Feb. 22, 2016


 Manaf Abdulaziz Alhajeri

Kuwait

Manaf Abdulaziz Alhajeri

CEO, Kuwait Financial Centre (Markaz)

TBY talks to Manaf Abdulaziz Alhajeri, CEO of Kuwait Financial Centre (Markaz), on the focus of the institution, trends in GCC markets, and the growth of the private sector.

BIO

Manaf Alhajeri has been the CEO of Markaz since 2004. Prior to this he was the Deputy Director in the investment department at Kuwait Fund for Arab and Economic Development (KFAED). He serves as director and trustee at a number of private, governmental, educational, and non-profit boards and committees. He is a Certified Financial Manager (CFM) from The Institute of Management Accountants (US). He also holds a Master’s and BSc in Civil Engineering from Kuwait University. On December 5, 2013, upon a decree of the President of the French Republic, he was named “Knight of the National Order of Merit.” He speaks English, French, Spanish, and Turkish, in addition to Arabic.

How would you describe Markaz's focus today as a leading financial institution in the region?

We manage investment products in the form of equities or real estate, monitoring opportunities emanating primarily from this region. We also invest for diversification purposes. On the investment banking side, we are active in capital markets, IT, and helping companies ease long-term funding needs in the form of equity, sukuk, or bonds. We believe in the importance of having a healthy asset management industry as a source of alternative funding because it helps intermediation. In this region, there is a high level of deposits, both institutional and private, and it is necessary to find opportunities to help deploy those deposits. The fund management and asset management industry is part of the mechanism that helps manage this objective. Our business model relies on two pillars, the first being investment returns out of our exposure on the stock market. The second pillar is investment fees. We generate fees that have to do with our efforts in terms of preparing opportunities, packaging them, researching them, managing them, and helping them fulfill their objectives. We are one of the top ten GCC mutual fund managers. The stock markets are important to us but, more importantly, they represent the underlying economies of the GCC.

What is your analysis of the impact low oil prices has had on Kuwait and regional economies?

Falling oil prices prepare us for an interesting, more diversified economic era. It is an opportunity to bring out the best in Kuwait. Oil was undeniably crucial for the development of Kuwait and allowed the state to live in a regime of strong surpluses for a very long time, but it also led to inefficiencies. Sometimes it has created a sense of complacency, unfortunately, and I think oil prices going down will help eradicate that. It is an opportunity to look more seriously at the private sector's role in creating jobs.

What role is Markaz playing in the effort to grow the private sector in Kuwait?

Throughout the years, Markaz pioneered the development of investment tools in local and new markets. Markaz has succeeded year after year in developing new concepts and innovations through the creation of new investment channels, each with unique characteristics, in order to widen investors' horizons by diversify investment channels. And As part of our economic responsibility, we were the first to publish research with the aim of providing in-depth knowledge to the financial sector; in fact, a whole department was dedicated to research publication. Furthermore, Markaz cooperates with numerous academics and international research foundations to develop economic policy research in fields such as the energy sector, the labor market, economic structure, and the enhancement of the public institution performance to support a healthy private sector growth. Markaz distributes its public policy reports to decision makers and other stakeholders in Kuwait, and results are discussed with them to reach practical solutions.

Markaz is known to be a socially engaged corporation. What is your approach to CSR?

We believe in being strongly engaged in public welfare as a corporation, which led us to develop our own concept of CSR, which we call Corporate Economic Responsibility, where our engagement strategy focuses on contributing to three areas, namely: human development, ease of doing business, and good governance. We are active members of the Kuwaiti Economic Society, which is massively advocating a wide-scale reform of the public sector in terms of holding people accountable, assuring that when more areas of the economy are privatized, it is going to be a straightforward, transparent, and clean process.

What are your expectations for 2016?

Because we are living in volatile times, especially this year, it is hard to have full clarity on a long-term vision. We aim to achieve a growth in our net earnings of at least 15% in 2015. One of the most pressing trends or reforms we need to have in the near future is to catch up with our neighbors and join the MSCI emerging market index. Kuwait is more than another frontier market and needs to be in the emerging market index. S&P just added the UAE and Qatar, and Kuwait should be officially announced by our CMA soon.

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