The Chief Executive Officer of The National Bank of Bahrain said the Kingdom’s star lender plans to improve its presence in its neighboring Gulf States including Saudi Arabia, with a view of focusing on mid-size clients.
The National Bank of Bahrain presently has a branch in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi and is currently waiting for regulatory approval to open a branch in Dubai. Foreign banks are limited to a single branch according to Saudi regulation; however there are hopes that the widespread reforms aimed at undoing Saudi’s reliance on oil revenues could soon translate to more robust regulation allowing foreign banks to open more branches.
The strong bilateral relationship between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is capital that the National Bank of Bahrain can use to strengthen its decade long presence in the largest economy in the Arab world. The NBB recently appointed a new head for its Saudi branch in order to reflect its ambitions. For the year 2017, the NBB reported a record operating profit growth of 7 percent.
Mr. Durand, who was previously with BNP Paribas and also worked as former CEO of Bahrain’s wealth fund Mumtalakat, said that the country’s economy has done rather well. The impressive performance of the economy began before the oil prices rebounded, after falling considerably in 2014.
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the Kingdom grew 3.4 percent in the first half of 2017; this according to the Bahrain Economic Development Board. The growth in the GDP of the Kingdom is said to be as a result of fiscal consolidation and other reform measures.
Following the introduction of VAT in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the bank says it is preparing for the introduction of VAT in Bahrain as well,
Durand explained that having branches in countries that are using VAT meant they had to get ready for it anyway, but it will also happen in Bahrain soon.
Durand has taken the bank on a path towards digital banking, and has initiated reviews of its branches and services since taking over at the end of 2016.