What have been the main achievements and milestones for Barwa Bank in the past year?
Barwa Bank has been in the market for more than a decade, having developed from a start-up phase into a mature organization that has consistently gained market share while increasing its asset base, client portfolio, and product offerings. In the last financial year ending December 31, 2018, we are proud to have realized a net profit of QAR765 million, and our total assets exceeded the QAR44-billion mark. The government is Barwa Bank's largest shareholder, and in line with the nation's ambitious economic diversification plans, we are focused on meeting the requirements of the local economy, namely assisting government-related entities, corporates, SMEs, and private and retail banking clients with their ever-evolving banking needs.
How is Barwa Bank innovating through its digital services?
The group's positive financial results come in line with its commitment to improve the products and services provided to customers and to benefit from the rapid development of technologies that provide the greatest flexibility and ease of transactions, while aiming to deliver distinguished sharia-compliant services equivalent to international standards. Our corporate internet banking enables secure access anywhere in the world. On another front, our SMS banking is designed to keep customers up-to-date with their finances with instant alerts to their mobile phones. In addition, we launched our all-new mobile banking app in 1Q2019 that aims to simplify banking transactions without any need to visit branches. The future of banking lies in mobile and online banking, and providing our customers with such accessibility comes in line with our efforts to deliver a seamless banking experience through a range of secure and convenient channels.
How do you assess the impact of the blockade on Qatar's economy?
The blockade was unfortunate and unexpected; however, there has been a negligible impact on the day-to-day lives of people. A positive outcome of the blockade can be seen in the new sectors that have emerged, covering food security, warehousing, ports, and logistics. The blockade has enabled local SMEs to claim a larger role in agribusiness, F&B, basic commodities, light industries, and the medical sectors. Qatar has demonstrated to the world that it does not politicize trade, which has been a catalyst for FDI, tourism, foreign ownership, and the equity markets. Essentially, it has moved the wheel faster in terms of Qatar's strategy to diversify away from the hydrocarbons sector. On the financial side, Qatar's banking system remained healthy with ample liquidity, high asset quality, and strong capitalization, although external pressure prevails. Barwa Bank in particular had a solid financial performance in both 2017 and 2018. Today, we are prepared to support public- and private-sector diversification initiatives, backed by Qatar's robust and dynamic economy. We continue to provide support to foreign companies based in Qatar and entities looking to do business in Qatar.
What value will the Barwa Bank and ibq merger bring to Qatar's banking sector?
Our board of directors and shareholders have approved the merger between Barwa Bank and ibq. The merger will rebalance the Qatari banking sector, creating a leading sharia-compliant financial institution with a solid financial position and robust liquidity. The combined assets of both banks are around QAR80 billion, with shareholders' equity of about QAR12 billion based on December 31, 2018 financial results. The merger will result in a large entity that will have a 6% share of Qatar's overall banking market and makes Barwa Bank and ibq more competitive to tap into big-ticket projects. Furthermore, the new entity will have a diverse financing and depositor's profile, diversifying risk and strengthening the business proposition of the combined entity given the individual segmental strengths of Barwa Bank and ibq.