The Business Year

Abdullah Saleh Al Raisi

QATAR - Finance

Shrewd Moves

CEO, the Commercial Bank of Qatar

Bio

Abdullah Saleh Al Raisi is the CEO of the Commercial Bank of Qatar. Throughout his career, he has held numerous senior positions in Qatar, commencing in 1983 with the Arab Gulf States Folklore Center as Head of Finance and Administration. After stints at Doha Bank and Qatar Fertilizer Company, he joined the Commercial Bank of Qatar as Branch Manager in 1998, from which he began his rise to CEO. He has a degree in Political Science and Social Science from Portland State University on Oregon, US. He is also the Chairman of Commercial Bank Investment Services.

"The government has made it extremely easy for international investors to come and work in this peaceful environment. "

The Commercial Bank of Qatar (CBQ) opened its doors in 1975. Over those 40 years it has developed into the leading private bank in Qatar. What are the key elements to this continuous success story?

It all started when a few shrewd businessmen from Qatar thought about establishing a bank. They worked hard and sacrificed a lot over the first decade of the bank. Their ambitious aims and vision still contribute to the success of CBQ. I have to admit that over the years we, as staff of CBQ, have enjoyed their wisdom, their guidance, and their ambitions. We are therefore extremely loyal to this organization, and we are trying to continue on this path with their same passion. Since then, CBQ’s success has mirrored Qatar’s extraordinary economic growth under the wise leadership of HH Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, and HH Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Father Emir. Qatar and CBQ have both shared the same rapid journey together to reach the strong position we are in today. CBQ is now the largest private bank in Qatar. However, CBQ has not enjoyed success simply by being in the right place at the right time. CBQ has been successful through its own multi-faceted strategy over the years based on innovation, trustworthiness, and strong corporate values.

In the early days of the bank, CBQ focused itself on the needs of shop owners in the souk. How has that traditional relationship developed into a modern cooperation with its SME clients?

Things were simple and easy back then, but Qatar has developed so rapidly and the economy and banking industry have become much more complicated. However, CBQ still retains a large number of these relationships to date, and has helped many of them grow and expand their business. The most obvious assistance for the small trader in the modern world is the ability to accept payments electronically. Whilst we will never forget our roots and the customers who helped create the bank, we are encouraging them to move from their traditional habits to more electronic banking channels. Another key element is our close relationship with the owners and their families. We have been able to support and guide them as they grow and provide them with access to the full range of services from CBQ to help their growth. Typically, these include trade facilities for issuing guarantees and letters of credit, plus treasury for foreign exchange requirements and, of course, working capital and term facilities to meet their day-to-day needs. We also hold workshops for our SME customers to keep them up to date on the bank’s products and services and to provide them with useful practical advice and information on managing and developing their businesses. We have a network of partners that we can bring in to hold these workshops who might not otherwise be accessible to smaller companies.

“The government has made it extremely easy for international investors to come and work in this peaceful environment. “

There are risks involved when entering into contracts with SMEs, because these companies often lack statistical backing or a clear strategy. How does CBQ reduce these risks?

When dealing with SMEs, knowing your customer is vital and in many instances reputation, clean credit history, and good account conduct play a very important part in the decision-making process as there is little else to go on. We are fortunate that in Qatar there is a credit bureau that provides transparency on the credit behavior of not only the borrowing entity but also the guarantors. This is a very useful tool for the banks when assessing the risks of a proposal, and it is also having the effect of encouraging all parties to meet their obligations in a timely manner as they do not want to have a negative credit bureau report. In addition, within the SME area at CBQ, which we call Enterprise Banking, we have our own dedicated credit area, with a team of professionals who have a good understanding of the specific risks associated with SMEs in Qatar. Having our relationship managers working alongside our credit team helps to increase our knowledge of the market and understand the risks associated with the proposals we are considering. We also continually encourage our customers to improve the quality of the financial and other information they provide to us. This is not an easy task as the related cost is often a significant factor for SMEs. We try to help through our own workshops, but there is also now a lot more assistance for smaller companies via organizations such as Enterprise Qatar and Qatar Development Bank (QDB), with which we have a very good relationship. QDB provides a guarantee of 85% for project facilities, which enables us to mitigate the associated risks, particularly for small or start-up operations.

CBQ features amongst the most popular employers of Qatar. How does CBQ invest in its workforce and what do you see in return?

At CBQ, we believe that employees are the most important component in the quest to improve business results. CBQ has a solid foundation of goals and strategies, and it is clear to our employees that they are all driving toward one common goal. For us, training is one way of ensuring employees feel valued and can be part of a broader social responsibility strategy. At every level, we are creating a learning and development plan for our staff, and we are benefitting from continuous skill-based training to up-skill and re-skill our employees. We can testify that there is an improvement in productivity, reduced recruitment budgets, and an improved level of customer service. Besides that, we are very committed to developing local talent in Qatar. The bank is dedicated to creating a robust talent and knowledge pool within Qatar’s youth community, who will proudly represent their country in the future. In partnership with the College of North Atlantic-Qatar (CNA-Q), CBQ offers a Banking Associate Program, providing school graduates who are Qatari nationals with fundamental banking and work-based skills to develop further into the senior bankers of the future.

In recent years Qatar has become an economic powerhouse that has attracted businesses from around the world. How does CBQ see its role in this open and globalized Qatari economy?

We had to cross borders, and I have to admit the government has made it extremely easy for international investors to come and work in this peaceful environment. This has enhanced our appetite to grasp more opportunities, and the market is able to be fairer to everybody who can contribute to its growth gracefully and with passion. One of the challenges that each bank is facing is competition. It is becoming very tough. Therefore, you need to work outside of the borders in order to grasp a bigger market share in the country. This is a good chance for us to utilize this opportunity to the maximum. A lot of international investment businesses are coming here because Qatar’s economy is booming, and we at CBQ are playing a part in this boom.

Qatar Exchange received an institutional upgrade from Frontier Market to Emerging Market in 2014. What will this mean for the financial sector of Qatar and for the Qatari economy as a whole?

The Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) upgrade is expected to result in huge inflows of foreign funds into the Qatari companies that have qualified to be included in the Emerging Market Index. Approximately 50% of these qualifying companies are in financial services (including CBQ), and so the upgrade means a clear boost for Qatar’s financial sector. More widely, the MSCI upgrade is international recognition of Qatar’s maturing economy and equity market.

© The Business Year – August 2014

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