Bahrain - The contribution that Bahrain’s banking sector has made to the kingdom’s economic diversification efforts and its evolving role as a supporter of green financing were among the topical issues explored by a leading banker.

Jean-Christophe Durand, CEO, National Bank of Bahrain (NBB), in a wide-ranging interview he gave recently to Oxford Business Group’s online broadcasting channel, Global Platform, highlighted Bahrain’s status as a longstanding regional financial hub, which he said would strengthen NBB’s plans to further extend its reach into other GCC countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

He also emphasised the importance of ensuring that banks have the capabilities to service businesses operating across the economic sectors and of varying sizes, in line with Bahrain’s diversification drive.

Supporting large projects

“Of course, we support the large projects of government corporations and their endeavours within the framework of Bahrain Economic Vision 2030,” he told OBG. “We need to be able to have the tools to address all these segments: retail, small companies, large companies and governments.”

The impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the banking sector was another topic examined, with Durand noting that accelerated digitalisation and a broader product range were among the outcomes of the health crisis.

“We had to be close to small companies to help them to overcome the situation,” he explained. “We have started our journey with a retail app. The pandemic enabled us to review our business model, how we address clients and how we support staff as a national bank.”

Sharp focus on ESG

Durand added that the pandemic had also sharpened the focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles for banks and raised awareness of the contribution lenders could make to broader targets by providing green financing.

“We have a role to play to drive the agenda of ESG,” he said. “For example, we have started lending for solar panels, for electric cars. I think an area where we probably need to bring more attention is on the environmental side, for clean energy.”

Marc-André de Blois, OBG’s Director of PR and Video Content, said the interview with Durand highlighted both the opportunities for international investors to contribute to Bahrain’s economic development and the kingdom’s standing as a forward-looking destination, well placed to provide environment-friendly financing for companies incorporating ESG principles into their strategies.

Banking sector backing

“While ESG remains a relatively new concept in the region, recognition is growing that these criteria are increasingly shaping the global corporate agenda,” he said. “Bahrain has long offered the international community a welcoming environment. I’m delighted that through our video, we’ve been able to highlight the commitment taking shape across the kingdom’s banking sector to support sustainable financing and move the ESG agenda forward.”

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