How would you characterize your success in Dubai?
I think our success in Dubai is clearly because of HH Sheikh Mohammad's vision and where he wants to see Dubai. He has created a vision and a culture. He liberated the government offices and made Dubai an attractive place to work, live, and invest. It's a complete lifestyle. We have approached Dubai as a holistic rather than fragmented solution. Putting all of that together has really energized Dubai. Dubai was always a hub in the region; however, we have managed to grow it onto a much larger scale. It's been a bit of a rollercoaster at times; however, Dubai's economy is open to the world. This is a result of it being an open economy; however, we have developed the agility and ability so that when we suffer a global shock, we are capable of bouncing back. If you look at the UAE or Dubai stock markets in 2013, we have bounced back better than any other exchange. That resilience is evident in the economy, and is in the very DNA of Dubai. That's what makes Dubai a dynamic place.
How do you think that Mashreq Bank played a role in the resiliency of Dubai's economy after the recent financial crisis?
While being the oldest bank in the country, we have enjoyed witnessing the progress, history of growth, and the challenges the economy has undergone. Because Mashreq has always believed in Dubai's direction, we continue supporting our clients during the difficult times. We have never dropped the lines and stopped doing business. Our clients have history doing business in the country and we believed they would overcome these challenges, and they did. Mashreq's success is because of our customers' success and our customers' success is because of the economy's success. It's a partnership between the economy, the customers, and Mashreq.
What are the next steps for the bank?
The next stage is growth, and we also aim for a better customer experience. At the end of the day, most banks will offer the same products and services. What will differentiate the banks is the experience that the customer goes through when they do their banking transactions. And this experience cannot be copied overnight. If the customer has a great experience, word of mouth and advertising will encourage more customers to come to us, be they retail, SME, or corporate clients.
How would you describe Dubai's role as a leading international city today?
Dubai has rightly been recognized as one of the leading cities in the world. From the perspective of the airlines, Dubai's airport is today by far the largest in terms of international passengers. If you look at Dubai's ports, we are the third largest transshipment port in the world. We have established ourselves quickly as a prominent hub for business. If you look at regional offices for multinationals, there is no choice for them but Dubai. From Morocco to Oman, the only logical place is Dubai. The free trade zones will attract people to set up their businesses, and we've also tried to focus on a sector-based approach. We try to promote the finance sector with DIFC, while for media we have Dubai Media City, and a host of other free zones to allow people ownership and a place to set up their factories. Basically, we adapt our free trade zones to a sector focus and in line with the sector's regulations in order to make the investment climate friendly and conducive to business.
What is your vision on the HH Sheikh Mohammed's goal to make Dubai the capital of the Islamic economy?
It is achievable, as the market is well established. We have the knowhow, and are putting everything together as a unified product. It will encompass a spectrum of banking, takaful, and food, among other components. We are looking at what it will take, for example, to receive certification for halal food. We want to make an authenticated Islamic center for certification of halal products. We consider it achievable, and we have the track record of achievement on an international scale.
What will be the impact of the Al Etihad Credit Bureau on the financial industry?
A credit bureau is long overdue. We have done a lot of things here in the UAE except the credit bureau. Finally, we have it. I think it will slow down lending by banks because people will discover how much has been borrowed or over borrowed. Long term, it will protect everyone—borrowers, banks, and the economy—from a crisis. We will be undertaking lending, particularly on the retail and SME side.
What is your outlook for the coming year?
I am pretty optimistic, as we now have a strong currency that is linked to the dollar, which makes it even better for our economy. It may impact some tourists, but our tourist numbers are growing annually, benefitting from superb infrastructure, environment, logistics, and legal system. There is no other city in the region that can compete with us. We simply present a vast array of possibilities, which ranges from our own ice hockey team to a diversity of educational possibilities including many languages. Moreover, we have been spared the regional turmoil, while we leverage our strengths. There is no safer haven for investment than the UAE and Dubai.
© The Business Year - April 2015