Bassel Gamal, Group CEO, Qatar Islamic Bank

On how the financial industry is adapting during and after Covid-19

How has the pandemic impacted digitalisation in Qatar’s banking sector?

BASSEL GAMAL: The crisis has created a fundamental shift in customer behaviours, as people were obliged to bank online and through their phones to comply with social-distancing guidelines. Our investment in recent years in digital transformation allowed customers to perform almost all of their banking transactions remotely. In 2020 registrations via digital channels, new beneficiary registrations, local and international transfers, as well as digital onboarding and fulfilment of financing through our mobile app and internet banking platform have increased significantly. Going forwards, we expect customers to continue using digital services and taking advantage of the speed, convenience, security and simplicity of digital solutions.

These developments will have an impact on the banking industry long term. Indeed, most banks around the world are accelerating their digital transformation agenda. This is a natural reaction to new customer expectations for remote banking solutions, as well as a way for banks to improve internal efficiency.

What new skills are needed in the rapidly changing banking industry?

GAMAL: As the industry’s operating model is transforming, banks must continue investing in technology and strengthening their internal IT capabilities. New roles will be generated in the future as the industry requires different talents. There will be new job opportunities in the banking sector around technology, and we are already witnessing financial and business courses combined with computer and data science studies. This means banks will have to invest in staff training and upskilling to support them adapt to the demands of the new emerging roles. 

To what extent has the Covid-19 crisis affected the position of Qatar’s financial institutions? 

GAMAL: The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on global financial markets. In addition, lower oil prices and demand have created a challenging situation for oil-exporting countries. Lower prices would normally have a negative impact on the Qatari economy and government spending, but with commitments for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and related projects being the priority, the impact on government spending in Qatar has been limited. 

Banks need to reconsider some of their strategies in terms of adjusting and dealing with new challenges such as managing their asset quality closely, raising provision levels and revisiting their balance sheet growth aspirations while supporting their existing customers in these difficult times. Despite the challenges, international ratings agencies are affirming the strong position of Qatari banks. 

In which ways is the country working to increase its attractiveness as an international investment destination?

GAMAL: Qatar is reforming its legislation and providing incentives for companies to establish their presence in the country as part of its plan to attract international funds and diversify the economy. The Foreign Capital Investment Law allows for 100% foreign ownership of local companies across all sectors. The new Public-Private Partnership Law, meanwhile, aims to increase the participation of the private sector in economic development. It also encourages the public sector to adopt new strategies in managing national projects that help to increase efficiency and decrease expenditure. The government has further allowed foreign companies and individuals to own real estate in more areas across the country. In some cases, allocation of land to foreign investors is offered as an additional investment incentive. 

Through significant investment in education, the next generation of leaders is emerging with specialised knowledge in sectors such as technology, modern manufacturing and green agriculture. Hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup is an opportunity to highlight Qatar as an investment destination in its quest to create a balance between an oil-based and a knowledge-based economy as per Qatar National Vision 2030. 

As for banking, the regulatory authorities are providing a stable and transparent environment for the sector, and the country is well positioned in terms of expertise in banking products and risk-management structures, especially within Islamic finance. The role of Qatar as a financial centre will only grow as banks continue to collaborate with financial technology firms to strengthen their digital solutions, and as local investors boost capital and trade flows with international counterparts.



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