World Finance Wealth Management Awards 2019

With investor needs evolving towards a more digital experience, the wealth management industry has undergone a transformation in recent times. There has been a push towards an analytics-based approach to product and service offerings, leveraging client data to provide a personalised experience.

Wealth management firms are increasingly adopting a distributed agile approach to help transform customer experience. In a competitive market, wealth management firms need to be able to act on client demands more rapidly, fostering a more collaborative culture within the industry with a strong focus on service.

Remaining at the top of this industry requires constant attention and dedication to the needs of clients and these awards recognise the very highest standard of professional care shown by the recipients.


World Finance Wealth Management Awards 2019

Best Wealth Management Providers

VallBanc Wealth

Andes Wealth Management

Unibank Privé

Liechtensteinishche Landesbanken ( Osterrich AG )

Scotia Wealth Management

Indosuez Wealth Management

Argus Wealth Management

BTG Pactual

Canaccord Genuity

BNP Paribas Banque Privée

Hauck & Aufhauser

The Royal Bank

Hellenic Asset Management

Hong Kong
BNP Paribas Wealth Management


Doha Bank

BNL BNP Paribas


NBK Capital


Indosuez Wealth Management


MCB Private Banking

Wealth Management Partners

Standard Bank Wealth and Investment

Pareto Wealth Management

Bank Muscat

Bank of the Philippine Islands

Santander Totta

Qatar National Bank

Saudi Arabia

EFG Bank Singapore

South Africa
Old Mutual Limited



BNP Paribas Wealth Management

King’s Town Bank

Bangkok Bank

United Arab Emirates
First Abu Dhabi Bank

United States
BNY Mellon Wealth Management

Prestige Wealth Management

Best Multi-Client Family Office, Liechtenstein
Kaiser Partner

Best Real Estate Investment Company
SFO Group


Banking Awards 2018

The past decade has seen the banking sector make moves towards a stable future following a long period of significant upheaval caused by the financial crisis. What beckons is a new era with the focus now on sustainability and technological reinvention in order to keep up with the pace of change within the sector.

Banking Guide 2018

The landscape is markedly different from that of 2008. Regulatory reform has been key in redefining the operating environment and the success stories have been for those willing to treat this new regulatory system as an opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

The restoration of trust has reawakened confidence in the sector and the outlook now is perhaps one of cautious optimism.

However, the sector is still weathering the winds of change. Technology-focused start-ups have proven themselves significant disruptors in the market by providing innovative alternatives to the services traditionally offered by banks.

Perhaps more significantly, cryptocurrencies have contested the fundamental concept of money, becoming a legitimate asset in a tremendously short space of time. Banks have been forced to re-think how they operate today so that they are prepared for a future that includes working with new systems and new technologies.

Through steady strategic investment and acquisition banks are now re-evaluating the future role that they will play in the economy by turning enemies into allies.

The great technology roll-out is thanks in part to the gradual development of open banking as the new standard. Application programming interfaces (APIs) will make it possible for banks to offer certain tools and data packages to third parties, and these will define the relationships banks develop in 2018 and beyond.

The 2018 World Finance Banking Awards have sought to identify the banks that have successfully held their nerve during a period of uncertainty and are now preparing tools to last them for the foreseeable future and beyond. Congratulations to all of our winners.


World Finance Banking Awards 2018

Best Banking Groups

Azerbaijan PASHA Bank
Brunei Baiduri Bank
Dominican Republic Banreservas
France Crédit Mutuel
Bolivia Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz
Cyprus Eurobank
Egypt AAIB
Ghana Zenith Bank (Ghana)
Jordan Jordan Islamic Bank
Lebanon Bankmed
Malaysia Maybank
South Korea Woori Bank
Kenya Kenya Commercial Bank
Macau ICBC (Macau)
Nigeria Guaranty Trust Bank
Turkey Akbank

Best Investment Banks

Bahrain SICO
Brazil BTG Pactual
Canada RBC
Chile BTG Pactual
Colombia BTG Pactual
Dominican Republic Banreservas
France BNP Paribas CIB
Germany Deutsche Bank
Italy Mediobanca
Jordan Arab Bank
Kuwait Boubyan Bank
Nigeria Coronation Merchant Bank
Oman Bank Muscat
Qatar Qatar National Bank
RussiaVTB Capital
Saudi Arabia SaudiMed
Turkey Akbank
UAE First Abu Dhabi Bank
Vietnam MB Securities

Best Private Banks

Austria Bankhaus Spängler
Bahrain Ahli United Bank
Belgium BNP Paribas Fortis
Canada BMO Private Banking
Chile Inversiones Security
Czech Republic Česká Spořitelna
France BNP Paribas Banque Privée
Greece Eurobank
Italy BNL-BNP Paribas
Liechtenstein Kaiser Partner
Monaco CMB
Nigeria First Bank of Nigeria
Peru BBVA Continental
Sweden SEB
UAE First Abu Dhabi Bank

Best Commercial Banks

Azerbaijan PASHA Bank
Belgium BNP Paribas Fortis
Dominican Republic Banreservas
Hungary ING
Bahrain Ahli United Bank
Canada BMO Bank of Montreal
Germany Commerzbank
Italy BNL Gruppo BNP Paribas
Kuwait National Bank of Kuwait
Myanmar KBZ
Portugal ActivoBank
Sri Lanka Sampath Bank
Macau Banco Nacional Ultramarino
Nigeria Zenith Bank
Saudi Arabia Alawwal Bank
US Bank of the West
Vietnam SCB

Best Retail Banks

Angola Banco de Fomento
Egypt Commercial International Bank
Lebanon Bankmed
Bulgaria Postbank
Dominican Republic Banreservas
Greece Eurobank
Malaysia Maybank
Netherlands ABN AMRO
Portugal Santander Totta
Saudi Arabia Arab National Bank
Turkey Garanti Bank
Nigeria Guaranty Trust Bank
Qatar Qatar National Bank
Sri Lanka Sampath Bank
UAE Union National Bank

Best Sustainable Banks

Australia Westpac
India Bandhan
New Zealand Kiwibank
Switzerland Bank Sarasin
Canada Vancity
Netherlands Triodos Bank
Nigeria Access Bank
US Bank of America

Most Innovative Banks

Africa Wema Bank
Asia Hana Bank
Australasia Macquarie Bank
Europe Monzo
Latin America and the Caribbean CIBC FirstCaribbean
Middle East Gulf Bank
North America CIBC

World Finance Islamic Finance Awards 2018

Heading into 2017, expectations surrounding the global economy were bleak. The fear was that the surprise political outcomes in the US and UK would send markets on a path fraught with unpredictable fluctuations. Ironically, the one thing that no one predicted occurred: relative stability.

With much of the world’s focus on the US and UK, significant results in Islamic finance were critically overlooked by many. Total sukuk issuance volume rose to $97.9bn in 2017, an increase of 45 percent from the previous year. According to S&P Global’s most recent Global Sukuk Market Outlook report, this performance has created good liquidity conditions in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, where the majority of sukuk assets are held, as well as in emerging Islamic finance sectors elsewhere. While growth in sukuk issuance is expected to slow in 2018 as governments rein in their budgets, the next few years will be filled with promise and challenge in equal measure. Geopolitical instability and the persistently low price of oil will make long-term success a difficult goal that only the strongest players in the industry will be able to achieve.

The 2018 World Finance Islamic Finance Awards celebrate the most successful operators in the sector, both in the GCC and abroad. With as many risks as opportunities on the horizon, identifying the best in Islamic finance is now more pertinent than ever. The ethical finance model is in ever-growing demand, and the winners of this year’s awards have set themselves up to capitalise on significant interest from new and unlikely sources.


Mixed expectations
If current trends continue, Islamic finance is expected to become an even greater force in the world than it already is. According to the fifth edition of the Islamic Finance Development Report, released in December 2017, growth in Islamic finance has not come to a standstill despite a broad economic slowdown in GCC countries. The report, which was compiled by business intelligence company Thomson Reuters and the Islamic Corp for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD), indicated that as more investors seek sustainable and ethical investments, Islamic finance is receiving greater attention from a larger variety of sources. Based on the report’s findings, the global Islamic finance industry will reach a total global asset volume of at least $3.8trn by 2022, representing an annual growth rate of 9.5 percent.

“The data make it clear that the industry is continuing to grow and develop despite the slowdown,” said Mustafa Adil, Head of Islamic Finance at Thomson Reuters, at the release of the report. “It is evident that Islamic finance can serve as a strategic tool for policymakers to cope with the slowdown, especially in the Middle East. This can be seen in the many steps taken by governments and regulatory authorities, such as introducing new regulations for the Islamic finance sector, raising awareness of the industry among potential market players through hosting seminars, or building a roadmap to plot development of the overall industry.”


A critical point
Still, the consequences of the economic slowdown will not go entirely unfelt. The dramatic surge in sukuk bonds issued during 2017 is unlikely to be repeated in 2018, thanks, in part, to the persistently low price of oil. While the situation is nowhere near as dire as it was in 2016 when the price of oil crashed dramatically, the weakening that occurred has had a lingering effect on GCC countries.

