An interview with Fahad Al Khalifa, Group CEO of Al Khalij Commercial Bank
Al Khalij Commercial Bank (al khaliji) is a Qatari public shareholding company, which has been listed on the Qatar Stock Exchange since 2007. Qatar’s “next generation bank” al khaliji has brand new headquarters in Lusail and is 47% owned by the Government of Qatar. The bank offers a full range of conventional banking products and services to its Premium, Business, Corporate and International clients in Qatar, UAE and France. The European caught up with Group CEO of al khaliji, Fahad Al Khalifa to find out about the bank’s strategy for the decade ahead, the exciting relocation of its headquarters, and also to learn how it’s been navigating the coronavirus pandemic.
How has al khaliji earned its reputation as Qatar’s pioneering “next generation bank”?
Fahad Al Khalifa: Typically, banks can take years to establish. However, al khaliji has proven itself to be one of Qatar’s leading banks and earned the reputation of Qatar’s “next generation bank” in little over a decade.
We started our journey in the Qatari market with a clear vision in mind: to be at the forefront of technological advances and pave the way towards the next generation of banking. Essentially what this meant was to incorporate the latest technology such as the Internet of Things, machine-learning, data analytics, and robot advisers as identifiable needs of the 21st century financial market. Our approach is to be agile in the pursuit of innovation, technological advancement, and adoption of the latest market trends to always remain one step ahead of the industry.
In today’s digital era, where people are shifting towards online avenues, we stay on par with these advances, if not lead them. Over time, we have maintained our competitive edge and adopted the latest technology including cloud computing and more notably, introduced humanoid robots to the banking service sector in Qatar.
Every step we take is calculated towards meeting our vision of what it means to be the “next generation bank”. And in the end, we are glad it shows. We have been recognised by The European as the “Best Corporate Bank in Qatar” for two years consecutively, as well as being awarded “Best in Private Banking – Middle East and North Africa” for 2020. We have also been named the “Best Private Bank in 2019” by the International Business Magazine and the “World’s Best Digital Bank” for 2019 by Global Finance.
Evaluate the bank’s performance throughout 2019 and the first quarter of 2020.
FAK: al khaliji had a successful 2019, as we sustained our strong revenue momentum, won new customers and continued to grow our loan book in Qatar. We ended the year on a firm footing, delivering increased profits of QAR 646m ($177m). The outcome is in line with our strategy of delivering steady revenue growth through effective loan origination in our core business units, by judiciously pursuing opportunities in the local economy. In 2019 we focused on selectively growing balance sheet, boosting operating income by improving margins, maintaining an efficient cost base and strengthening our capital and funding positions. As for the first quarter of 2020, we delivered higher operating income and pre-impairment profitability. We remained prudent considering the current volatility in oil prices and Covid-19, and booked higher risk charges resulting in net profits for the quarter equal to our performance in Q1, 2019.
What are al khaliji’s most important aims and objectives moving into the next decade?
FAK: As believers in Qatar’s National Vision 2030, we recognise the value in aligning our corporate strategies with sustainable development principles. Our 2020-2022 Strategy outlines the objectives we wish to achieve over the coming years and the broad direction the bank will take thereafter. We will continue to grow in our areas of strength, within our risk framework, to build a resilient and profitable business that supports our clients to grow and makes a positive contribution to Qatar, and that delivers attractive, sustainable returns to our shareholders.
Putting customers at the centre is a primary objective of every employee. We recognise that as a “next generation bank” we need to have a comprehensive digital offering. The process accelerated last year with the launch of contactless cards, an updated website and the introduction of the al khaliji GO app, further supported by our existing alternate channels, namely online, mobile, ATM and contact centre. Going forward we will continue to innovate and will adopt a “high tech, high touch” approach as we invest further in technology to make our business simpler, quicker, safer, easier to use and more relevant to our customers’ lifestyles. At the same time we will maintain the human interaction that is so fundamental to building long-term relationships.
