Abdulla Mubarak Al Khalifa, acting chief executive officer of Qatar National Bank (QNB) Group shares insights and strategies with Synergy Media Specialists.

Please share QNB’s most recent performance in parallel with the country’s growth and development.

QNB continued to demonstrate sustainable growth both in our balance sheet and net profit as of September 30, with total assets of $234 billion and a net profit of $3 billion, further cementing our position as the leading bank in the Middle East and Africa across key metrics. Qatar’s economic performance remains resilient; despite the economic blockade imposed by some of its neighboring countries, the economy grew by 1.6 percent in 2017. Qatar’s gross domestic product growth is forecast to gain by a solid 2.6 percent in 2018 as headwinds from the hydrocarbon sector abate and the booming construction sector drives non-hydrocarbon growth. Government policies to promote private-sector development are also lifting domestic demand and QNB’s strategy is to pursue sustainable, profitable growth. We stand out as a strong international bank, operating as a full-service financial institution and continually experience growth in our core markets of Qatar, Turkey and Egypt, and as a wholesale commercial bank across a range of frontier and emerging markets in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia (MEASEA). We also have a growing presence in well-established economies, such as the U.K., France, Switzerland and Singapore. Our responsibility is to help our clients grow and protect their finances through a variety of banking services. A wide range of benefits are tailor-made for our customers in a professional and ethical manner and contribute to local, national and regional economies. We do not limit our engagement to financial contribution alone, but also bring a social contribution to the countries and communities in which we operate in.

How is QNB supporting the country’s plans toward the 2022 FIFA World Cup and Qatar National Vision 2030?

QNB is committed to invest in Qatar’s future and it continues today with significant financing support deployed on major projects that aid the continued diversification drive. We remain focused on four primary areas: utilities, transport, 2022 FIFA World Cup® infrastructure and real estate. In addition to these four core areas, we are supporting a number of private-sector initiatives to make Qatar’s economy more self-sufficient in the areas of food production, logistics and manufacturing to ensure long-term economic sustainability. QNB contributes to the Qatar National Vision (QNV) 2030 through its participation in education, sports, health, the environment and culture. QNB Group sponsors and participates in various events and initiatives that are parallel to QNV 2030, such as launching its sustainability initiative to recycle to raise awareness. Additionally, QNB is dedicated to its efforts in education and health by partnering with institutions like Qatar Foundation and Hamad Medical Corp. in events and conferences.

What is QNB’s strategy for expanding its global footprint, particularly in Asia?

International expansion is one of the cornerstones of QNB Group’s strategy to achieve its vision of becoming a leading bank in MEASEA by 2020. ​QNB currently operates in over 31 countries across Asia, Africa and Europe. As of September 30, 2018, the international share of net profits, loans and deposits represented 35 percent, 29 percent and 44 percent respectively. These results substantiate that our increasing geographical diversification positively contributes to growth.

QNB aims to strengthen its presence in markets in which we have established our presence. We plan to continue strengthening our contribution from our previous acquisitions in Egypt and Turkey. In both these markets, we see further growth potential. Moreover, we see opportunity with our niche play and positioning in Europe and the rest of Middle East and Africa.

In Asia, we have a branch in Singapore, which serves as our Asian hub and a subsidiary in Indonesia, which is the largest economy in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). We are specifically targeting the ASEAN economies — export-oriented economies that exceeded global economic growth in the last two decades. Growth in these markets is expected to continue. In 2017 we opened our first branch in India, which has led to expanding trade and establishing ties with Qatar and the MEASEA more broadly. 

Furthermore, QNB has already benefited from opportunities in markets further afield, particularly in Japan and the Far East, where we have built deeper relationships with institutional investors. We plan to strengthen our presence in Asia through the opening of a branch in Hong Kong, for which we have submitted our license application. Hong Kong is one of the world’s global financial hubs and a gateway to China, Japan and rest of the Far East. 

