Digital shift ‘is taking growth to new levels’

Changes are creating tremendous growth opportunities for the GCC economies

  

MANAMA: The global Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated ambitious regional economic plans through the mass adoption of digital technologies across sectors, said the head of one of the most diversified financial services groups in the Middle East.

Ithmaar Holding chief executive Ahmed Abdul Rahim said that these changes are creating tremendous growth opportunities for the GCC economies.

“The governments of the region have long-recognised the importance of diversifying their economies away from oil,” said Mr Abdul Rahim.

“Over the past few years in particular, they have been encouraging investment in sectors such as tourism, business services, manufacturing and logistics, to build robust and sustainable economies,” he said.

Vision 2030, for example, aims to ensure that every Bahraini household has at least twice as much disposable income in real terms by 2030.

Mr Abdul Rahim’s outlook is shaped, to a degree, by the diversified nature of Ithmaar Holding’s operations which includes retail banking assets in Bahrain and Pakistan, major Takaful (Islamic insurance) assets and significant real estate assets, including a majority stake in Naseej, the region’s first fully-integrated development company created to address affordable housing development needs.

Ithmaar Holding is licensed and regulated by the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) as a category 1 investment firm and listed on the Bahrain Bourse and Dubai Financial Market.

In Bahrain, Ithmaar Holding has two wholly-owned subsidiaries, Ithmaar Bank which owns and operates the largest Islamic retail banking network in Bahrain; and IB Capital, an investment firm, which holds investments and other non-core assets including Bank of Bahrain and Kuwait (BBK), Ithmaar Development Company, Solidarity (Islamic insurance), and Naseej (infrastructure).

These investments play major roles in key sectors of Bahrain’s economy, particularly in the financial services, infrastructure and real estate development.

Ithmaar Bank also maintains a presence in overseas markets through its subsidiary, Faysal Bank, one of the largest Islamic banks in Pakistan.

“An important driver of rapid progress across all spheres will be digitisation, and the private sector has a key role to play in these ambitious initiatives. The region’s financial services sector can support the growth of different industries by providing financing and advisory services, while promoting entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Mr Abdul Rahim.

“We have witnessed the benefits of this change firsthand within our group, both in Bahrain and Pakistan,” he added.

“In Bahrain, our Islamic retail banking subsidiary, Ithmaar Bank, saw a significant uptake in demand for its digital banking services at the start of the pandemic due to the need for contactless banking and social distancing requirements; and our banking associate, BBK, reported that the pandemic served to accelerate its digital delivery and implementation as it worked to quickly meet exponential customer demand. In Pakistan, our retail banking subsidiary, Faysal Bank, with its 600 branches in 200 cities, continues to invest in its digital transformation as a key to improving its customers’ experience,” he said.

“This is likely to continue as clients are now accustomed to digital channels, being able to bank twenty-four-seven and to complete complex transactions such as applying for financing or opening investment accounts in a matter of minutes rather than days,” said Mr Abdul Rahim.

“While this shift makes banking easier and more convenient for customers, it also allows banks to reduce operational costs and divert resources towards developing more sophisticated services and a better user experience,” he said.

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