The Business Year

Hussain Al Qemzi

UAE, DUBAI - Finance

Focal Points

CEO, Noor Bank

Bio

Hussain Al Qemzi is a seasoned banker with over 28 years of experience working with the leading financial institutions in the UAE. He is currently the CEO of Noor Bank, and also leads Noor Investment Group. Before Noor Bank, he was Chief Executive of Sharjah Islamic Bank and a former Board Member of the Dubai Financial Market (DFM) and the Dubai International Financial Exchange (DIFX). He also served as COO of the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), and is credited with laying the groundwork for the world-class financial hub.

"Noor Bank is ready and willing to help fund the large infrastructure development that will be necessary in the run up to Expo 2020."

Noor Bank is regarded as an icon in the region in terms of innovation and quality of service. In light of your recent rebranding campaign, what have been your milestones over the past year?

Noor Bank has now recorded three consecutive years of profitability. As we continue to recover, along with other banks, from the effects of the 2009 financial crash, we see significant growth across all sectors of our business. At the same time, we are delivering increased efficiencies, by innovating our business model, whilst remaining focused on the fundamentals of capital and liquidity management. In the past 12 months we have launched two new businesses: Noor Trade, which has a focus on the important SME sector, and Noor Home, which will provide home finance for the growing number of residents and overseas buyers wanting to own a home in Dubai. Other similar initiatives are in the pipeline. We also continue to roll out our digital platforms, which are increasingly popular with customers who want the convenience of banking when and where they wish. In addition, at the start of 2014, we unveiled our new brand identity, which is reflected right across our businesses. The rebranding has given us a fresh perspective, the simplicity of which appeals to existing and potential customers, especially among the younger generation. The new brand will also make it easier for us to expand into other markets.

How is your portfolio evolving and which segments will you be focusing on?

Our asset base has grown from AED18 billion to AED25 billion over recent years. Our processes are maturing and our customer base is maturing with us. Our customers have stayed with us for a long time, and our relationship with them is reflected in our strong customer retention rates, our robust growth, increasing profitability, and the diversity of the organization. We have developed a new focus on the SME sector under Noor Trade. We have also introduced Noor Home, and we have plans to launch other segment-specific initiatives in the future.

What role will Noor Bank play in Expo 2020?

Noor Bank is ready and willing to help fund the large infrastructure development that will be necessary in the run up to Expo 2020. We have the liquidity and we have significant experience in funding large-scale infrastructure projects, such as the Bluewater project that will feature Dubai’s answer to the London Eye and the Singapore Flyer Ferris wheels. We also have experience of funding large-scale real estate projects. So, I believe, we are well positioned to play a large role in preparing Dubai to host Expo 2020.

What is your opinion of Dubai becoming a global Islamic finance capital and how do you see Noor Bank helping Dubai achieve this goal?

Dubai is the natural home for the Capital of the Islamic Economy initiative, which is the vision of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. It is the birthplace of Islamic finance as we know it today. The first Islamic bank was established here. And much of the innovation in Islamic finance is being driven by the country’s Islamic banks, including ourselves. But the Islamic economy is not just about finance. It is first and foremost about trade, particularly intra-OIC member state trade, which today is minimal. Dubai is ideally situated to bridge the gap between the Islamic economies of the East and the conventional economies of the West. No other city in the Middle East has the logistics infrastructure and connectivity, by air, sea, and land, that Dubai has. And its business friendly environment, coupled with its strong commercial legal framework, makes it very attractive to FDI. Businesses want to come to Dubai because it is a secure and profitable place to do business, and they see the huge growth opportunities it provides access to, including the Islamic economy.

“Noor Bank is ready and willing to help fund the large infrastructure development that will be necessary in the run up to Expo 2020.”

From a regulatory point of view, what can be done to further accelerate the development of the Islamic economy?

There is still much work to be done. The issue of standards is quite broad and complex. There always have been, and always will be, differences of opinion between sects and between schools of scholars. What is needed is a minimum agreement on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. The industry needs to drive this and not leave it to the regulators. I have said before that it is the industry’s responsibility to challenge the regulators, whoever they may be, with new thinking, new ideas, and new products. This is as true at the local and regional level as it is at the global level. An agreement on acceptable standards would leave room for different schools of thought to add their own twist on them. I believe this is a realistic approach and one that is achievable.

Is there a need to educate people in terms of the peculiarities and benefits of Islamic finance?

Yes, there is a real need to educate people about Islamic finance, from an ethical perspective, and about specific products and services. Even amongst Muslims there is confusion about the differences between Islamic finance and conventional finance. In the wake of the banking scandals that have plagued conventional banks, people are demanding a better way of banking. Islamic finance can meet that need. But in order to do so, as an industry we need to address two challenges. The first is the lack of Islamic banking skills within the industry. Many of the people in Islamic banking have come from a conventional banking background. The industry needs to provide these people with the knowledge and understanding that would enable them to sell Islamic banking to the world. And, that leads directly to the second challenge. How do we make people aware that Islamic banking offers a better way to bank? The industry, as a whole, is fragmented. There is no global body to regulate, or promote, Islamic banking. Such a body would be a major step forward for the industry. Why can’t we have a World Islamic Bank charged with taking Islamic banking to the world? Such an organization would provide a badly needed focal point for the industry and be a catalyst for the change that is needed to make Islamic finance a realistic alternative to conventional finance.

Noor is becoming a point of reference in terms of e-banking and the technology associated with it. How are you developing technology associated with the modern way of doing banking?

If Islamic banks are to compete with conventional banks, the industry must embrace the latest technology, which can deliver efficiencies of cost and service. I believe the industry is beginning to recognize and understand this. But there is another dynamic at play, which makes it imperative that all banks, not just Islamic banks, embrace technology. The next generation of customers has grown up with computers, tablets, and smart phones. They socialize, shop, and entertain themselves online. It is natural that they expect banks to offer mobile and online banking services, from opening a bank account to managing complex financial needs. I foresee a time, in the not too distant future, when the traditional bank branch is a thing of the past, replaced by the bank branch in your hand, or on your desk, at home, or in the coffee shop. That is why we prefer to invest in the latest technology, rather than bricks and mortar. Our spending on online and mobile banking services has increased substantially over the last two or three years. This is part of a deliberate and planned digitization of all our services. Yes, it is a work in progress, but I believe we are a leader in the field of e-banking.

What major plans do you have for Noor Bank in 2014, 2015, and beyond?

I do not believe in changing things for the sake of change. So we will continue to focus on the fundamentals and go where the business is, including actively seeking new opportunities in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Europe, and Turkey. At home a key focus will be on strengthening the bank’s foundations by diversifying revenue streams and client base. I also expect everyone at the bank to deliver on our customer-centric values and create and implement innovative solutions to meet customer needs. We will also support Dubai’s and the UAE’s economic interests as an emerging global trade and logistics hub.

How is your expansion into Turkey developing?

We continue to be the largest provider, from the UAE, of multi-currency, Islamic syndication, and capital markets solutions to Turkish institutions. In 2013 alone, we successfully executed more than $1.8 billion of Islamic syndications, sukuk, and capital market mandates to various clients in Turkey. We enjoy excellent relationships with Turkey’s participation banks and have built up significant expertise in leading and arranging cross-border, multi-currency financing mandates. Turkey is, and will continue to be, an important international market for us. As the Turkish economy grows and the demand for corporate funding increases, I am confident Noor Bank will expand its footprint in Turkey.

© The Business Year – June 2014

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