As we pursue growth, we remain committed to prudent and controlled expansion. The new markets of relevance would be considered based on the following dimensions — the macroeconomic outlook, banking sector attractiveness (penetration and growth potential), the ability to follow QNB’s existing customers, balancing QNB’s risk appetite and regulatory requirements for market entry. We will consider the potential of acquisitions on a purely opportunistic basis if suitable targets are available in these markets.

Please share existing and potential relations with Japan and Japanese investors.

Qatar-Japan relations have been long established in the field of hydrocarbons, energy, infrastructure and engineering. Japan received its first shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar in 1996. Significant trade volumes between the two countries exist as witnessed by total bilateral trade exceeding $13 billion in 2017. In 2006, the Qatar-Japan Joint Economic Committee was established to hold annual meetings to discuss areas of opportunities with partners to enhance the mutually beneficial relationship. Over 45 Japanese firms are based in Qatar that have been actively supporting the development of LNG infrastructure in the country. Moreover, other Japanese firms have been involved in Qatar as it prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup®, such as the metro rail project, extension of Hamad International Airport and more. Looking ahead, partnerships with Qatari investors are expected to fuel future growth in the fields of business, civil aviation, industry and trade, health care, education, infrastructure and investments.

QNB has strong and growing ties with several Japanese corporates and the Japanese banking sector, namely the three major players of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Mizuho Bank Ltd. The relationship with the Japanese financial institutions range from trade finance, where we assist our respective clients in terms of import and export of Japanese goods to Qatar and of Qatar’s LNG, among other goods to the Japanese market. Correspondent banking is another pillar of our cooperation with the Japanese banks whereby QNB acts as the local clearer for Qatari riyal to Japanese banks, similarly Japanese banks assist us in the yen clearing system. The augmented relationship is also demonstrated in our bank’s syndications with significant ticket size reflecting the Japanese banks’ commitment to Qatar in general and to QNB in particular.

What are your business expectations and your economic outlook for the year ahead?

One of the cornerstones of QNB’s strategy is to maintain our market-leading franchise in Qatar, in which we continue to do so. There is strong growth potential given the State of Qatar’s planned significant capital outlay for development coupled with strong intent and demonstrated support to nurture the growth of the private sector. These initiatives provide tailwinds for favorable growth. QNB is committed to catalyzing Qatar’s future and continues with its significant financing support to major projects that aid the continued diversification drive. We remain focused on four primary areas: utilities, transport, 2022 FIFA World Cup® infrastructure and real estate. In addition to these four core areas, we are supporting a number of private sector initiatives to make Qatar more self-sufficient in the areas of food production, logistics and manufacturing to ensure long-term economic sustainability. 

The GDP data already highlights the success of the state’s diversification drive. The share of the non-hydrocarbon sector has grown from about 40 percent of GDP to around 52 percent GDP between 2011 to 2017. On a year-over-year basis as a percentage of GDP, this sector grew at a buoyant 5.3 percent in 2016 and a still solid 3.8 percent in 2017 demonstrating resilience in spite of the temporary disruption due to the economic blockade. We anticipate non-hydrocarbon GDP growth of 5 percent in 2018, rising to 5.3 percent in 2019, and hydrocarbon GDP at a modest growth of 0.2 percent in 2018, which would end four years of decline. Overall GDP growth is seen at 3.2 percent in 2019.

Internationally, most of the markets we are present in have a favorable economic growth outlook albeit not as sanguine as 2018. MEASEA markets will remain the focal point for QNB Group’s long-term global growth. These regions require further investment and trade flows to support the building of the foundation for socioeconomic development, such as infrastructure, including transport, real estate, power, telecoms, health care, education and tourism. By strategically positioning our business across these markets, we are securing our vision to become a leading bank in MEASEA by 2020. We believe that through our own network, as well as through our partners and alliances, we have the necessary local knowledge, expertise and understanding of the risks and opportunities to successfully create and capture significant value in those markets. This positively contributes to QNB’s growth and adds additional strength to the group by diversifying our sources of revenue and profit.