AHMED SAAD

Northern Emirates | FINANCE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ahmed Saad, Deputy CEO of Sharjah Islamic Bank (SIB), about navigating the pandemic.

What were the main challenges SIB had to navigate during pandemic period?

With its commitment to achieving responsible and sustainable growth through a clear strategic roadmap, SIB succeeded in overcoming COVID-19 during 2020. The strategic roadmap aims to build new capabilities and ensure sustainable growth amid a rapidly changing environment, while benefiting from the objectives of the National Agenda for UAE Vision 2021 of creating a competitive knowledge economy and pursuing digital acceleration. Internally, all resources were harnessed and all support was provided to ensure that the pace of work continued smoothly without interruption, with safe alternate premises in place for over 200 of our staff, and the latest and secure remote access and meeting tools provided for employees during the work-from-home period. Such initiatives ensured that SIB was ready and operational to serve its customers at all times during the pandemic. Financially the bank continued to diversify its financing facilities portfolio across diverse economic sectors in accordance with its prudent credit policy that takes into consideration the effects of prevailing market volatility and instability in global and regional capital markets on banking operations. Even though the rapidly evolving threat of COVID-19 has impacted the business and investor community worldwide, SIB has managed to retain its customer base by providing them with upfront solutions as well as Transaction Banking Services (TBS), such that the business activities of his customers continue without difficulty.

How are you utilizing digital innovations to improve your services?

SIB launched a digital transformation strategy that has proven to be a resounding success story. The strategy falls in line with the vision of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and in line with the government efforts aimed at promoting creativity in all sectors. The overall strategy included developing SIB's smart channels, adopting updated systems, and launching initiatives aimed at enhancing the use of technology and improving the overall banking experience for customers. The digital transformation strategy has proven to be extremely effective, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequential rapid transformation of digital transactions. SIB is paving the way for providing innovative digital banking services and has implemented many ambitious initiatives. The bank has embarked on a comprehensive transformation by making use of digital technologies to meet the needs of customers and providing world-class banking services. The digital transformation strategy is based on initiating change and investing in modernizing traditional methods. Smart technology is key to providing easier, faster, and more transparent banking services, in line with market needs. SIB launched several smart banking services, either through its website or through its smart application, which enabled customers to complete their transactions remotely without the need to physically visit a branch. Among these services is the “digital setup,” where a customer can access a large number of services and complete all his transactions from home or the office in a few very simple steps.

What strategies do you have in place to promote this approach more globally, and what sets Sharjah apart in its approach to Islamic economic practices?

During 2020, SIB maintained its prominent position in the Islamic banking sector in the region, and we enhanced our financial position and quality of assets with an increase of market share in all economic activities and sectors compared to last year. The bank's achievements are an integral part of the success of the Emirate of Sharjah, which reflects the vision and aspirations of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, to build a strong and competitive economy that meets the needs of society for the prosperity and success of the macroeconomic system based on innovation, knowledge, and excellence. Over the past year, the bank has succeeded in aligning its strategies with the nature of the economic changes imposed by the current exceptional circumstances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the global economy. This ambitious strategy has succeeded in entitling the bank to enter the annual Forbes magazine list of the 100 most-powerful companies in the Middle East for 2021, which includes the largest and most successful companies in the region in various sectors, according to specific criteria that include market value, sales volume, net profits, and total assets. The bank has succeeded in confirming its strong position and reputation as a high-quality credit issuer in the money market, and the confidence it enjoys in the financial markets through its success in managing the issuance of sukuk amounting to USD500 million, and it has been well received by local and international investors. And with a rating of A- from Standard & Poor's, subscription orders exceeded more than seven times the issuance to more than USD3.6 billion. This is the eighth issuance of the bank's sukuk after the first sukuk was launched in 2006.

2021 promises to be an exciting year. SIB reported net profits of 7% in April. What are your goals and expectations for the coming year?

We are looking ahead with optimism as we aim to build new capabilities and ensure sustainable growth for the bank, with a vision that falls in line with the UAE 2021 objectives of creating a competitive knowledge economy and pursuing digital acceleration. In an effort to navigate the evolving business environment and transforming sectors, SIB's strategic roadmap is anchored to five major pillars; improved revenue, an agile operating model, digital acceleration, talent management, and governance. We will continue to work toward goals and initiatives that support these pillars in the coming year and beyond.