JOSEPH ABRAHAM

Qatar 2020 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

A trail blazer in more ways than one, Commercial Bank not only introduced credit cards, ATMs, and point of sale machines to Qatar, but is also the first to get into blockchain in the country.

Joseph Abraham
BIOGRAPHY

Joseph Abraham has extensive banking experience across both developed and emerging markets. Prior to joining Commercial Bank in 2016, he was CEO of ANZ Indonesia based in Jakarta from 2008 onward. Prior to ANZ, he was with Standard Chartered Bank where he served in a number of roles including chief of staff to the global head of client relationships, wholesale banking; head of strategy and product management, North East Asia; and managing director and CEO, Ghana. He holds an MBA from Stanford Business School.

What have been some milestones over your 45 years, and what have been the main areas of focus over the last year?
Since its inception, Commercial Bank has focused on two main areas: consumer experience and innovation. The whole franchise has been built around these two areas. It is part of our support for the Qatari economy to bring in the latest developments in banking. For example, we were the first bank to introduce ATMs, point of sale machines, and credit cards to the country. We have also been a leading bank in tapping the international bond market. We have continued our focus on innovation, and in 2019 we won the Asian Banker's Financial Technology and Innovation Award for Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. It all links back to consumer experience. Qatar has many expatriates who frequently send money abroad. We found that everyone wants speedy delivery and acknowledgement that money has been received. We started with main destinations like India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Philippines, and Pakistan, have now added Turkey, Jordan, the UK, and Europe, and will soon add Australia and Singapore. In most locations, the money is credited to the beneficiaries' account within a few minutes and the client gets a confirmation. This has been hugely successful for our customer base. This is all digital, which is what helped us win the award. It shows that we have built a world-class technology out of Qatar. We want to continue this trend. We have also launched contactless cards. With our reach and scale, we are really capturing the market. You can introduce a card, but if it is not widespread among outlets and merchants it will not really work. Therefore, we did a lot of training with a few thousand merchants. Our card can also be used on the Doha Metro. We are also the first Qatari bank to join blockchain. It is a consortium of 300 banks focusing on using blockchain for technology and around certain banking areas, such as payment and trade. The aim is to deliver a fully digitalized platform that is easy to use and efficient. Blockchain is going to change the way many things run. In banking, we are expecting a significant impact in the future, but we do not know exactly where or how.

How do you assess the evolution of Qatar's banking sector over the last six months?
Moody's upgrade of Qatar to stable in October 2018 was reflective of the fundamental strength of the Qatari economy. It is one of the strongest economies in the Gulf because of its dominant position in oil and gas exports, its budget surplus, and prudent fiscal and monetary management. In all aspects Qatar is sound. That reflects on the banking sector, which is well capitalized, has decent liquidity, and reasonable NPL ratios. We have also received positive responses from international investors to Qatari banks' bond issuances and incoming deposits. Investment will continue up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup and realization of the 2030 Vision. After the World Cup, there will also be LNG expansion.

What will be the impact of splitting your stocks?
Usually splits are meant to enhance liquidity, making it easier for retail investors to own shares. Spreading retail investor ownership and access to the market is always a good thing. It provides more diversity rather than being concentrated in the hands of a few large-scale investors. Over time, it will enhance the overall index.

What initiatives do you have for supporting QNV 2030?
Supporting Qatar's self-sufficiency projects, logistical infrastructure, and initiatives to develop its SMEs are all very important to us. We have a strong SME program in partnership with Qatar Development Bank called Al Dhameen and support QP's Tawteen localization program for services and industries in the energy sector.