The other challenges facing the region are the boycotts still surrounding Qatar. Launched in June 2017, the wide-reaching embargo by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain has affected businesses and institutions including Qatar Airways and the Al Jazeera news network. With the spat still ongoing and unlikely to be resolved any time soon, the closure of political and business channels will impact economic sentiment surrounding the region. It is impossible to predict how this will pan out, which is enough to worry any investor.

While Islamic finance has the potential to reach significant heights in the future, the next 18 months will be critical for businesses that operate in this space. The operators that will succeed are the ones with a broader vision than their competitors.


Going international
One area where Islamic finance has tremendous scope to grow is in regions beyond the GCC. The benefits of a country opening the door to Islamic finance can be clearly seen in the UK, which was the first western nation to issue a sovereign sukuk. It is now the West’s number one centre for Islamic finance, according to TheCityUK’s 2017 Global trends in Islamic finance and the UK market report. At the time of publication, the report stated that 65 sukuk, worth a total of $48bn, had been listed on the London Stock Exchange.

While the UK’s potential for Islamic finance is well known, Africa has also been highlighted as a location ripe with opportunity. S&P Global published an analyst note in August 2017, pointing out that Africa lagged well behind the rest of the world in terms of sukuk issuances despite presenting tremendous potential; a mere $2bn has been issued by only a small number of African governments.

The appeal of Islamic finance models in Africa exists on multiple levels, S&P Global posited. Much of Africa is in need of an infrastructure overhaul, and so the continent’s many development opportunities present a wealth of potentially lucrative investments. Given that sukuks need to be tied to tangible assets, these kinds of investments are a perfect fit for many of the projects that need to be undertaken. Additionally, these kinds of projects are appealing to investors. African investments offer a welcome opportunity to diversify portfolios significantly, making demand for private sector sukuk issuances in the region highly possible in the relatively near future.

However, there are challenges to be overcome before this can happen. S&P Global stated it only expects a few nations to take advantage of this opportunity due to the complexity of sukuk products. Often, there is not the structural, legal or taxation framework in place to facilitate a sukuk issuance, slowing down many potential investors’ entry into the market.

Despite these challenges, progress is being made: the ICD, which is the largest Sharia-compliant multilateral development bank in the world, has made significant efforts towards making Islamic financing models in Africa possible. The technical support of the ICD facilitated the sukuk issuances made between 2014 and 2015 in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, with more cooperation like this expected in the future. If the momentum to overcome these (admittedly large) technical hurdles remains, Africa could soon be nipping at the heels of London in terms of world-leading Islamic finance centres.

Between the challenges in the GCC and opportunities presented in Africa, the Islamic finance sector is in a difficult position, but one that can be successfully navigated by deft operators in order to unlock the industry’s great potential. With Islamic finance continuing a march of success in many markets and seeing greater competition, only the best
will remain successful. The World Finance Islamic Finance Awards 2018 recognise the businesses that will be ready to meet the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead with determination and focus.


World Finance Islamic Finance Awards 2018

Best Islamic Bank

Banque Al Baraka D’Algerie

Al Baraka Islamic Bank

Shahjalal Islami Bank

Tabung Amanah Islam Brunei

Al Baraka Bank Egypt

Bank Muamalat

Jordan Islamic Bank

Al Hilal Bank

Kuwait International Bank

Al Baraka Bank Lebanon

Maybank Islamic

Jaiz Bank

Bank Nizwa

Habib Bank

Arab Islamic Bank

Qatar Islamic Bank

Saudi Arabia
Alinma Bank

Al Baraka Turk Participation Bank

Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank

Al Rayan Bank

Bank of Whittier


Global recognitions

Islamic Banking Chairman of the Year
Sheikh Mohammed Al-Jarrah Al-Sabah, Chairman at Kuwait International Bank

Business Leadership and Outstanding Contribution to Islamic Finance
Musa Shihadeh, Vice Chairman and General Manager at Jordan Islamic Bank

Islamic Banker of the Year
Mohammad Nasr Abdeen, CEO at Union National Bank

Best Islamic Insurance Company

Most Innovative Islamic Finance Solutions
Al Wifaq Finance Company

Best Islamic Home Finance Programme, Middle East
Safwa Islamic Bank

Best Islamic Investment Banking Services
The Investor for Securities

Best Islamic Wealth Management Company
Saudi Kuwaiti Finance House

Best Islamic Home Financier, USA
Guidance Residential

Sukuk Deal of the Year
Al Baraka Turk Participation Bank, First Exchange-Listed Tier1 Sukuk

Best Islamic Trade and Project Finance Provider
Kuwait Finance House

Best Islamic Asset Management Company
Sidra Capital

Best Islamic Banking and Finance Software Solutions
Temenos Group

Best Core Banking Systems Implementer, Middle East
Masaref Business and Systems Consultancy

Best Islamic Banking and Finance Law Firm, Africa
MMC Africa Law

Best Department Store Chain, Africa
Aswak Assalam

Pistiolis – Triantafyllos & Associates: New legislation will provide an incentive for FDI

Pistiolis-Triantafyllos & Associates law firm has one of the most dynamic and business-oriented corporate employment and labour law practices in Greece. We represent national and international corporations, and we make it our business to keep up with the ever-changing complexities of employment law, so corporations can focus on running their business.

Employment law is one of the most rapidly changing areas of our legal system. Against a backdrop of new legislation, regulations and reported cases, maintaining best practice is a real challenge.

Our firm’s goal is to provide immediate and pragmatic advice, regardless of where the issues arise; adopt a cost-effective approach aimed at helping our clients achieve results; and create the right framework for good employee relationships. We work side-by-side with corporations and business executives to implement the necessary methodology in respect to reducing labour costs and establishing efficient employment relationships.
We focus on understanding market needs; relating to large-scale restructurings, mergers and acquisitions, redundancies, business transfers and collective disputes; and the establishment of employee benefits and incentives.

Now more than ever corporations in Greece possess the tools and the know-how to reduce the labour cost. Day-by-day we regain the trust of both markets and investors.

An uncompetitive environment
Employment law in Greece is probably the most regulated employment framework – in terms of legislation – in the world. The legislative restrictions, in the creation, function and termination of the employment relationship led to a very cumbersome and therefore often problematic relationship.

This complex regulation was founded upon the idea that the employer-employee relationship is unequal. However this can only partially justify the multiplicity of regulations, which posed serious problems and large economic costs in doing business in Greece.

As a result, Greece had (until recent legislative developments) a key competitive disadvantage, which beyond anything else created an unattractive investment environment. It was widely accepted that services and products in Greece were expensive. The above fact, combined with the lack of innovation, turned away any possible investors.

The restrictions on the number of redundancies, the increased trade union freedoms and the high wages of employees are just some of the Greek peculiarities which caused intense scepticism in both domestic and foreign investors.

Thus the last few years’ corporations and their representatives required radical changes in employment law from the Greek government in order for Greece to attract investment and productive orientation.

Employment law previously
Beyond the national safety net which determines the minimum salary rates, in our country the minimum salary levels in each industry sector are being set beyond the level of agreement between employer and employee, and more often they are determined by industry trade and employers’ organisations – so these limits have been increased unnecessarily.

In addition, Greek legislation covers provisions for employment at weekends, off premises, in case of overtime, and more. Therefore, besides their legal or contractual salary, employees are entitled to an incremental increase if they provide labour in these circumstances.

The condition of four lay-offs each month for companies employing up to 200 employees and up to two percent for companies employing more than 200 was considered very restrictive by market experts.

Employment law today
Nevertheless, the recent labour legislation developments constitute a unique opportunity to change what was – until recently – an insufficient environment.

Throughout this year the legal framework has changed rapidly in order to meet the national and international investing requirements. The employment relationship has become more flexible and less cost-effective.

The so called Exceptional Company Collective Agreement, a contract between the management of the company and the company’s labour union, is a recent introduction to our legal system. In such an agreement the contractual parties could consent on salaries lower than those regulated by any sectoral collective agreements, but not less than the National General Labour Collective Agreement. Recently under consideration is the possibility for even lower salaries. It could be considered as a useful tool to decrease the labour cost.

In addition to this, and according to the terms of the new legislation, the right of the employer to conclude a single agreement or accumulatively successive fixed-term agreements (maximum three), has been increased from two to three years.

Moreover, Greek legislation allows a probationary employment period of 12 months for indefinite employment-term contracts, instead of the two months that was previously allowed. Within that period, a company is entitled to dismiss the employee without a compensation payment.

Furthermore, in case of collective dismissals, the total number of dismissed employees per month has been increased to six employees for companies employing 20 to 50 persons and up to five percent of the total number of employees and up to 30 employees for companies employing more than 150 people.

Finally, an employment agreement of an indefinite term can be terminated at any time without notice. In this instance the law provides the standard severance payment based on the years of service within the company (1-24 salaries).

However the severance payment could be half of the above in case of prior notice. Prior notice period is also based on the years of service within the company. Under the new legislation the prior notice period has been decreased to the maximum of six months instead of the maximum of 24 months.

