Friday 29, September 2017 by Georgina Enzer


Mashreq celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, having been originally established as the Bank of Oman in 1967.

For the full interview click here.

The bank occupies a unique position in the UAE banking sector. It is the largest and oldest privately-owned bank in the UAE.

However, the bank is unique not simply because of its size or longevity but also because it has an impressive track record of leading the adoption of new developments in banking. Mashreq was the first UAE bank to offer ATM cash dispensers; the first to issue debit and credit cards; the first to introduce consumer loans; the first to offer microchip-based credit cards; and the first to offer merchants digital point-of-sale readers.

Robin Amlôt spoke with HE Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, Chief Executive Officer of Mashreq, a position he has occupied since 1990.

What is your view on how will the UAE economy evolve over the next few years?

I am pretty optimistic about the future of the UAE economy for many reasons. First, we have been able to diversify the economy, build infrastructure and attract investment from  the region. We have become a regional hub. We will deal with any uncertainty in the future; we have the ability to respond fast to any challenges. Our projection for the future is our track record. We have grown from a small economy to a large economy. For example, our banking sector is the largest in the Arab world with AED 2.5 trillion in assets. That is a success story!

How has the rollercoaster ride of the oil price in the last couple of years impacted on Mashreq?

At Mashreq, our first strategy was to diversify by geography – 25 per cent of our revenue today comes from outside the UAE. Secondly, we have sector diversification within  our portfolio. We are not dependent on a single industry sector.

Thirdly, I think for the overall economy and for all institutions, the fall in the oil price is the best thing that ever happened! It gave us all a wake-up call to look for alternative solutions, for our institutions and for our economy not to be  solely dependent on oil. Indeed, the UAE has been successful in diversifying its economy: 70 per cent of revenue now comes from the non-oil sector and the Government is targeting this to reach almost 90 per cent.

And, of course, at Mashreq we are always looking at how to improve productivity, cut costs, and become competitive not only locally but also to compete internationally.

I was told recently by a banker in the region that there is ‘a tidal wave’ of regulation and technological change coming – what’s your view and what preparation is the bank making?

With the UAE economy growing so fast, some new regulations are to be encouraged and recommended, as long as there is enough prior consultation taking place. Regulators must use a consultative approach with the impacted parties, to achieve a win-win outcome.

Let me give you an example: digital payments; 10 years ago, there were no digital payments. Now we look to the Central Bank to come up with digital payment regulation so everybody knows the rules of engagement.

Another example is mortgages. Home finance has become a sizable business and the Central Bank has introduced regulations to protect both sides, both the bank and the customer and there is now complete transparency in the process. This is protecting everybody, so we do welcome regulations.

Indeed, sometimes we ask for new regulations. We go to our regulators and ask them to come up with some regulations because it is important to have a framework to work in. Take Netting for Banking [this is a way of lowering credit, settlement and other risks of financial contracts by aggregating/combining multiple obligations to achieve a reduced net obligation]. We have approached the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance regarding this issue and they have accepted that this is important for  the UAE, and will work on a framework.

We are also asking the Government that regulations should be periodically reviewed, whether five years or 10 years, let us review the regulatory framework, tweak it and freshen it up. That must continue to happen.

On the technology side, the world is seeing a revolution in technology and the UAE is a leader in the region in the adoption of technology. For example the e-gate card was introduced almost 20 years ago at Dubai International Airport.

In banking, years ago, all transactions took place in branches. Now at Mashreq, 90 per cent of our transactions happen outside our bank branches. This is a phenomenal change in customer behaviour. Our customers are accepting and encouraging us to look for new technology solutions and Mashreq is one of the pioneers in driving this technology shift in banking.

For the full interview click here.

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