Bassel Gamal, Group CEO of Qatar Islamic Bank, talks to Global Finance about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on banking and the future of the World Cup.
Global Finance: With current global conditions and the Qatar blockade over, what is the outlook for Qatar’s banking sector?
Bassel Gamal: Qatar’s economy was the least affected compared to other GCC countries by the unprecedented contraction in economic activities caused by the pandemic. Qatar’s economic outlook remains positive, and according to the latest IMF World Economic Outlook report in October 2020, Qatar’s GDP is projected to grow 2.5% in 2021, up from a contraction of -4.5% in 2020.
In light of the recent political developments in the region, we do expect to see continuous growth across all key sectors in Qatar, with more contribution from the regional markets to this trajectory—namely, with the return of investments and the reopening of new business partnerships and opportunities for local investors.
Indeed, we expect to see a gradual reinstatement of legacy business relationships and trade corridors between all the concerned countries, but also the creation of new business opportunities and relationships, considering these positive changes.
There is no doubt that QIB, along with other banks operating in the region, stand ready to support the growth of business and the economies across the region, and we are ready to increase our cross-border business volumes.
Being the largest Islamic bank in Qatar, and the second-largest bank in the country with total assets of more than 174 billion Qatari riyal (US $47.8 billion), we believe that the new regional configuration will also provide the banking sector the opportunity to further diversify its funding and liquidity profiles.
GF: How are Qatari banks supporting the 2022 World Cup?
Gamal: QIB has been supporting the World Cup and its related projects for the last few years. The banking sector will continue to play a pivotal role in funding the final stage of major infrastructure projects, including stadiums, roads, ports, and the expansion of the new airport, as well as hospitality and leisure projects and a variety of commercial and business facilities over the coming period.
The country’s preparations for this mega event has provided the opportunity for Qatari banks to enhance their offering when servicing corporates, and to develop their products and services to support both local and foreign investors working on World Cup–related projects.
With the support and guidance of the Central Bank, we are now focusing on creating new solutions and services related to digital payments to enable easy and secure banking transactions, in order to provide a positive experience for the millions of fans who will visit Qatar to enjoy the tournament and discover the outstanding Qatari hospitality.
GF: The pandemic accelerated digitization. What are the key technologies that will define tomorrow’s banking?
Gamal: At QIB, we have been investing in our digital transformation strategy for the last few years and have become one of the leading banks in the local market when it comes to the digitization of banking products and services.
The safety of both our employees and customers was, and is still, the number one priority for us at QIB. We are proud that at the very early stages of the pandemic, we were able to run a countrywide campaign urging our retail and corporate customers to perform all their everyday banking needs remotely, through our mobile apps and internet banking platforms.
Going forward, there are key technologies that will define tomorrow’s banking sector, specifically the personalization of banking services via digital channels through improved usage of data analytics and machine learning. Furthermore, various applications of artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to offer new, innovative ways to engage and interact with existing customers, and even attract new ones.
Mobile banking will remain the key channel for customers and will continue changing the way banking is delivered. We have invested, and we will continue to invest, in upgrading our mobile app and will introduce more products and features over the coming period.
At QIB, we are bringing the entire banking experience to our customers on their mobiles while continuously integrating their feedback. Our digital focus is centered on improving the customer experience and efficiency to increase convenience and value, which we believe will lead to business growth for the bank.