TBY talks to Jamal Bin Ghalaita, CEO of Emirates Islamic Bank (EIB), on the evolution of Islamic banking in the region and growth strategies.

Jamal Bin Ghalaita
Jamal Bin Ghalaita is a veteran Banker with over 20 years of banking experience across multiple roles and responsibilities, including corporate, retail, trade finance and human resources sectors. Jamal was appointed CEO of Emirates Islamic Bank (EIB) in 2011, the Islamic banking arm of Emirates NBD. Jamal was previously the Group Deputy CEO and GM of Consumer Banking and Wealth Management (CWM) at Emirates NBD.

What are the origins of Emirates Islamic Bank (EIB) in Dubai?

EIB was launched in 2004 as the wholly owned Islamic arm of the Emirates NBD Group. It was established to provide the highest standards of Islamic banking services in the UAE. Meeting the highest standards of sharia compliance, set by our Sharia Board, EIB offers a broad range of products and services designed for individuals and small businesses, as well as large corporations. This distinguishes it from conventional banks in the market. Utilizing Islamic financing methods like murabaha, ijarah, and salam, EIB focuses on avoiding uncertainty in its transactions. Customers are viewed as partners, and the bank works closely with them to ensure that the best results are delivered for the customer and for the bank. Following the impact of the financial crisis, and in accordance with the announcement from the Ruler's office in late 2011, the vast majority of the assets and liabilities of Dubai Bank were assigned to EIB. The associated integration of business and operations was completed over a period of just one year with no disruption of services or discomfort to clients. Currently, EIB offers a wide range of sharia-compliant financial services with a focus on retail banking including for the mass affluent, SME banking, and remittance services.

How are sukuk market trends being perceived by EIB after the financial crisis?

Sukuks have become more popular over the past few years, especially in the GCC markets and Malaysia. Our outlook for this important investment instrument is very positive. A recent study conducted by Kuwait Finance House indicated that total sukuk issuance grew by 54% in 2012 and by 22% in 1Q2013. We share the view that sukuk issuance will continue to see strong growth in the near future, especially with more market players viewing this type of investment as a safe haven in comparison to conventional bonds.

The bank's mission is to keep working on a core retail banking platform and a strong commercial banking franchise. What are the challenges when approaching UAE customers and spreading through the territory?

The UAE is a very competitive market, where banks have been increasingly active in launching new products, services, and promotions. Moreover, customers are no longer looking for one-size-fits-all products. At EIB, we focus on understanding customer needs across the different segments, and work toward enhancing the overall customer experience. Based on this, we then develop innovative, convenient, and cost-effective solutions that best serve our customers. We also provide sound financial advice and elementary financial guidance to our clients.

What is the customer profile of EIB?

EIB has a clear stated vision of becoming a leading regional Islamic financial services institution with a core platform in retail banking and a strong commercial banking franchise. The bank aims to focus on four key customer segments; personal banking, priority banking, including the high-net -worth segment, business banking focused on SMEs, and commercial banking.

How is the bank trying to approach different customers and fulfill customer needs? How has the banking app been received?

EIB is continually developing products and services that cater to the changing needs of its customers. Our focus is on the richness and variety of our products and services. In keeping with the principles of sharia, we are also focused on setting up musharaka (partnership) financing with clients, based on risk and profit sharing. We have also witnessed a growing trend among our customers of going mobile. We were the first Islamic bank to introduce mobile banking across all major platforms, which offers our customers the very best in flexibility, convenience, and useful on-the-go banking services. In this sense, our banking app is an essential addition to the bank's e-portfolio system. It enables our customers to manage all banking operations including accounts, transfers, and utility payments.

What are you doing to expand your reach?

At EIB, we believe that you cannot be strong internationally until you gain a firm position in the domestic market. I view a bank like Santander as a role model; it first focused on organic growth in the domestic market, and then expanded regionally and internationally through a policy of mergers and acquisitions. We are also closely aligning our goals to Dubai's Vision 2020, through focus on retail banking and wholesale banking growth. EIB offers customers a wide product and service base, combined with a larger network of branches and ATMs, rooted in a strong commitment to customer service and care.