Currently we face a rather hostile economic environment and the legal professionals specialising in employment law must provide effective solutions to ensure the viability or profitability of the investment. Now more than ever we possess the tools and the know-how for such a task. Day-by-day we regain the trust of both markets and investors. It has been a good start so far, but we still have a long way ahead.

Are your people a cost centre or a profit centre?

We see it every day in the media, particularly over the past few years: “Top company cuts thousands of staff.” All too often, senior executives and managers leap to the belief that headcount equates to only cost, neglecting the value side of the equation. They look over the numbers for staff pay packets, staff benefits and various staff facilities, and panic about how much their costs are adding up. What senior executives don’t often realise is that headcount is also about driving increases in revenue and profit. As a result, most organisations are underperforming, in some cases dramatically, and don’t know why.

The good news is there is a little-known solution lurking just around the corner, ready to be brought to bear to help increase shareholder value. This solution is workforce analytics – an important tool to help companies develop a clear understanding of the value of their people and the levers that can be pulled to increase revenue and profit. These levers are simple: accurate data about getting the right number of people in the right place at the right time. Workforce analytics has been proven to help senior executives understand the contribution of headcount to profitability, and how an increase (and effective deployment) of the right kind of staff can be beneficial to the company and for shareholder return.

Indeed, while researching workforce analytics during the process of writing the upcoming book, Calculating Success, we came across evidence that leaders in many companies are managing workforces without knowing how many employees they have or how they are deployed, let alone how many more or what type of staff are needed in order to grow and expand the business. As a result, following headcount reductions caused by the financial crisis, many workforces are simply overheating under an increased workload, with too few people trying to complete too much work (and sometimes two people working on the same task without even realising it).
These are all problems that effective workforce analytics could solve.

A six-step model
Understanding workforce analytics is a discipline. It involves implementing clear set processes, creating a robust system for predictive data analytics, training up staff and getting people’s heads around it.

In Calculating Success, we developed a six-step model to simple, but effective, workforce analytics.

First, it is necessary to frame the central problem. This involves taking time to really understand the organisational issues at hand. This may involve interviewing key managers across HR, finance and other functions, as well as reviewing documents that provide context, such as organisational structure, central business initiatives and project plans.

Once the organisation issues and the problems to be solved are defined, step two involves applying a conceptual model to guide the analysis. This means it is necessary to identify workforce and business variables which are likely to have associations with the problem outcome. This may involve being alert to idiosyncratic events and additional data that could be relevant.

The third step involves capturing the relevant data across all the relevant business units, be it HR, operations, finance or marketing. Any differences in definitions, codes and time frames can then be reconciled while valid data is stored in analytical databases.

Formal quantitative techniques can then be applied to this data, looking for stable patterns over time. This fourth step is where insights to solving the business issues are developed – valid data that tells us what the real story is all about. Using this data, statistical findings should be worked through with key stakeholders to gain buy-in and take decisions at the fifth step. It is essential that these results are presented in a way that is understandable to managers who do not have a statistical background. In this stage, any new problems that surface can be considered, along with any issues which require further analysis and understanding.

Finally, action must be taken to implement solutions. This may involve operational changes in policies, procedures and management actions regarding workforce recruitment, development and deployment: designed to produce the desired changes in workforce performance. Any changes in actions should then be monitored and updated; and the six-step cycle begins again.

Counting value over cost
If more companies gain a better understanding of the value – instead of just the cost – of their workforce, they will increase productivity, and thus improve revenue and profit. In our experience (and recent studies show), organisations that see people as profit centres tend to grow in size and value, and ultimately hire more people. In many countries unemployment and underemployment is at an all-time high – but if organisations came to understand the actual value of people, this wouldn’t be the case.

The big question is, “Is your HR organisation up to the task?” And sadly, the answer tends not to be a positive one.

HR guru Professor Dave Ulrich, best known for his eponymous HR Roles Model, recently spoke at Maxxim Consulting’s recent event, “Whats next for HR?” which looked at the importance of workforce analytics in the changing HR landscape.

According to Ulrich, when HR workers are asked about the biggest challenge in their jobs, he found the answers tended to range from “building credibility with my line managers,” to “bringing in new talent,” or even “handling employee grievances.” Although all of these concerns are essential to HR (there is no opportunity for development if you cannot do the basics well) these are all problems which are associated with the administrative functions of HR, or the design of innovative practices surrounding rewards and communication. The future for HR, however, is to be able to apply HR practices to respond to external business conditions.

In other words, it is no longer enough to just think about creating value by serving employees, but by making sure that services offered inside the company align to the expectations outside of it. Every HR practice can be transformed by seeing the value that it creates for those outside of the company. This positions HR not just to respond to strategy but to helping shape and create it.

Outcomes, not actions
In order to achieve this, Ulrich says, a seismic shift needs to take place to transform the way HR is considered today. HR professionals need to begin to think more in terms of consequences, instead of actions, and focus on the phrase ‘so that.’ By appending ‘so that’ to their aims, achievements and challenges, HR professionals are pushed to see the outcome of their work – not just the work itself.

Even better, says Ulrich, is when two ‘so that’ stages can be incorporated, to connect HR with the broader context of a business. It is no longer enough to merely think “My challenge is to build credibility with my line managers.” Instead develop the statement into, for example, “My challenge is to build credibility with my line managers; so that we can make better investments that help the business reach its goals; so that we can anticipate and respond to external business conditions and deliver value to customers.” In this way, HR professionals are no longer merely responding to the administrative functions of HR, but are looking at the greater business context and expectations outside of the company.

This shift in the thinking of HR professionals, however, is highly dependent upon those professionals understanding their business context and the value of people. Unfortunately, in Ulrich’s research on HR competencies, he found that HR professionals were consistently lacking in business acumen. Indeed, many HR professionals went into HR to avoid the quantitative side of business in the first place! However, in order to move with the future of HR, it is no longer possible to side-step data, evidence and analytics – disciplines which bring rigour to HR.

As HR has become increasingly aligned with business, workforce analytics have become increasingly important. While many HR decisions require insight and judgment, improved workforce metrics helps HR move towards professional rigour. This is where workforce analytics, the topic of Calculating Success, is so essential to help HR stay ahead of the times, and become an essential component to the development of any business.

For more information –

Money on the table for technology firms

The current financial and economic crisis, which a large part of the world is still enduring, has resulted in something of a rethink regarding the road ahead for many businesses, not to mention banks and venture capitalists. Quite a number of them seem to have come to the conclusion that the secret to economic recovery does not lie in mega-corporations, but in smaller companies that can adjust to changes in the business environment more rapidly, particularly technology companies. It is too early to predict another dot com boom, but there is suddenly a great deal of interest in internet-based businesses once more.

Venture capitalists are well aware that it is only a matter of time before the next big technology firm springs up in a small, nondescript building somewhere and that it might well be called Zoosk, Chegg or Xactly.

The Wall Street Journal recently published their list of the top 50 venture-capital backed companies and there are quite a number of technology firms on the list.

Xactly Corp develops web-based software; Zoosk Inc. develops social services sites and Chegg Inc develops e-commerce sites; they all feature prominently on the Wall Street Journal top 50 list.

To qualify for a place on the list, a company must have received financial backing during the last three years and it has to be valued at less than $1bn, which of course disqualifies giants such as Groupon, Twitter and Google.

Many of these companies are in the well-established IT category, a favourite of venture capitalists for a long time. Xirrus Inc, a company that manufactures Wi-Fi technology devices, takes the number two spot. Its founder, Dirk Gates, is also the former owner of another high-technology start-up, Xircom, which he sold to Intel Corporation.

Xactly, another software development company, takes the number three position on the WSJ list. Xactly develops sales compensation software and its future prospects looked so bright that it managed to obtain financial backing from giants such as, Oracle and Microsoft Corporation.

The renewed popularity of internet start-ups amongst technology firms can be seen from the large number of these companies on the WSJ list. At number eight, we find Glam Media, which publishes lifestyle websites. Etsy Inc takes the number 12 position with their online craft market. At number 29 is an online dating site, Zoosk, and the number 31 position is taken by Chegg, a company that provides textbook-rental services.

A number of companies on last year’s list managed to gain sufficient financial backing from investors to make this year’s list again. For example at number 26, we find Jive Software Inc. They received backing from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the same people who invested in Twitter and Facebook.

Suniva Incorporated, a company that produces solar cells, is on the list again this year, although it dropped from the number 15 spot to 38. Another technology company, Silver Peak Systems Inc, is in 44th position this year, after appearing at number 20 on last year’s list.

Moody’s cuts SocGen and Credit Agricole

France’s second and third largest banks by assets – Credit Agricole and Société Générale – on Wednesday saw their credit ratings downgraded one notch by Moody’s Investors Service.

Moody’s slashed Credit Agricole to Aa2 from Aa1 while Société Générale was reduced to Aa3 from Aa2 with a negative outlook for long-term debt and deposit ratings.

The downgrade follows months of speculation after Moody’s said in June it was reviewing France’s top three listed lenders and their Greek debt exposure. BNP Paribas is still being assessed by the ratings agency.

The news triggered stock volatility with SocGen shares falling 1.7 percent, Credit Agricole rising 3.5 percent and BNP Paribas dropping by 3.9 percent.

