Feb. 24, 2016

Ali Al-Kuwari


Ali Al-Kuwari

CEO, Qatar National Bank (QNB)

"Our strategic, regional focus is enabling us to capture exciting opportunities."


Ali Al Kuwari joined QNB in 1988. Prior to his appointment as CEO, he was the Executive General Manager and Group Business Officer. He was responsible for all business lines of QNB and played a key role in QNB becoming the leading financial institution in the Middle East and North Africa. He is also Chairman of MasterCard Middle East and North Africa Advisory Board, Chairman of QNB Capital (the investment banking and advisory arm of QNB Group), Chairman of QNB Indonesia, and Chairman of QNB Privee Suisse in Switzerland. He is Vice Chairman of QNB Al Ahli in Egypt, Vice Chairman of CBI in the UAE, and Vice Chairman at Qatar Exchange. He has a Master’s degree in Management Information Systems from Seattle Pacific University and a Bachelor’s in Math and Computer Science from Eastern Washington University.

How did QNB Group manage to sustain and maintain its edge of profitability amid competition and world challenges?

QNB's key strengths are buttressed by several core pillars: the strength of the QNB brand franchise, the quality of the senior management team, robust cost controls, market leading capital ratios, broad sectoral expertise, prudent risk management, and strong and growing relationships with the public and private sectors. The Bank's growth has been driven by two major engines: the favorable macroeconomic environment in Qatar, which is a growth driver for the banking sector, and QNB's international expansion in high-growth markets, where we believe we have a competitive advantage and are able to leverage trade and investment flows within and across those countries and the wider QNB network.

QNB Group has many representative offices in the world's key emerging and established markets. How those offices will help bring in more international companies to do business in Qatar?

Currently, QNB has established representative offices in several large and high-growth emerging markets, such as China, India, and Vietnam. Trade and investment flows between these countries and Qatar, as well across our footprint, have been growing over the past years. There are, for example, several Chinese and Indian companies operating in Qatar. Similarly, several Qatar-based multinational corporations have growing businesses with these countries. These offices act as a conduit, facilitating these flows to increase business potential for both Qatar/Middle Eastern companies planning to expand and grow their international business contribution and vice versa.

With these challenges in mind, how would you summarize the keys to success for QNB to continue to thrive here in the domestic market?

Domestically, QNB offers a universal banking model that provides a wide range of products and services to the public and private sector as well as individuals by leveraging its capabilities and in-depth expertise across all key sectors and segments. QNB intends to act as an incubator to nurture the growth of SMEs by assisting them enhance their businesses' competitiveness and sustainability, in line with the QNV2030, to nurture and further develop the private sector. On the retail banking front, QNB has a dominant market share in the Qatar. We offer individuals a diverse range of innovative products and services through an array of channels (physical and remote) for all segments (affluent/ mass affluent/ mass retail). QNB also offer a range of tailored investment solutions and bespoke wealth management services to serve the Qatar's high net-worth clientele, either onshore of offshore through our subsidiary QNB Banque Privee Suisse in Switzerland.

How important is international diversification to QNB's overall growth strategy?

International expansion is one of the cornerstones of QNB's strategy to achieve its vision of becoming a leading Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asian bank by 2020, and a global bank by 2030. In line with this vision, QNB will continue to expand its international network and footprint through strategic and opportunistic inorganic growth. Target markets are selected frontier and emerging markets that demonstrate favorable macroecnomic growth, coupled with a growing and healthy banking sector as well as a range of available targets. When looking at growth opportunities globally, we have identified a set of markets in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia as our focus areas for further expansion. Selected countries in those regions are fuelled by ongoing improvement in business conditions, favorable demographics, and increasing globalization. Furthermore, there are significant trade and investment flows within and across these regions, which QNB, as financial intermediary, could facilitate. Growth in these regions is key to achieving QNB's goals. We believe that a wider geographical presence gained through such expansion will reduce the QNB Group's exposure to certain economic risks in the event of any economic downturn and, in turn, provide stability to its financial position.

Recently, QNB was the platinum sponsor of the Information Security Conference for the Financial Sector, at which major industry players from Qatar and the world discussed IT & e-security challenges in today's global business environment. What are the most important first steps to be taken by both the private and public sector in order to safeguard the country from these attacks?

Technology and the internet continue to evolve at an extraordinary speed and the benefits to organizations and customers worldwide have been revolutionary. However, cyber threats are the price we pay for this development. The information age has created new vulnerabilities and the opportunity to exploit them. It has become all the more important to protect the security and integrity of this information, the internet, and its supporting infrastructure. Today, we believe three layers of governance and security enforcement are critical to ensure and further enhance IT security as a response to cyber threats: technology, people, and policies. Those layers are equally valid and important for the public and the private sector. Investing in the right technologies and at the right levels are important, especially as the threats we are trying to detect and defeat are moving targets. It is equally important to recruit the right people and continue to keep their knowledge and awareness up to date with the evolving threats. Last but not least, appropriate policies and procedures need to be in place to effectively manage the risks and mitigate the impacts. All three layers need to be strong and continually strengthened to support and protect institutions, authorities, and corporations in the public and private sector as well as our society.

What are your expectations for the year ahead?

Although the global operating environment for banking and finance has been challenging, our strategic, regional focus is enabling us to capture exciting opportunities. Despite the global headwinds in 2015 that have impacted African and Southeast Asian markets, there are pockets of opportunities as they continue to require investment and trade flows to support economic development.