December 2019 marked a significant milestone for al khaliji as we inaugurated our new purpose-built head office, al khaliji Tower, in the heart of Lusail. Lusail is regarded in Qatar as the “city of the future” and is the perfect setting for our “next generation bank” as we will continue to be transformational and innovative in our outlook, fully embracing the exciting future that lies ahead for al khaliji, Qatar and its people.
Please outline the actions the bank is taking to meet its wider environmental, social and governance (ESG) responsibilities.
FAK: Since our inception, al khaliji has considered it important to also focus on aspects of our non-financial performance, and to live up to the duty of care we have to all our stakeholders.
al khaliji adopts a solid governance system with strong business ethics and transparency, we are open and honest in word and action. Our governance is built on robust foundations, which go beyond a mere statement of compliance and is fully consistent with the rules of law and best international standards.
The bank rolls out a multi-faceted approach to initiatives each year that is geared towards the achievement of the four pillars (Economic, Social, ™
Human and Environmental) of QNV 2030. We support the communities we operate in through donations and volunteering; during 2019 our employees donated many hours to community service and our senior managers held many knowledge sharing sessions with local schools and universities. al khaliji awards university scholarships to Qatari students in addition to offering internships so that knowledge gained in lectures can be taken into the real world, to achieve valuable skills and experience.
Drawing focus towards a healthy lifestyle, we advocate wellness not only among our employees and families but also in the wider community. We engage with the Breast Cancer Society for employee awareness sessions and dietary experts to promote healthy lifestyle choices. At al khaliji Tower, our employees can freely avail of a fully equipped in-house gym and the guidance of a personal trainer. We support organisations who provide excellent care in the community for the elderly, as well as those with special needs and cancer.
In our operations, we aim to mitigate our environmental impact and make use of technology and power management systems to minimise our carbon footprint; al khaliji Tower in Lusail has a four-star Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) certification.
Elaborate more on moving your headquarters to Lusail, how does the new location and building serve to represent al khaliji as a financial institution?
FAK: The move to Lusail was a strategic decision to bring al khaliji’s headquarters to Qatar’s most exciting emerging city, one that is geared towards hosting a significant influx of new businesses, government entities and professionals. Located around 23km north of Doha city centre, Lusail is Qatar’s vision of a sustainable, tech-powered city, so this landmark move embodies our commitment to serve our customers wherever they are, and to always deliver on our uncompromising product and service excellence. The new location is expected to create many opportunities for our group’s portfolio diversification and growth of our customer base.
As our role in this visionary transformation evolves, we are confident this move will unlock growth for al khaliji’s next-generation promise in Qatar. We are excited to unlock the opportunities it will bring for our group, our operations and our partners as our nation gears up for 2022 and beyond.
How is the bank dealing with the fallout from the recent outbreak of Covid-19?
FAK: We are navigating through the unprecedented outbreak of Covid-19 by focusing on the safety and well-being of all the individuals and businesses who have been negatively impacted. From the beginning of the pandemic, we had two goals: ensure that our employees, clients and families stay safe; and ensure the continuity of our services to our customers with minimal disruption. Guided by our internal policies and guidelines issued by the local authorities, we deployed a range of measures to achieve these goals, including increased availability of relationship managers to address client issues and concerns, encouraging the use of alternative e-channels for banking services, keeping branches open with reduced working hours, regular sanitization of branches and ATMs, and staff-specific measures such as remote working, split working teams in different locations, social distancing policies, and the distribution of protective supplies.
During this time, we are committed to providing our customers with financial access, guidance and support with no compromise on al khaliji’s premium services. We have acted fast in serving our customers and supporting our communities through digital, mobile, phone services in addition to branch hours. Considering that many people have shifted to online transactions, we have doubled our online security measures to ensure all e-transactions maintain the highest levels of confidentiality and information security. Moreover, to ease things for some of our business clientele and in line with local directives, we postponed loan re-payments for SMEs without any fees for a period of six months.
We will continue to comply with guidelines issued by health authorities and regulators. We care deeply for our clients and employees, and have focused our attention on doing our best to support the community through this difficult time. In addition, I’d like to offer my appreciation to all our employees who have worked tirelessly in strained and unprecedented circumstances to ensure we are there for each other, our customers and our communities. ν