A HELPING HAND

Kuwait 2019 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

By investing in the local oil sector in recessions, banks like CBK give Kuwaiti companies the necessary support and funding to increase production capacity.

Sheikh Ahmad Duaij Al-Sabah
BIOGRAPHY
Sheikh Ahmad Duaij Al-Sabah has been Chairman of CBK since 2018. Prior to this, he was Vice Chairman of the bank from 2015-2018 and Board Member from 2012-2015. He is also the Chairman of Al Tijari Financial Brokerage Company and board member of Kuwait Clearing Company and Institute of Banking Studies and was recently nominated Deputy Chairman of the Kuwait Banking Association. He was previously with Al Tijari Investment Company (CBK Capital), the Commercial Bank of Kuwait, and Kuwait Petroleum Corporation. He acquired an MBA from Maastricht School of Management after obtaining his bachelor’s degree in science with a major in finance from Bentley College in the US.

How is the banking sector and CBK sustaining the Kuwaiti oil sector?

Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC) has announced it intends to have more private sector funding for its future projects. We have seen various PPP projects funded by the banks and look forward to joining hands with the oil sector to provide it with the necessary funding and solutions to increase production capacity. The fact that the oil sector is increasingly relying on local and international banks represents many opportunities for us. In fact, during the small crisis due to the drop in oil prices, Kuwaiti companies did not stop investing. They approached banks for funding. We put USD150 million into the Duqm refinery project, a 50/50 joint venture between Oman and KPC. The idea was to build a refinery outside The Strait of Hormuz on the Arabian Sea coast. The output of that refinery will feed a great deal of growth in East Africa for refined products because of the booming economies there. The more inter-linkages we have in the Gulf, the better.

How can increased private-sector participation help the government reduce its expected budget deficit of USD25.3 billion?

The private sector can provide those services currently provided by the government at a lower price and at the same or higher quality. Competition, profit motive, and the dynamism of the private sector give it an advantage in delivering quality services. We have seen examples of this all around the economy, for instance in the banking sector. This will take a great deal of weight off the government in terms of cost and resources to provide these services, shrinking the public deficit.

What main challenges have you encountered thus far in the privatization process of the Kuwait Stock Exchange (KSE)?

CBK was one of two qualified bidders for Boursa Kuwait. During the bidding process, we went through many contracts and studies and dealt with the different government regulators and groups. There is definitely a push to privatize. The Central Market Authority (CMA) was supportive of privatizing the KSE and provided assistance in terms of meetings and correspondence, as was the Central Bank of Kuwait. It was a positive experience to see how much those government entities wanted this privatization project to succeed. Even though the other consortium won the bid, everyone won. As a bank and as part of the private sector, we will also experience the benefits of having a more efficient, lean stock exchange. CBK wants to be a key part in sharing that economic expansion. We hope the privatization of KSE will encourage more private companies and public oil companies to list on Boursa Kuwait. We expect the capital markets to expand their funding for SMEs. It is another way to get capital rather than just coming to the banks or raising capital privately. I definitely believe in our friends in the other consortium being able to really motivate more companies to list.

What are your expectations for the year ahead?

One key emphasis moving forward, especially in this volatile region, is stability, both economic and political. Economic activity requires people to trust the system. Regarding PPPs, it is important to know that one's rights and obligations are protected and that there is recourse to the law. Kuwait has this environment of trust, and this will continue, giving us the ability to project this stability onto our plans. Even on a commercial bank level, our planning for new services all depends on having no unforeseen events. New changes come after a long process rather than unexpectedly. Going forward, I trust in the three Ss: slow, stable, and steady growth. On that basis, one can really build something with momentum rather than seeing fast change that evaporates. Slow, stable, and steady describes growth in Kuwait, and it is a strength on which the country can depend.