RegionsMiddle EastSetting the Pace for the Nation

Setting the Pace for the Nation

The Qatari banking market is one of the most dynamic in the region. New players are coming in. Old players are polishing their weaponry and preparing for battle. And all the time the banking industry is acheiving higher profits with greater turnover. The population is on the increase with a continuing influx of expatriates and the opportunities in both project finance and trade finance offer rich pickings for banks on the ball.

There can be no doubt that Doha Bank is on the cutting edge of development, pushing not just itself but the rest of the industry forward. The bank is leveraging technology in order to stay one step ahead by introducing new and innovative products all the time. But how is Doha Bank handling the new Qatari banking landscape, and what are their future plans? R Seetharaman answers these questions.

How is Doha Bank planning to respond to the new competition within the Qatar market from IBQ and Ahli Bank QSC?

Seetharaman: We have been very aggressive in the market during the past few years and we are going from strength to strength. In line with our strategy, we have increased our capital base consistently during the past two years. While continuously innovating our existing products to remain competitive in the market, we have expanded into many new areas to increase our fee-based income also. We are either number two or number three by most of the parameters one looks at for ranking a bank. Our immediate focus will be to cement our position as number two in size and number one in terms of customer service, products, services and technology.

Can you sustain the tremendous growth you have seen over recent years?

Seetharaman: The strength of Doha Bank is clearly demonstrated through its performance, which has been steadily improving over the years. We have achieved more than 70 per cent profit growth in the past few years. The trend for the current year is also going a similar way, as we have seen from the interim results.

Competition in banking is getting very intense and margins are shrinking. We are always striving to maintain our growth and profitability through the right mix of business aggression and cost rationalisation, with technology playing a key role. We have taken a lot of new initiatives to diversify our product lines and revenue streams. It is an ongoing challenge and we are optimistic about sustaining our growth.

Where does the bank see future growth coming from?

Seetharaman: Qatar has a booming economy with lots of infrastructure and development related projects taking place. The corporate segment is bound to grow further. Accordingly we have expanded our corporate services to provide corporate finance and project finance advisory services to both the private and public sectors in Qatar in various areas such as mergers and acquisitions, IPOs, valuations, privatisation work, financial restructuring and so on.

On the retail segment, any bank needs to strengthen its existing relationships, while attracting new customers. We keep refining our existing products to remain competitive in the market. In addition, we are also committed to growing as a one-stop financial services solution for all the finance related needs of our customers. We are moving well towards this by adding more and more product lines and services. For instance Bancassurance services, equity services, e-remittance services. These will increase our fee-based income significantly, while addressing the banking needs of specific customer segments.

The bank is becoming more involved in non-retail activities. What proportion of future revenues do you imagine will come from this source?

Seetharaman: We have separate business units addressing the retail segment on one hand and corporate and institutional banking on the other hand. In fact we are strengthening our retail focus with many innovative products, aggressive marketing and creating a one stop financial supermarket. The number of new products and services launched by us during the year is unparalleled in this market.

What is the key to the marketing strategy of the bank?

Seetharaman: We value the needs of the diverse group of our customers and hence design financial packages having different customer segments in mind. This has helped us expand our loyal base of customers at a good rate. We can take pride in being the trendsetter in Qatar in launching new products, services and consumer-centric technology. All this has resulted in our having the best performance in Qatar in terms of growth and profitability consistently. It is an ongoing challenge to enhance and sustain these strengths.

How do you manage to have such a strong brand presence in the market where there is such a dominant player?

Seetharaman: Performance, innovation, quality and security are the paramount features of Doha Bank. We have been able to demonstrate this consistently due to the quality of our team, which is highly dedicated, focused and passionate in every thing they do.

Our corporate objectives are clearly focused towards creating a strong and consumer focused organisation. We have a pioneering role in introducing innovative products, services and consumer-centric technology to the market. Lots of initiatives have been taken during recent years to provide the best value to customers and stakeholders. We are very much ahead in terms of creating a one stop financial supermarket for our customers.

We have been selected ‘Banker of the year’ for Qatar for two consecutive years. We are the only bank in the region to have Bank-wide BS7799 compliance, validating our compliance to best practices in information security management. Our trade finance and remittance operations are ISO certified. All this has resulted in our having a strong brand presence as we strive to be the best in whatever we do.

What are your plans for regional/global expansion?

Seetharaman: We have a fully fledged branch in New York offering payment and trade services to our customers. We have recently opened a rep office in Dubai as well. We are strategically looking at various options and various operating models.

Are you fully up to date with Basle II compliance plans?

Seetharaman: We have formed a cross-functional committee under risk management to ensure that the bank is ready for Basel II in totality. We are very much on track.

What is the status of technology in your organisation?

Seetharaman: Technology has a central role in our organisation. We have strategically invested in multiple information technology projects aimed at increasing self-servicing channels and outlets, and to providing customer service with maximum possible convenience. Considering customer preference, market penetration rate and effectiveness, we have our technology and channel deployment plans in place. The communication network has undergone a major restructuring to gear up for futuristic banking. The bank is prepared for major e-commerce initiatives. During the past year, we have attained significant progress on the technology front, which has had a very favourable impact on business growth.

Can you give some examples of how technology has helped in providing you a cutting edge in providing consumer convenience?

Seetharaman: Continuing our pioneering role of introducing consumer centric technology solutions, we have launched mobile bank, a bank-on-wheels with customer service representative and self-servicing ATM unit. This enables us to provide online banking services instantaneously, be it on a far away construction site or an exhibition area. Similar to our mobile phone based SMS banking and investment tracking services, bank-on-wheels is a trend setting initiative in the country. Our Internet banking system with a range of online and request based features has been launched, enhancing our delivery channels further.

In order to encourage Internet based banking usage, we have recently launched an innovative scheme whereby any customer can avail themselves of an Internet package which consists of a facility of a PC loan, free Internet access, free SMS banking, free DBANK online services and a reduced price on web surfer card. We have thus packaged a complete set of tools required to experience online banking.

We have introduced state of art all-in-one ATMs having both cash deposit and dispensing features to our suite of self-servicing facilities. These machines are the best in the region and can accept up to 400 notes, providing great convenience and capacity. Our corporate customers can also deposit their cash online any time. We have more than 80 ATMs now, maintaining our position of having the largest number of ATMs in country.

As banks are depending more on technology, what steps have you taken to make your technology robust and failure proof?

Seetharaman: We have created a hot disaster recovery site to take care of all identified mission critical systems. After successfully implementing our e-security infrastructure, we are introducing a state-of-the-art enterprise architecture solution by consolidating our technology platform. We have completely re-engineered the architecture of our core technology to improve reliability, scalability, reusability, security and manageability.

In addition, the new architecture will also be future proof in terms of investment for at least five years.The state-of-the-art technology solution will improve the availability, robustness and performance in addition to providing faster disaster recovery capabilities.

We have achieved BS7799 security certification for bank wide operations, validating our commitment towards creating best practice security standards, thereby strengthening consumer confidence in our operations further.

R Seetharaman was interviewed by Paul McNamara, managing editor of Banker Middle East

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