Asia’s herd of elephants

In spite of a run of bad news, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, believes India is on its way to becoming the world’s largest economy by 2050. He recently observed at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies: “India is a rising giant whose influence is felt not only in the Indian Ocean, but in the Americas, in Africa, the Middle East, and in Central Asia… Its rise, fuelled by a dynamic, young, optimistic and educated population, will be one of the great stories of our time.”

A survey published by Ernst & Young at the beginning of June showed that despite regulatory obstacles, India remains one of the most favoured destinations for FDI thanks to its comparatively high economic growth. “India is undergoing a transition in terms of investor perception of its market potential, which is bolstered by economic growth projected to surpass eight percent annually,” it said.

Due to its acknowledged success as a centre for business outsourcing, India will rank fifth among the most attractive business locations for European companies within the next three years, the Ernst & Young survey showed. “Foreign investors are not deterred by current regulatory issues to invest in India, and its perceived specialisation as a low cost business process outsourcing hub continues to appeal to investors across the globe,” the report said. The survey, to which around 800 executives from top level international companies contributed, also stated that Mumbai and New Delhi are among the cities most likely to create the next Microsoft or Google.

Contrary to the support issued by Blake and the survey, data published at the end of May showed India’s economy grew at its weakest pace in five quarters, as it slowed to 7.8 percent in the three months to the end of March. Analysts have attributed the slowdown intense inflation, a gradual increase in borrowing costs and lacklustre investment sentiment.

And yet, the government saw it coming. The country’s economy grew last year by a comfortable 8.5 percent, just 0.1 percent central bankers’ predictions. Representing a steady climb of a half percentage point from the year previous. Fuelled by export demands across technology and material markets, the country is enjoying the rush for commodities to support the ever-growing call for specialists identified by the Ernst & Young report.

India has always been marred by reports of corruption at government levels – a contamination that the state has been striving to cleanse. Now, with traditionally Western automotive and telecommunication groups moving into the country, it seems Blake might be on to something in the long-term at least. Here, we profile some of the regions appealing most to investors.

Known as the financial and commercial capital of India, Mumbai is the home to numerous key financial institutions, including the National Stock Exchange, the Reserve Bank of India, the Bombay Stock Exchange and the India Government Mint. Although Mumbai’s affluence originally began thanks to its textile mills and seaport, it has developed into a hub for IT, engineering, diamond polishing and healthcare industries, among others. As an increasing number of companies employ more skilled labour, more and more industries have emerged as significant economic contributors in and around the city. Among the most prevalent are the Bollywood film industry, clothing, pharmaceuticals, utensils and food industries.

Thanks to the success of some of these industries, some of the nations’ highest earning companies are headquartered in Mumbai. One of the biggest players, with revenues of $62.5bn at the last count, is the Tata Group. The company which acquired Jaguar Land Rover three years ago for $2.3bn from Detroit carmaker Ford, sold more than 28,000 units last year. This year, Jaguar Land Rover set up its first assembly plant in India to assemble the Freelander 2 Sport model, which will use parts from Tata’s Land Rover facilities in the UK.

Mumbai-based Reliance Industries announced it is to acquire Bharti Enterprises’ majority stake in Bharti AXA Life Insurance, the latter’s general and life insurance ventures with Europe’s biggest insurer. Reliance Industries will hold 57 percent in the companies, while its associate Reliance Industrial Infrastructure will hold 17 percent. AXA will retain its 26 percent interest in the companies, the maximum stake allowed to a foreign company in an Indian insurance joint venture. Reliance’s billionaire owner Mukesh Ambani is hoping to expand in the financial services arena as demand increases, and is aiming to diversify the business as earnings grow from its core oil and gas business. Commentators anticipate Ambani is keen to keep any extra funds generated from the recent deal in his birth city.

New Delhi
The capital serves as the heart of India’s government, and is located within the wider city of Delhi. The city’s service sector is constantly expanding as an increasing number of multinational companies open businesses. In addition to banking, media and tourism, IT and telecoms have flourished as key industries within the capital. Major IT companies have emerged over the last few years, taking advantage of the skilled labour,  and bolstering the city’s reputation as a hub for cutting-edge technology.

New Delhi-based IT product design and manufacturing company MSI India serves as the benchmark for the industry, with global customers recognising its award-winning production of notebooks, motherboards, networking and server products. The company recently announced its intentions to launch its own range of portable tablet computers in the domestic market soon. It also announced it is to spend around $1m on marketing and advertising this year, with aims to double head count and expecting revenues of around $60m for this financial year. That’s a $15m increase on last year.

Another New Delhi-founded e-commerce company, BenefitsPLUS Media, continues its acquisition spree as it aims to gain a market share of between 10 and 15 percent of the domestic market. In June, the company came closer to its target when it announced that parent company DigiVive Services had acquired one of India’s leading group buying websites, for $2m.

In a bid to further expand different industries in New Delhi, a governmental team will shortly review four sick public sector companies to fast track their disinvestment process, according to an official within the Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, . The companies, which are just four of 27 sick under the administrative control of the ministry, have been listed as Richardson & Cruddas, Hindustan Cable, Hindustan Machine Tools and Tungabhadra Steel. The team will consider a range of options, one senior official said. “In some cases it can be an outright sale, while the option of revival through a joint venture will also be explored.”

The government originally considered disinvestments only through public offers. The ministry has been postponing the sale of shares in some profitable companies because of stock market unpredictability but aims to raise around INR 400bn ($8.87bn) through divestment in public-sector companies to improve the fiscal deficit.

Bangalore is another city which has developed into a centre for heavy industries, Indian telephone industries, BPO and IT. The city’s IT industry is divided into three main groups: the International Tech Park, the Software Technology Parks of India, and Electronics City.

Bangalore has rightfully earned its nickname as the Silicon Valley of India, which first emerged after the establishment of the country’s biggest electronic industrial park, Electronics City. The park currently houses several global companies including Siemens Information Systems, 3M India, HP, General Electric, Bharat Heavy Electricals, CGI and Yokogawa. Infosys technologies and Wipro, the country’s second and third largest IT services companies respectively, are also based at there.

Great news for Bangalore came in mid-June, when Infosys Technologies clinched an INR 1bn ($22.2m) deal with India Post as the countrywide organisation embarks on a huge modernisation programme. Infosys beat its largest domestic rival, Tata Consultancy Services, to clinch the contract, with the widest postal network in the world. The company operates approximately 155,670 post offices, of which nearly 90 percent are located in rural areas. According to company, only 12,604 of its post offices have so far been computerised.

Although IT is a key facet in Bangalore, a recent survey published by Monster Employment Index showed a slow demand in the IT and ITES area has lowered in recent months, as different industries grow more attracted to the city. Aircraft manufacturer Airbus SAS, which has an engineering centre in Bangalore, announced in mid-June that it had signed a strategic agreement with CADES Digitech and QuEST Global. The two Bangalore-based companies, which are already suppliers to Airbus SAS, are to establish centres which will solely focus on the design of aircraft components while providing engineering services. Each company will concentrate on a different aspect of the initiative, with QuEST focusing on wing and pylon engineering, while CADES will deliver aircraft main body fuselages across various aircraft programmes. According to an Airbus statement, each company will have offices in Europe and dedicated centres in India. The new agreement with the two companies will attempt to consolidate engineering services already acquired from a variety of different suppliers, and will “focus on the development with the two tier-one suppliers.”

SunTechnics Energy Systems, one of Bangalore’s largest companies dedicated to solar energy, said in June that it would change its focus, name, and branding. It will now take on its parent company name Conergy to become Conergy Energy Systems, and shall focus mainly on solar photovoltaic projects.

Conergy’s clients in India outside of Bangalore include key telecom, oil, and gas companies, as well as government agencies, state and national government units, and manufacturing sector customers.

Home to India’s largest bourse, the Calcutta Stock Exchange, Kolkata is the key business, commercial and financial centre of East India and the north-eastern states of the country.

Much like the other key Indian business cities, IT has become a chief pull for investment in Kolkata. In addition, Kolkata has always been an important centre for banking and finance, for which it is respected on the global stage. At the minute, a variety of large international banks like Bank of America, Standard Chartered Bank and HSBC Bank boast offices and branches in Kolkata. This is in addition to the country’s three large nationalised banks, Allahabad Bank, UCO Bank and United Bank of India, who have their headquarters in Kolkata.

State-owned Allahabad Bank, which is planning to open more overseas branches in Singapore, Hong Kong and Schenzen in China, announced that it is aiming to achieve business growth of 24 percent during the financial year 2011-12. The bank’s shareholders additionally approved a dividend of INR 6 per equity share of face value INR 10 for fiscal year 2010-11. At the bank’s annual meeting its managing director JP Dua said: “Targeting a 24 percent growth for this fiscal year will take the business level to INR 2.8trn [$62bn].”

In and around the city sit several industrial units managed and operated by various large domestic companies. Some notable organisations headquartered in Kolkata include ITC, Birla, Haldia Petrochemicals, Exide Industries, Britannia Industries, Bata India, CESC, RPG Group, Texmaco, Bengal Ambuja, Philips India, Coal India and Damodar Valley.

