TBY talks to Julian Wynter, CEO of Standard Chartered, on the fundamentals that still make the UAE a great place to invest in, banking on Islamic finance, and burgeoning opportunities in wealth management.

Julian Wynter
A graduate of Oxford University, Julian Wynter was appointed CEO of Standard Chartered UAE in October 2015. In his previous role, he was group head of Internal Audit, reporting directly to the group CEO and providing independent assurance to management and the board on the effectiveness of the systems and controls within the bank. Wynter is a seasoned banker with over 30 years of experience and brings a wealth of banking and audit experience to the UAE, having led the bank’s Malaysia and Japan business as CEO and having held several senior management roles in auditing.

How is Standard Chartered navigating the digital transition?

Standard Chartered is investing heavily in the digital space with the ambition to build the digital retail bank of the future. To support this ambition, last year the bank announced an investment of USD1.5 billion across its network to deliver a better banking experience to clients using digital technology. In the UAE, we have rolled out cutting-edge fingerprint technology in our mobile banking service and enhanced the online banking user interface so that clients can securely and seamlessly access their bank account balances, cards, and investments. We have also enhanced our fund transfer limits to suit the needs of our clients. The bank will also introduce voice biometric technology for phone banking services for clients by early next year.

Do you think Islamic finance is being fully tapped as a market here?

There are lots of opportunities here, not least of which is the government's determination to make Dubai the global Islamic finance center. Analysts say the recent slowdown in the growth of Islamic finance reflects more challenging economic conditions across a number of core Islamic markets—particularly in the GCC countries, due to lower oil prices. However, in many core markets where we operate, such as the UAE, the Islamic banking sector continues to outpace growth in conventional banking, supported by proactive regulations and strong retail client demand due to the inclusive nature of Islamic banking products. Sukuk issuance is also very successful here, with the Nasdaq Dubai overtaking London and Malaysia as the world's leading center for international sukuk listings, and we expect this to continue. We are committed to building our Islamic business here with the client needs in mind. We are the only bank that has a full Islamic retail arm, as well as financial markets, debt capital markets, and corporate banking.

What macro-economic fundamentals make the UAE such a good market for Standard Chartered?

For us, the UAE continues to evolve and extend its business and consumer offering, which in turn creates new opportunities for Standard Chartered to keep up with innovative financial services and solutions to meet our clients' needs. Undoubtedly the economy is a bit softer, but the response from the UAE has been to maintain its diversification agenda, which has already been in place in Dubai for some time. There are many ongoing infrastructure projects, world-class ports, airports, and free trade zones, all of which is complemented by rapid population growth.

There are around 50 banks in the UAE catering to a population of 10 million. Do you think the market is reaching saturation point?

Recent developments in the banking sector have signaled an increasing need for further consolidation to stay efficient and profitable. We continue to see interest for a range of financing products in the market. In particular, debt capital markets is an area where we see good business momentum in the region. The drop in oil, which resulted in a lower supply of capital, has given us the opportunity to tap our international network and attract investors from outside the Emirates. Another area of growth is wealth management, where there is a demand for tailored investment and insurance products. Our products are structured with the client in mind, which is one of the reasons why despite everything our volumes have picked up.

Are high net-worth individuals getting more creative due to the weaker economy?

With local stock markets being flat at the moment and global uncertainties adding to market complexity, high net-worth individuals are being forced to think of alternative types of investments. Real estate is one of the areas they are looking at the most.