consider ways to supplement their fee income in order to keep up with the profit growth trend, yet minimize risk.

Where would you like to see Ahli Bank stand a decade from now?

My ultimate goal is to see the bank consistently among the top three in terms of returns to shareholders. Increasing our size, be it locally or internationally, is not our core strategy.

© The Business Year – September 2014

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