Silk Air, a regional wing of Singapore Airlines, commenced lower budget flights to Kolkata’s Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport from the beginning of July, a move that has brought a great deal of attention from those considering investing in the city. The thrice-weekly service between Singapore adds to the flights already operated by its parent company, and will cost 15-20 percent less. The additional traffic in and out of the city provides a platform for more skilled workers bringing more money to the city.

FX markets enjoy colossal expansion

A key tactic in the world’s recovery from the financial crisis has been for banks to increase their capital reserves. While a noble goal, the unfortunate consequence is that it has significantly increased the length of time that savers are locked out of their deposits – an increase which is scarcely compensated for by an insignificant rise in interest rates.

Not everyone wants to invest their savings for two years with no right to revoke and no more contributions than three or four percent per annum. These savers are therefore seeking more attractive investment alternatives. There are mutual funds, but these come with additional costs; and of course there is the stock market, but this requires considerable capital to begin trading.

For investors who do not possess large funds but are looking for a significant return on their capital, the foreign exchange market is a natural home. Forex is the fastest growing and most liquid market in the world: the Bank for International Settlements’ (BIS) triennial report found that in 2010 global foreign exchange trading reached $4trn a day, up 20 percent from 2007.

Its huge scale is due to its character – rather than there being a specific place of trading for over-the-counter products, the foreign exchange market is a vast network of central and commercial banks, investment companies, brokers and dealing companies, regional currency stocks and individuals, all trading with each other online, 24 hours a day.

The main goal for investors entering the forex market is to diversify their assets and withdraw funds from the home market in periods of high uncertainty. And although the market’s rate of growth has slowed (between 2004 and 2007 it grew 69 percent), improving internet infrastructure in developing countries and investment globalisation suggests it is unlikely to peak anytime soon.

Currency pairs
According to the latest BIS data, the euro-dollar is still the most traded currency pair of the market, accounting for roughly 28 percent of all transactions per day (more than $1trn). In second place is the dollar-yen pair (14 percent of daily turnover, or $560bn). The pound-dollar pair takes the third position (nine percent of market share, or $360bn). The euro-yen and euro-pound pairs commonly hit three percent ($120bn) of daily turnover in the forex market.

The US dollar is the market’s dominant currency, taking part in 84.9 percent of transactions – although this has decreased from 85.6 percent in 2004. The use of the euro, by contrast, has increased from 37 to 39.1 percent. Approximately 35.9 percent of currencies traded are from the Asia-Pacific region, including the Japanese yen, Korean won, and the Hong Kong and Singapore dollars – in 2007 their share was 33 percent. In recent years the Australian dollar surpassed the Swiss franc to become the fifth most traded currency in the world.

Trading on the foreign exchange market is also attractive because brokers provide the client with leverage for their trades, which can exceed the deposit hundreds of times. This means that successful trades can result in a profit many times larger than the initial deposit. For example George Soros, one of the most famous currency speculators in the world, earned $1bn selling the pound for just two weeks.

Access to the forex market simply means registering with any brokerage company – the challenge is finding the right one.

Choosing FBS
The market is flush with companies offering essentially identical services. However there are still some leading companies that stand ahead of the competition because of their dependability, attitude towards clients and good service.

FBS is one such company. Formed in early 2009, it now boasts 80,000 clients across more than 50 countries. It operates offices in 16 countries in Europe and Asia, including its main offices in Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai and St. Petersburg.

The broker provides three kinds of account to cater to a variety of traders. First, primarily for beginners, is the micro account, which offers fixed spreads and can be opened with deposits as low as $5. Standard accounts can be opened with $25 and offer ECN/STP trading with leverage up to 1:500.

For more experienced traders with more substantial deposits, FBS provides an Unlimited account, offering interbank liquidity, floating spreads, the ability to see the depth of the market, and no limits on trading strategies and electronic advisers.

Prospective clients can experiment with FBS’s platform by creating a demo account, and enjoy a $5 bonus when opening a live account. With this bonus traders can evaluate the advantages of trading with FBS without depositing their own funds.

Regardless of their type of account or the size of their deposit, every client is equally valuable to FBS. The broker’s competent and professional staff are always ready to help traders and respond to questions as fast as possible.

Informational and analytical support for clients is one of the major advantages of FBS. In order for traders to feel more confident making decisions about committing a transaction, FBS has a large Research Department populated by experts in the global financial markets. Every day these analysts prepare reviews, articles, comments and news on the situation in the European, Asian and American stock exchanges.

The quality and reliability of FBS has been noted by a number of independent institutions of the international currency market; in 2010 FBS received the ShowFx world exhibition awarded for Best Mini-Forex Broker.

With high liquidity, the strong potential for even further growth and an endlessly dynamic nature, the international currency market is one of the most popular investment alternatives today. Although trading comes with certain risks, it also carries the potential for very quick, very high reward – which can be many times greater than the initial investment.

Man of the moment

Shk Khalid Bin Thani Al Thani is a leading Qatari businessman with interests across many areas, including media, real estate and financial securities. He is also the co-founder and benefactor of a number of non-profit organisations and business associations. In banking, however, he is probably best known for having founded a number of Sharia-compliant Islamic banks, including the Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB).

Shk Khalid Bin Thani Al Thani has had a keen interest in business ever since he was a child. “The concept of trading and investing to realise a gain has always intrigued me,” he says. “I started a number of small trading enterprises while still at school. It took a number of trials and some hard lessons to sharpen my skills to analyse an investment proposition and reach a balanced judgement about risk and return.” He feels that these experiences taught him the importance of finance and of sound investment strategies for any business to succeed.

As he grew older, he became increasingly involved with the family business, which would give him a firm foundation for his later years in the banking sector. However, his schooling raised his interest even further in “the considerable role finance and banking play in the economy.” After finishing his schooling, Shk Khalid Bin Thani Al Thani went on to study both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in Industrial Management and Technology at Michigan University. “I was fortunate to go to college in the US for my undergraduate degree,” he says. “Gaining access to some of the best educational institutions globally has widened my horizons and enforced the idea of an interconnected and interdependent world. I then chose to study a PhD in the UK as it offered me access to a world-class institution in my field of study.”

Shk Khalid Bin Thani Al Thani also feels that these experiences abroad have helped him become a better businessman. “When you live in a different country, speak a foreign language and observe different customs and ways of interacting between people, you become more adaptable and flexible. You learn to accept different views and entertain different ideas and concepts.” During this time, he was also able to learn about different sets of rules, regulations, laws and governing bodies around the world. This has, he says, had an invaluable influence on his business decisions and strategies throughout his career.

The endurance of Islamic Finance
While he considers this exposure to other cultures and customs to have been invaluable, he is adamant that this tool should not be used at the expense of one’s own culture and heritage. It is no doubt this attitude which led him to take the decision that he would only be involved in financial institutions that are Sharia-compliant. Sharia-compliant financial services meet with the requirements of the Muslim faith, which prohibits usury – i.e. interest. “Simply put, Islam views the economic value of money from the perspective of what it adds to a business, an investment, a product or a service. Money is not seen as a commodity in its own right,” Shk Khalid Bin Thani Al Thani explains. “In other words, unless money is mixed with other economic resources to create something new, money itself does not create value. Thus, Islam annuls the concept of compensating an investor for a risk-free cash investment and substitutes it with a risk/return shared approach. When applied correctly, this concept offers a tremendously positive impact on the economy. One needs only to consider the huge debt weight in many developed economies and the burden it creates for future generations just servicing the interest on the debt.”

On 1st January 1991, Shk Khalid Bin Thani Al Thani founded Qatar International Islamic Bank (QIIB) and remains its Chairman and Managing Director. The bank now has 12 branches and 50 ATMs in convenient locations across the country. It is a full service institution, offering a full array of both retail and corporate services while still remaining committed to Sharia principles. Now 20 years old, the bank has assets worth over QR16.6bn ($4.5bn). It is also a founding partner of Tasheelat, a Sharia-compliant consumer financing company.

After the success of QIIB, Shk Khalid Bin Thani Al Thani decided to take his experience abroad and found a second Islamic bank, this time in the UK. “Our experience at QIIB has shown a strong appeal for Sharia-compliant financial services not only to Muslims, but among all segments of the population, regardless of faith or belief,” he says. “When we started contemplating expansion beyond the Qatari borders, we decided to expand in the form of stand-alone entities, sometimes in strategic partnerships with domestic partners. When selecting these partners, we would look for companies that shared our vision and that had a proven knowledge of their domestic markets. The UK was a natural choice, as it is considered one of the main global banking hubs.” To this day, IBB remains the only British retail bank regulated by the Financial Standards Authority that is also fully operating as an Islamic bank.

Subsequently, Shk Khalid Bin Thani Al Thani founded the Syria International Islamic Bank (SIIB), which was one of the first entrants into Islamic banking in the country, “SIIB has been successful and we are pleased with the results of its operation,” he says. “We have also been looking at other opportunities in the Middle East, Europe and North America. However, the challenging banking environment over the last three years and the ensuing regulatory changes mandated re-examining each market closely to ascertain the potential and feasibility of an investment.”

