LEADERSHIP TO LOOK UP TO

Qatar 2019 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

The nation's largest bank has taken a leadership role in funding the most dynamic firms to emerge since the blockade.

Abdulla M. Al Khalifa
BIOGRAPHY
Abdulla M. Al Khalifa joined QNB Group in 1996 and is currently its acting CEO. Al Khalifa’s most recent roles were executive general manager and chief business officer, with responsibility for corporate, retail, assets, and wealth management, treasury, and international banking. He has also held several other senior strategic positions across the group. His time in the group has given him extensive experience in corporate and project financing, strategic planning, sales and marketing, risk management, mergers and acquisitions, and customer relationship management. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Eastern Washington University.

As Qatar's largest bank, how do you assess your contribution to the development and growth of the country?

QNB is fully committed to the goals of Qatar's National Vision 2030 with the objective of diversifying the economy in a sustainable way. As a financial intermediary, we view ourselves as a natural catalyst to nurture the growth of the public and private sectors, specifically SMEs. Regarding large corporations, our focus over the past year has been largely on the four key sectors in which we have been most active: utilities, transport, infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and food security. With regards to commercial and small businesses, we have seen a surge in the numbers of SMEs in Qatar in the past year. Entrepreneurs are stepping in to seize opportunities in the run up to the World Cup and in the wake of the rise in projects supporting growth in self-sufficiency. We are partnering with Qatar Development Bank to encourage and empower entrepreneurs and innovators to contribute to the diversification and growth of the Qatari economy. Our goal is to help establish businesses that are commercially viable and contribute positively to a sustainable society. We do not limit our engagement to financial contributions alone, but also bring a social contribution supporting economic growth and financial inclusion. We are an employer of choice and aim to offer fulfilling careers and development opportunities for highly skilled employees.

How will QNB support Qatar Rail in developing the transportation sector?

Our support for the Qatar Rail project is facilitating a new and sustainable mode of transport for the country that will also bring long-term benefits for the environment. QNB has already helped the project by participating throughout the value chain, supporting not only Qatar Rail, but also its contractors and subcontractors. This allows us to extract the most value from the project, which broke ground in 2018. At the same time, this important landmark project will bolster the development of the transportation sector in Qatar and further contribute to economic growth. Furthermore, we also signed a landmark merchant agreement with Qatar Rail, which will see the bank join as a strategic partner and the official acquirer bank for all Travel Card and Fare Media payments. It will ensure that Qatar Rail will be able to accept payments made with all major credit and debit cards issued in Qatar and worldwide. Payments will be possible directly at the stations through the Travel Cards Vending Machines, on a dedicated website, and through the mobile app. This will enable the quick, safe, and secure purchase of Travel Card and top up as well as facilitate the purchase of limited use cards.

How do you assess the impact of the blockade on Qatar's economy, and has it affected QNB's operations?

The blockade has been an unexpected shock to the country that has been weathered well, demonstrating that Qatar's economy is robust and resilient. The authorities were quick to react and have swiftly taken measures not only to mitigate the effect but also re-direct the economy toward new avenues of growth. As a result, Qatar has successfully overcome the blockade and served as a catalyst and platform for future long-term growth where the challenges imposed were transformed into opportunities. New ownership laws were ratified to allow up to 100% foreign ownership, free zones have been created, and other incentives from seed capital to tax incentives and free office space are being provided to attract foreign direct investment. Furthermore, a package of labor reforms, permanent residency, and visa waivers for over 80 nationalities have been undertaken, while Qatar has also diversified its network of trade partners. Existing trade ties have been strengthened, and new trade opportunities have emerged. Despite the blockade, the banking sector remains highly profitable and well capitalized with high levels of asset quality. The blockade has done little to substantially diminish our position as the largest bank in the Middle East and Africa. Domestically, it has reinvigorated the market, fostering more innovation, creativity, and drive to self-sufficiency. It has also fuelled a number of sizeable food security, manufacturing, tourism, and infrastructure (including utilities) projects that QNB has been instrumental in supporting. Finally, several new trading partners and routes have also been established.