What have been some of the group's recent milestones?
Al Khaliji reported a strong set of results in 2018, which are reflective of our focus on growing operating income, efficiently managing our cost base, and deploying our balance sheet in line with our renewed risk appetite. We continue to diversify our income streams, resulting in 5% higher profits YoY. We achieved this topline growth by de-leveraging on non-core and low yielding assets, coupled with effectively managing our funding base and the continued reduction of the size of our portfolio of fixed income investments. Risk management continues to remain at the heart of our operating philosophy.
How do you assess the impact of the blockade?
Qatar's economy is strong and has weathered the impact of the blockade extremely well. For example, the IMF noted GDP growth of 4% in 2017 for the non-hydrocarbon sector and projected GDP growth of 2.6% in 2018. The government announced a pro-private sector budget, which features expenditure on major infrastructure projects, especially those associated with the 2022 FIFA World Cup, education, health, and food security. This will create business opportunities and demand for credit, and Al Khaliji is well poised to capitalize on these opportunities.
What does a Qatar-centric strategy entail to Al Khaliji?
Our Qatar-centric strategy encompasses our focus on our valued clients and the Al Khaliji staff who serve those clients. We continue to build partnerships with our preferred clients, primarily local firms, including government and government-related entities, the private and premium segments within personal banking, and entrepreneurs in the private sector through the Al Dhameen program in partnership with the Qatar Development Bank. In addition, the bank continues to support the private sector, in line with the goals of the Qatar National Vision (QNV) 2030. Our physical footprint in Qatar also remains important; we have five branches, two service centers, and 53 ATMs. Al Khaliji has achieved its objective of reaching 100% Qatarization of management positions across all of its branches and welcomes Qatari graduates into its ranks and offers comprehensive training and mentoring programs, professional development opportunities, and strong incentives to build a career in the banking and financial industry.
How can Qatar use the 2022 FIFA World Cup as a catalyst for growth in the financial sector of the economy?
This high-profile sporting event will continue to create unprecedented opportunities across various industries in Qatar, with a focus on the continued development of the private sector. As part of QNV 2030, Qatar has been upgrading many aspects of its infrastructure. Al Khaliji and other local banks have been heavily involved in financing the key aspects of such projects. This, coupled with support from the private sector, has allowed banks to diversify the sectors in which they provide finance and support continued growth of the financial sector. Al Khaliji is ready, willing, and able to provide the necessary financial support. We will continue to broaden our future projects focusing on infrastructure and logistic financing leading up to the 2022 World Cup.
What potential is there to enhance the growth of entrepreneurship and SMEs in Qatar through digital technologies?
Al Khaliji is committed to the diversification of the national economy as one of the main objectives of the National Development Strategy and its overarching QNV 2030, while supporting the growing number of SMEs and boosting the private sector and entrepreneurial innovation. Our Al Dhameen program helps SMEs establish a credit history with banks for future credit facilities without the need for large collateral and encourages financial institutions to understand the importance of Qatari SMEs. We continue to work with the Qatar Development Bank with respect to digital technologies, including blockchain, to ensure that entrepreneurs and SMEs can leverage future opportunities. Additionally, we continue to invest in technology to ensure all our customers are able to interact with us across all modern channels in a secure and customer-focused manner.