Aside from Islamic banking, Shk Khalid Bin Thani Al Thani has set up a number of other financial companies. The Islamic Holding Group is the first specialised Islamic company providing Sharia-compliant brokerage services for its customers. It has over QR116m ($32m) in assets and endeavours to provide the best brokerage services in the Doha securities market. Qatar Islamic Insurance Company started business in 1995. It is a national organisation, but one that has international reach and currently has over QR586m ($161m) in assets with market capitalisation in excess of QR263m ($72m). Other entities include Syria Islamic Insurance Company and two holding companies, Tadawul Holding Group and Mackeen Holding.

Social investments
Shk Khalid Bin Thani Al Thani’s business interests do not begin and end with financial services – he also has business interests in media, healthcare and education. “In today’s interconnected world, business diversification is a must,” he says. “Economic cycles and varying business conditions impact different industries in different ways. Additionally, as good corporate citizens, we believe that we have a role to play in Qatari society and to make strong contributions towards its development.”

To this end, he was one of the founders of Medicare Group (Al Ahli Hospital) and remains a board director. The 250-bed hospital provides complete healthcare services and aims to become the preferred provider of healthcare for patients from the Gulf area. He is also involved with five media entities, Dar Al-Sharq Publishing and Distribution Co., Al-Sharq Arabic Newspaper, The Peninsula English Newspaper, Dar Al-Arab Publishing and Distribution Co., and Al-Arab Arabic Newspaper. Finally, he holds positions with three real estate and housing development organisations: Zenon Trading and Contracting Co., National Leasing Holding, and Ezdan Real Estate Co. In addition to these corporate interests, he is the Emeritus Vice President of the Asian Amateur Athletic Association (AAAA) and sits on the Board of Directors of the Qatar Society for Rehabilitation and Special Needs. “Healthcare, education and media are complimentary to each other and allow us to play an active role in enhancing the lives of Qatari citizens and expatriates,” he says.

When reflecting on his success over the years, Shk Khalid Bin Thani Al Thani believes that his family background and education form the backbone of what he has become today, “I can honestly say I was fortunate to come from a family of business people. Growing up, I was always exposed to how and why business decisions were made. There were many valuable lessons I learned just by observing even at a young age. My education and travels have helped in expanding my horizons and learning about different cultures and people.” Continuing, he says that if he were to pick out one defining factor, it would be that he takes a longer-term strategic view of issues, problems, challenges and opportunities. “My years in business taught me to consider factors beyond immediate gratification. Today’s shortcomings may be tomorrow’s opportunity, so learning from your own mistakes is part of our success. Finally, aiming high and working hard to achieve one’s goals are basic business values that as true today as they have ever been.”

Brazilian CEO in leadership award

When it comes to consigned credit, Banco BMG is a pioneer in the Brazilian market. The bank began its activities in this segment in 1998. Today, 11 years later, the bank is the undisputed leader in the sector and responsible to stimulate and develop this form of credit in the entire country, thanks to the diligent work of its CEO, Ricardo Guimarães.

Born in Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais, Mr Guimarães learned with his father, Flávio Pentagna Guimarães, how to lead the company with efficiency, integrity and competence. His successful history in companies from the BMG Group started in 1980, as an office assistant. He has been president of the company since 2004.

The bank’s recent figures confirm the efficient and competitive guidance of its CEO. In 2010, the financial institution registered a net profit of R$606m, a 16 percent growth over the same period of the previous year, which was R$533.3m. This was Banco BMG’s best result in eight decades of operation, and Mr Guimarães hopes his entrepreneurial spirit will lead to even more growth in 2011.

Profitability in 2009 was 26.1 percent and in 2010, 27.6 percent. Owner’s equity reached R$2.3bn. During 2010, credit generation reached R$10.8bn, a 28 percent growth from 2009’s R$8.5bn. As for the credit generated in 2010, R$7.5bn were for payroll consigned credit, representing 69 percent of the amount of credit in the period.

Recently, Mr Guimarães led a successful negotiation for Banco BMG which resulted in the acquisition of GE Money in Brazil, comprising Banco GE S/A and GE Promoções, a sales promotion company and service provider. The acquisition included the totality of GE Money Brasil, in addition to existing partnerships with retailers and 54 stores. With this action, the CEO wishes to increase the number of Banco BMG branches (currently 3,000) throughout Brazil. The purpose is to use the structure to invest and focus even more in consigned credit.

A vision of growth
In early 2011, Guimarães once again showed his entrepreneurial spirit. He conducted the purchase of stocks of Seguradora CONAPP – National Insurance Company, an important Brazilian brand. The purpose is to act more aggressively in the insurance sector, which in 2011 should have a 12 percent growth according to data from the National Confederation of Insurance Companies for General Purposes, Social Security and Life, Health Care and Capitalisation Insurances (CNSeg).

With its headquarters located in Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais, and a broad structure all over the national territory, BMG relies on a partnership with 1,044 bank correspondents, about 30,000 agents, 3,098 points-of-sale, of which 557 are its own, 547,000 active card points and 395 public partnerships. The bank has developed a technologic system to promote prompt and efficient approval. The technology allows on-the-spot online approval. Clearance is only granted after previously authorised by a public body, private entity or the National Social Security Institute.

The market approves of the path taken by Ricardo Guimarães as head of the bank, as evidenced by the prizes and awards it has received. BMG has been acknowledged as Best Financial Conglomerate by Fundação Getúlio Vargas for eight times in the Consumption Loan segment. For three times the bank has been the Best Bank in Consumption Loan by Gazeta Mercantil / Austin Rating. The institution is also among the 100 best companies to work for, according to the Great Place to Work listings.

Sponsorship and citizenship
Of course Banco BMG is focused on good results, but it is also attentive to the needs of society. As a sports lover, Mr Guimarães has associated the bank’s brand with soccer sponsorships. Currently, Banco BMG invests more in this area than any other Brazilian company. The bank sponsors several teams in the first and second divisions in Minas Gerais, as well as teams in other Brazilian states. Among them are Cruzeiro, América Mineiro, Clube Atlético Mineiro, São Paulo, Santos, Coritiba and Esporte, from Recife, Vasco, Flamengo and others.

Banco BMG is also a partner to volleyball and basketball teams, and assists a number of athletes in individual sports, such as gymnast Jade Barbosa, judo player Eduardo Santos, martial artist Vitor Belfort and tennis player Gabriel Pente. In addition, the bank supports Valdeno Brito and the BTBR3 team in the Stock Car BMG Racing, Cruzeiro’s track and field team and Flamengo’s gymnastics team. More recently, the bank has lent its brand to the most important soccer tournament in Minas Gerais, now known as the Minas Gerais BMG Tournament.

As another way to promote sports, Mr Guimarães has formed an important partnership with TV Alterosa, sponsoring the Soccer Talent-hunting project, the greatest Brazilian project ever created to identify, encourage and reveal soccer talents. Some 15,000 youths applied, seeking opportunities in the sport which is the greatest national passion for the Brazilian people. The goal is to find youths who can be used by the main clubs in Minas Gerais. Teenagers with ages between 13 and 17 took part and a great structure in terms of training, meals, medical care and follow-up with specialists to assist them to take the best steps in order to follow a professional career in soccer. The project’s main target is to show participants that sports practice should be used as a means to promote personal and social growth.

The concept of citizenship is part of Mr Guimarães’ philosophy, as it is also part of BMG’s history. Clients, employees and partners are involved in activities that value culture, leisure, health and education. This can be seen in the investments in projects that contribute to the quality of life, appreciation of culture and the strengthening of our country’s identity.

In this area, the Solidary Corporate Gift project, already in its third edition, can be brought to the foreground. In 2010, the company chose to collaborate with institutions supporting the elderly and located in nine different states. The project conquered the entire country, as well as others. The Solidary Corporate Gift project has contributed to 22 entities since its first edition in 2008, including day cares for the needy and nursery homes. The objective of Banco BMG is to encourage and promote a solidary movement including the entire society, helping diverse institutions in several regions in Brazil.

BMG is the first financial group in the Americas to use clean energy, using the roof of its Belo Horizonte headquarters to benefit from developing energy technology. As part of its commitment to sustainability, the institution has effectively begun using renewable energy, especially wind power and photovoltaic solar power. This way, BMG Group is considered a pioneer in Minas Gerais when it comes to renewable energy.

For more information
Tel: (31) 2126-8051/8080 – 9609-6706; Email:

War currencies, not currency wars

This is no way to run a currency. When Libya descended into civil war in February, central bank governor Farhat Omar Bengdara left the capital Tripoli because communications had failed and he couldn’t carry out the routine daily transactions that the Bank of Libya has to do. Next, he departed the country altogether as Muammar Gaddafi summarily appointed a replacement. Then all the bank’s foreign exchange assets, mostly held in the US and Europe, were frozen. Finally, the British government stopped a ship carrying £900m worth of brand-new dinar notes to Tripoli. As Bengdara points out, Libya is running out of money and the people will suffer.

Once again, the revolutions in the Middle East show how vital a nation’s currency is in the daily lives of its people. Let’s look at how the currencies fared.

