The Business Year

Hussain Al Qemzi

UAE, DUBAI - Finance

Redefine the Goals

Group CEO, Noor Islamic 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 currently leads Noor Investment Group, and its flagship entity Noor Islamic Bank. Prior to being Group CEO, he was Chief Executive of Sharjah Islamic Bank and a former Board Member of Dubai Financial Market and Dubai International Financial Exchange. He also served as COO of the Dubai International Finance Center.

"The GCC is the busiest and most developed region for Islamic finance in the world. "

Noor Islamic Bank began in 2008, in the middle of the financial crisis. How did the bank come about, and what is its importance for the Gulf region and Dubai?

Noor Islamic Bank was created to bring a new face to Islamic banking in Dubai and the region. The financial crisis taught us to be resilient, and we have focused on liquidity and capital over all these years. That was the secret of our success, and we are in our second year of profitability. It started off tough, but we are doing well.

What is the potential for Islamic banking in Dubai, and how big is the market for sharia-compliant banking?

The market is still big and the potential is huge throughout the region. The GCC is the busiest and most developed region for Islamic finance in the world. There is still a lot to be achieved in terms of trade, cross-border trade, and long-term Islamic sukuks. I believe the market has yet to attain its full potential.

“The GCC is the busiest and most developed region for Islamic finance in the world. “

You have stated your desire to be among the world’s 100 most innovative banks by 2020. What measures are you taking to achieve those goals?

Banks are conservative and traditional by nature, because of the risk aspects that we have to manage and deal with. However, at Noor we are firmly focused on the future and we can see future trends taking shape today among our customers. We see strong changes particularly in our young customers in the way they approach and deal with banks. I don’t see other banks adapting as well yet. They rarely change their ways unless it is to catch up with new trends that prove profitable. They are by nature cautious and conservative. I really believe we need to consider innovation seriously. Innovation doesn’t just mean technological innovation. It involves the way you see things, your perspectives, the way you deal with customers, your interaction, your whole business, and even philosophical outlook. Social and digital media have opened up so many horizons that need to be explored, and that is how I see the next generation of customers. They don’t come to the banks anymore, so what is the use of all your branches? You need to find customers online; that is where the future generation wants to interact.

Do you think a large portion of your customers still need to be educated in terms of online banking?

I remember when ATMs first appeared; it was tough for people at first, and they thought it was a complicated machine. However, they all got used to ATMs with time. It is the same with online banking and banking through smartphones. People will get used to them and realize they are the way to go. They are far more convenient than traditional banking methods.

What is your customer profile?

We have all sorts. Our major activity is corporate, but we’re looking to diversify our portfolio. I’m interested in moving into more specialized corporate niches.

How will Dubai as a world hub in the sukuk trading market benefit Noor Islamic Bank, and what are the challenges you face?

Yes, Sheikh Mohammed’s goals mean there will be more interest and opportunities for Islamic banking to develop and flourish. But the key factor is not just the finance, because the finance always comes after trade. I think Sheikh Mohammed wants to develop production and trade around the region and the world of Islamic halal products, be they food, cosmetics, or healthcare products. There is a huge market for these products, as long as you can bring investors in and open this market. The financial market, sukuks and so on, will follow on this.

How do you see local bonds being issued in London to come here to Dubai?

I don’t know why they are being issued in London, because for me I think the natural place for this is here in this region. We have international markets, and they can be accessed from everywhere. The brand equity of these entities that issue sukuks are from this region. They are known in their own region, and they are liked by their investors here. If you take it to London from here, you are just trying to pull investors to that market. It is more natural that these bonds are issued and traded here in this market.

Corporate social responsibility is a major part of a bank’s outlook in compliance with sharia principles. What sort of initiatives do you undertake in that regard?

We recently announced the establishment of Noor Awqaf, an asset management company that is dedicated to charitable endowments (awqaf). It ensures that these endowments are managed efficiently and profitably in order to cater to people in need. Islamic endowment activities, one of which I chair, have suffered for years from a lack of efficient financial skills. These awqaf are run as an asset- and fund-management-type institution, or as a treasury. However, they have to be managed efficiently from a financial perspective. We have launched Noor Awqaf as a joint venture between an awqaf and a financial institution, and it is the first ever example of this. I think this will bring efficiency and financial rewards into Islamic endowments, and this will prove more beneficial in terms of addressing the actual needs of those in need, those whom the awqaf is for.

How is Noor Islamic Bank a positive influence in Dubai?

We are trying to redefine Islamic banking in the future, by creating a more progressive, open, tolerant, and global model of Islamic banking. We don’t want to be pigeonholed into a limited audience, we want to become a global player. We want to create an Islamic icon built on those principles.

What are the company’s targets in the UAE in the coming year?

We will keep doing what we have been doing. We will consolidate our position in debt structure with sukuks. We will continue to diversify our business, building stronger roots into our existing market. We will look for more opportunities and growth, and we’ll try to tap into new areas in our market that have been underpenetrated.

© The Business Year – May 2013

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