Interview: Hassan Jarrar

How do you respond to calls for more consolidation in Bahrain’s banking sector?

HASSAN JARRAR: Banks consolidate to expand and acquire a stronger ability to compete on a domestic and/or a regional level, among other reasons. When we look at Bahrain, strong performing banks need to highlight their strengths and build capacity in different niches before they revert to consolidation. Innovation is key for the kingdom’s banking sector, and we constantly need to re-invent ourselves to not only ensure our survival, but to also maintain a competitive edge over other countries in the region.

How would you characterise the ways in which the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) has responded to the global financial crisis?

JARRAR: The CBB is known for its forward-thinking approach, which has made it one of the most respected regulators in the region. It is also credited with successfully managing the global financial crisis in Bahrain, and guiding the kingdom through this period with very few defaults compared to other countries. The CBB also avoided knee-jerk reactions to the panic during the crisis, which helped maintain the confidence of consumers and bankers alike.

It is also important to note that building awareness of Bahrain’s economic stability and the CBB’s achievements is key in helping to promote the kingdom to investors. Recognising this need, official visits to the UK, China, India and Pakistan led by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa were conducted to promote investment in the country.

What effect has the wider instability of the global economic climate had on Bahrain?

JARRAR: There are many ways in which Bahrain is affected by the global economy, but most of these are indirect effects. The most apparent source is the movement of the US dollar, since the Bahraini dinar is pegged to it, which could lead to less investment in the country as the dollar rises. However, US and European banks are enjoying high liquidity and are looking for places to invest in. The GCC is a popular outlet for that capital. The success of Bahrain’s recent 30-year bond issue validates the country’s image as a stable market that is still flexible enough to maintain yields amid global uncertainty.

How would you assess the progress of Tamkeen’s Enterprise Finance Scheme (EFS)?

J ARRAR: The progress of the EFS is encouraging, and it should be supported. We should bear in mind that participating small and medium-sized enterprises have their own challenges and not all will necessarily succeed. That said, we need to evaluate their achievements, quality of performance and factors that can help to increase success. This is a good start for Bahrain, which has a comparatively strong and growing segment of young entrepreneurs.

What kind of growth do you expect to see in trade finance in the coming year as the industrial segment begins to rebound?

JARRAR: We need to concentrate on optimising gains from our strengths. To this end, logistics capabilities still need to be expanded to ensure we have successful dealings and to establish Bahrain as the Hong Kong of the region. Upgrading infrastructure at sites such as ports and the airport will cement Bahrain’s existing position as a gateway to other economies, especially to Saudi Arabia.

Trade finance is relatively flat at the moment, which is a positive thing considering the global and regional economic environment. There is major interest in Chinese-Bahraini trade; large delegations of business and government figures have been conducting visits to Bahrain to explore investment opportunities here. If some of the larger economies such as China invest in Bahrain, it will positively impact growth, particularly in innovation and consumption.