Abdulrahman Hesham Al Sowaidi, Acting CEO, Qatar Development Bank: Interview

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Abdulrahman Hesham Al Sowaidi, Acting CEO, Qatar Development Bank

Interview: Abdulrahman Hesham Al Sowaidi

How can private businesses capitalise on opportunities in the post-pandemic recovery phase?

ABDULRAHMAN HESHAM AL SOWAIDI: Private enterprises need an innovative approach to everything from planning to funding, and from product and service delivery to customer experience and expansion. For innovation to flourish across an organisation, a shift in mindset is required; for example, businesses might need to invest more in their human capital by providing access to practical training programmes. Digital transformation is another area to explore, as it enables a company to capitalise on opportunities it would otherwise miss or not be equipped for, as well as provide a competitive edge and more agility across business processes. Innovation also translates into more creative ways to gain capital.

What tools can the banking sector use to support access to finance for smaller firms?

AL SOWAIDI: According to the World Bank, access to finance is the second-most cited obstacle to growth for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in emerging markets and developing countries. While the situation might look different in Qatar, there are several areas where the concerted efforts of local financial institutions can further enhance SMEs’ access to finance and resources for growth and development – especially considering most SMEs do not borrow capital from outside the country.

At the heart of this are efforts by banks and financial institutions to improve their credit assessment of SMEs to identify the ones with growth potential. Banks need to look beyond loan ticket size, collateral, transaction costs and risk, and use alternative or additional data for credit decisions. This can be achieved by leveraging analytics to look at relevant metrics such as sales and fulfilment records in a similar manner as financial technology (fintech) and digital finance firms do, or through partnerships with such companies. This data can be further enriched by sourcing information from third parties that directly engage with an SME to gain better visibility into the applicant company’s payment history and other performance indicators.

Through their networks, financial institutions can also leverage Qatar’s new PPP Law to enhance SMEs’ access to mega-projects and other projects of national interest, thereby enabling them to play a bigger role in the realisation of Qatar National Vision 2030. This is in addition to the advocacy role banks assume to improve their policies and regulatory frameworks to help responsible SMEs gain better access to finance and relevant banking services.

Where do you see the greatest potential to boost exports outside of the oil and gas sector?

AL SOWAIDI: The country’s export strategy was specifically developed to support our nationwide economic diversification drive and enable increased non-hydrocarbons exports. As a result, and based on a comprehensive evaluation framework to identify priority sectors, markets and enabling solutions, 10 product groups and 23 service groups were identified as having high potential for export. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we see myriad opportunities amid the accelerated shift towards cashless transactions and digitally dominant experiences for businesses and consumers alike. Focus areas include health technology and telemedicine; advanced manufacturing and Industry 4.0; sportstech; virtual learning and online education; fintech; cybersecurity; artificial intelligence; green tech; and many more.

At the fintech level, there is a fintech incubator and accelerator programme led by Qatar Development Bank that has already invested in nearly 50 local, regional and international companies across different fintech verticals. Fashion and design is another non-hydrocarbons industry that is becoming more popular and has inspired us to launch Scale7, the country’s first incubator and accelerator for fashion-focused entrepreneurs.

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The Report: Qatar 2022

Trade & Investment chapter from The Report: Qatar 2022

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