For all these currencies, it will be a long fight back for respectability in the markets. Meantime the value of the two dinars and the Egyptian pound shrinks in the populations’ pockets.

– Tunisia’s 50 year-old dinar (TND) isn’t convertible, so it’s hard to tell exactly how it’s survived the revolution but we do know it’s taken a battering. It would be “difficult, difficult”, said central bank governor Mustafa Kabel Nabli about keeping to a deadline of 2014 for full convertibility in the wake of the crisis. Nor will it help that Moody’s has cut Tunisia’s credit rating to Baa3 and could lower it further. A big problem is the strength of the dinar depends on trade with Libya and that’s in a state of collapse.

– When the anti-Gaddafi movement began to mobilise, the 40 year-old Libyan dinar (LYD) held its own and even strengthened for a few days. When the dictator’s air force started strafing his own cities in early March, it went into freefall. The currency’s immediate future looks grim as everybody who can rushes to unload it, including expat workers like the 10,000 Filipinos who fled back home with suitcases full of suddenly unwanted dinars.

– Oldest of the three currencies, the Egyptian pound (EGP) has had a wild ride for nigh on 150 years. It was consecutively tied to the gold standard, the British pound and the greenback before it was floated in 1989, but only in the most technical sense under the Mubarak regime which kept a tight grip on the Gineih, as it’s also known. And the ride is getting wilder as tourism and foreign exchange flows grind to a halt. Trading in the currency, always thin, has also practically stopped. There’s only $35bn in reserves and it now takes nearly six Egyptian pounds to buy a greenback.

“Corporate governance has to assure integrity”

In February 2011, Nestlé, the Switzerland based nutrition, health and wellness giant, announced yet another year of strong top and bottom line performance, increasing investment in its brands, operations and people. Highlights included group sales of CHF 109.7bn, organic growth of 6.2 percent, real internal growth of 4.6 percent and a rise in underlying earnings per share of by 7.4 percent to CHF 3.32. Return on invested capital was 15.5 percent including goodwill. Such strong performance meant that the company was able to propose a dividend increase of 15.6 percent, and return CHF 15.5bn of cash to shareholders.

Nestlé’s well-known products and brands may be the most visible aspect of the business. The firm’s long term success, however, is built on the solid foundations of effective governance and its willingness to take a lead and to innovate, says Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe – rather than being forced follow.

Setting the agenda
Indeed, Nestlé likes to set the agenda. Take its current stance on philanthropy. Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe has said that philanthropy is not a suitable use of shareholders’ funds for corporations. A better approach where possible is to align the interests of the company, its shareholders, and society, in doing good – creating shared value.

It is a concept followed by growing numbers of organisations, but a position that Nestlé arrive at some time ago. The company has already established a Creating Shared Value Advisory Board, publishes an annual report on its efforts in that arena, and has identified the most obvious areas where the firm’s interests intersect with those of society, as nutrition, water and rural development. The company even runs a prize for creating shared value.

It is no surprise then to discover that Nestlé’s lead on creating shared valued is mirrored in its overall approach to governance. In 2004, Brabeck-Letmathe gave a presentation in which he outlined the importance of governance in relation to enhancing shareholder value. In that presentation, he explained how some key decisions around governance were instrumental in creating the successful Nestlé business that exists today.

After the Second World War, Nestlé’s executive management – the Chairman, the CEO and his team, were in the US, while the board of directors remained in Switzerland. The board wanted the management team to return, but they refused. Eventually, though, the board got its way, and the executive team returned in 1947.

This, says Brabeck-Letmathe, typifies the company’s take on governance. The board asserting its independence and taking decisions, underpinned with integrity, that are in the long term interests of the firm.

In that same talk, Brabeck-Letmathe outlined his views on the function of good corporate governance, namely to: set a basic framework of principles for running the company; establish checks and balances and establish responsibilities; and organise flows of, and access to, information. Achieving these aims requires the right people, he added, and also adaptability. Make adjustments when necessary. Drive the process; do not let it drive you – these were Brabeck-Letmathe’s watchwords.

“This proactive approach to good governance has again been demonstrated by the company’s actions over the last few years,” says Brabeck-Letmathe. “I strongly believe that any company must continue to innovate and reinvent itself, and that applies as much to corporate governance as it does other aspects of the business. So, in 2007, for example, we conducted a shareholder survey and we asked our shareholders what they expected from Nestlé’s corporate governance. Then, once we had got the results of the survey in 2008, effectively we rewrote our articles of association.”

It was a major step for a company like Nestlé to make. Especially as it might easily have continued as it was, without consulting its shareholders in this way, or making the fundamental changes it eventually did. The result of the process, though, was the introduction of number of very innovative concepts, says Brabeck-Letmathe.
“For example, we introduced the concept that this company has as its task long term sustainable value creation for shareholders, which clearly shows that we are not looking for short term profit optimisation. That was a major breakthrough,” he says. “Another major breakthrough, back in 2008, was that we were one of the first companies to produce a compensation report for the shareholders’ consultative vote.”

It is essential, says Brabeck-Letmathe, that Nestlé remains at the leading edge on corporate governance. That means constantly updating the company’s Articles of Association and introducing new elements, as required. It also means regularly canvassing the opinions of stakeholders, as well as the governance risk and compliance professionals and experts. Getting a sense check that the firm is still up to date on the issues involved.

“We are in constant contact with our shareholders,” he says. “As Chairman I do investor roundtables, chairman roundtables, one-to-one meetings, I am with companies that are consulting on shareholders votes, and we listen very carefully to what all these parties think about what modern corporate governance should look like.”

A focus on governance
Ask Brabeck-Letmathe what the new focus is and he quickly rattles off a list.

“Well I think for us it is going to be more about how the board works. For example, questions around how people are nominated to the board. How we are ensuring the succession of the board. Whether the different board committees are working efficiently or not. How we can assure that we have board independence. How we are managing the risks in the business. And then finally how the board is really actively participating in defining the long term strategy of the group.

“I think that it is those areas that will be the major governance focus in the coming years.”
In the UK, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) has introduced a new code of conduct, the Stewardship Code, for institutional investors. Adopting a “comply or explain” approach the Code seeks to promote a better dialogue between shareholders and company boards, and covers issues such as activities taken to protect or enhance shareholder value, and voting policy.

It is certainly an area where there are issues that need addressing, admits Brabeck-Letmathe.

“I think the voting of institutional investors has become a very important aspect of corporate governance. In our case today, some 80 per cent of our shareholders are institutional shareholders, so you can imagine that this becomes a very important matter to us,” he says.

“Personally, I have some questions about this issue. It seems that these days, many of these institutional shareholders may be voting based on recommendations from consultants. If that is the case, effectively the voting decisions of many of the institutional shareholders are in the hands of just a small number of individuals, maybe only three or four people. And I have some doubts about whether that is a good thing, if it is the case.

“Because I think it is very important that each institutional shareholder makes up its own mind about the vote that it is going to cast, and not necessarily just follow the recommendations of a few external consultants.”
Ultimately, of course, says Brabeck-Letmathe, investing in effective corporate governance is not just good for its own sake, but over the long term it is good for business.

“The main reason for good corporate governance is to establish trust – the creation of trust in the company is very dependent on good corporate governance. It starts with your employees. Employees want to work for a company where they know that there is integrity. So corporate governance has to assure integrity,” says Brabeck-Letmathe.

“Then you have shareholders that prefer to invest in companies with good corporate governance, partners who believe very strongly in good corporate governance, and finally even the consumers are asking, more and more, what is the corporate governance like in the business, how is this company being run, is it an honest company, a well-controlled company?

And, as Brabeck-Letmathe noted in his 2004 presentation, you can have all the detailed rules you like but it is the people at the heart of the business, not the rules, that make the difference.

“Risk management, for example, is a hot topic at the moment. Yes, we have a compliance manager, we have compliance system, but at the end of the day it will always be an issue of people, and the leadership that you have in your company,” says Brabeck-Letmathe.

“The people will always look to see how the CEO and the board behave. Do they walk the talk? Or is there a mismatch between what is being said in the documents and what is being practised and experienced in the company. So it comes back to instilling the right values into both the management and the rest of the people in the company.”

AMAN nominated “Best Takaful Provider”

This global nomination marks a remarkable achievement for a composite insurance company based in the United Arab Emirates. It is truly a testament to Aman’s dedicated team of highly qualified professionals and the security clients feel that Islamic insurance products can provide.

Established in 2002 as a national takaful insurance provider owned exclusively by UAE shareholders, Aman distinguished itself as a pioneer in the Emirates, successfully introducing Islamic insurance to the UAE and in 2004 being listed as a public company. Today Aman comprises one of the largest insurance teams of UAE nationals. Aman’s Takaful policies are backed by the world’s most recognised and top rated Reinsurers consistent with international standards to provide first class security. All investment and insurance activities follow Shariah guidelines under the supervision of a Fatwa and our esteemed Shariah Supervisory Board. With a comprehensive range of fully Shariah compliant products including life and medical insurance, Aman is consolidating its position as a leading composite national Islamic insurer – having generated an annual premium volume over AED 615 million within a short span of eight years. Furthermore, Aman maintains a sound and solid financial position that is recognised by a S&P rating of BBB that confirms its stable financial outlook. Aman was recently named the second largest Takaful Company in the GCC region by Alpen Capital.

Commenting on the growing demand for Islamic Insurance, Husein Al Meeza, Managing Director and CEO of Aman said: “Despite the global slow-down, the Islamic financial assets have exceeded the $1trn mark. The Islamic Financial Industry is definitely resuming its growth path and it is continuously drawing positive attention in media headlines of both Muslim and non-Muslim countries. The industry presents ample opportunities for growth and globalisation, which will spur further demand for Takaful. The main reason for this is because the emerging countries whose population constitute primarily Muslims are in fact witnessing modest economic development while most of the world’s major developed economies are contracting. Moreover, the Islamic Finance industry is becoming more sophisticated and developing new products and services that better address the needs of large corporate as well as mass retail customers. Non-Muslim countries are also supporting the industry mainly through legislation that facilitates the integration of Islamic finance sector into their economies.”

Islamic insurance is a collective system of support for individuals or groups who share the risk of potential loss. The Takaful operator manages their contributions through this shared system of mutual cooperation and distributes the surplus, if any, resulting from insurance and from premiums invested for policyholders on an annual basis. In the event of claims, the participants settle the cost incurred amongst themselves from their collective contributions. The profits from shareholder capital investments in excess of expenses are distributed evenly amongst them. Islamic Insurance is a proven cooperative system that supports social solidarity, helps protect the community and the fortunes of many pay for the misfortunes of the few.

Under the hybrid Takaful model, Aman manages the insurance operations for the insured as their agent under the Wakala system of Islamic Insurance. Aman invests funds on their behalf as fund manager, employing the Islamic Mudaraba system, combining a fixed fee for managing insurance operations and a share of profits for investing funds. This system enables policyholders to benefit from risk protection and investment services at the same time.

Bancatakaful is another model pioneered by Aman which is gaining popularity within insurance circles.

Takaful operators have played a key role in promoting Bancassurance within the Middle East and Asia Pacific region to meet the growing demands of Islamic banks and financial institutions. Aman is one of the first insurers in Bancassurance in UAE and since 2006 provides Shariah compliant products and services to ten of the largest Islamic Banks and financial institutions in the UAE, generating an annual premium volume of more than $50m. Aman has strategic partnerships with key corporate entities throughout the region as well, providing them with Islamic solutions for their employees and protection for assets.

Today as one of the largest BancaTakaful providers in the United Arab Emirates, Aman offers a range of Shariah compliant investment linked products and high quality savings programmes to banking customers and to other financial institutions through their own distribution channels. Aman also provides group family takaful, credit family takaful, critical illness and involuntary loss of employment coverage and home finance family takaful.

“Being a fundamental part of the Islamic finance industry, the takaful business would certainly benefit from the positive drivers of the industry to carry on the superior growth level registered in the past few years,” said Husein Al Meeza.

Aman also offers general insurance products for individuals, corporations and industrial businesses and various levels of risk protection for many different hazards to minimise financial consequences. These products include general accident and liability insurance, travel insurance, haj and umra protection packages for pilgrims; fire insurance, fidelity and banker’s blanket cover; engineering and construction insurance; marine and aviation insurance; motor insurance for both private and commercial vehicles; and healthcare, offering a broad coverage to protect individuals and company employees with both voluntary and mandatory coverage. In addition to its standard general takaful and family takaful insurance products, Aman can customise innovative insurance solutions to suit the individual requirements of customers.

Aman’s remarkable success is attributed to its strategic and transparent approach to Islamic insurance across the region, the capable leadership of its board and the visionary guidance of its management. Personal lines insurance remains an untapped market within the UAE and across the region for takaful operators to address. As Aman has proven the soundness of the Takaful business model, the company will now be looking forward to exploring regional expansion of its successful operations. Supported by an ambitious and dependable workforce, Aman is known for establishing enduring relationships with clients built on trust, confidence and expert understanding of risk. Aman remains resolutely focused on offering a unique line of Islamic insurance services to provide communities with a greater sense of security and stability. Adhering to the takaful concept, Aman upholds a distinctive responsibility to share profits with its stakeholders and policy holders in an honourable Islamic manner.

For more information Tel: 00971 (0)4 3193111; Fax: 00971 (0)4 3193114; Email:;

Peru: Capital goods sector looks to CG

Ferreyros is a Peruvian company founded in 1922 and has been a Caterpillar dealer in Peru since 1942, being today the leading distributor of capital goods in the country. It serves key economic sectors such as mining and construction, and along with the country, has grown significantly in recent years, tripling its size in revenues in the last four years to show revenues of $1bn in 2010.

During 2010 Ferreyros acquired the Caterpillar dealerships in Guatemala, El Salvador and Belize after receiving an invitation from Caterpillar to service its brand in new territory.

In the last few years the corporation’s activities have been related to the development of important mining, construction and hydroelectric projects. It employs more than 4,000 people, including Ferreyros and its subsidiaries in Peru and subsidiaries in Central America, all of them linked to the capital goods business, which consists not only of selling machinery but also providing value added services to its customers.

After registering its stocks in the Lima Stock Exchange (BVL) in 1971, the shareholders decided to attract new investors committed to the company’s future and growth. Therefore the company changed its nature, going from a family owned company to a public company. Today there are more than 1,500 shareholders.

In 1994 Ferreyros decided that the capital market should become one of its key funding sources and placed its first issuance of corporate bonds for $5m with a two year maturity. Today, after 25 years it has placed more than $250m in corporate bonds. Responding to the growth experienced, in 1997 the company successfully placed shares locally and abroad, increasing its net worth by $22m.

Today, after the issuance of corporate bonds, securitisation bonds, commercial papers and new shares Ferreyros is recognised as an important player in the Peruvian stock exchange and is well known by investors.

Ferreyros understood the value of good corporate governance practices implementation from the beginning.

Although at that time the company did not use the term ‘corporate governance,’ its performance had always been lead by ethical principles gathered today in the corporate governance concept. In order to attract investors and differentiate itself from other companies participating in the capital markets, it was important to constantly adopt changes that ensure transparency, equitable treatment of shareholders and efficiency in its operations.

This ongoing commitment to continuous improvement was possible because members of the board and top management have always been clear on the role of corporate governance.

In 2001, Ferreyros joined an association with other firms interested in good corporate governance practice. Each company in the group was asked to complete a governance self-assessment questionnaire looking at several areas: transparency of ownership, financial transparency, board structure and procedures and shareholder relations. The company scored well on the assessment and the leaders used the results as a starting point to implement improvements in some of its governance processes.

In 2006 Ferreyros participated in a corporate governance contest organised by Procapitales (a private association of key players in local capital markets that actively promotes best corporate governance practices) and Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas. This contest required the presentation of information related to shareholder treatment, board practices including independent directors, board committees, transparency of information, management structure and risk administration, and finally relations with internal and external stakeholders.

The completion of the required information helped the company to again assess its current status and determine more positive changes to be implemented in the future. Ferreyros participated in the contest with both the desire to be recognised as a leader in the field, considering that at the end investors will pay back for good corporate governance practices, and secondly to receive a feedback from the organisers on its practices.

Ferreyros obtained different awards in every edition of this contest: in 2006 the Shareholder Rights prize, in 2007 the award for Best Annual Progress in Corporate Governance, in 2008 the awards for Shareholder Rights and Best Board of Directors Practices and in 2010 it again received the prize for Shareholder Rights (there was no 2009 contest).

However, Ferreyros was aware that its endeavours in good corporate governance matters should continue and even go beyond the frontiers of Peru. That is why in 2006 it joined the Companies Circle of the Latin American Corporate Governance Roundtable. The Companies Circle was launched in 2005 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) along with eight founder members. Composed of 20 Latin American companies that lead in good corporate governance practice, the circle seeks to: (i) be a forum for the discussion of the challenges and achievements reached in the improvement of corporate governance, (ii) share practical solutions to corporate governance challenges to the Latin American business community, and (iii) contribute to the work of the Latin American Corporate Governance Roundtable by offering the vision and experience of companies that have already undergone a number of reforms.

Ferreyros has been part of the Corporate Governance Index of the Lima Stock Exchange since the index was established in 2008. Just 10 Peruvian companies are listed in this index, after the validation of the questionnaire of the 26 corporate governance principles that each company published in its annual report.

Among other subjects, these principles include protecting shareholders’ rights (including equitable treatment of minority and foreign investors), providing appropriate disclosure of the company’s outstanding concerns (including the financial situation, performance, risks and shareholding), and the responsibilities of the board of directors to the shareholders.

According to literature on the subject, the improvement in corporate governance can be driven by the following motivating factors:
1. Ensuring company sustainability and commercial strategy
2. Improving institutionalisation process to ensure less dependence on specific people to run the business
3. Increasing market value and attracting new investors
4. Increasing share liquidity
5. Achieving better operational results and improving business processes
6. Confidence in carrying out mergers and acquisitions because of standards of transparency
Ferreyros’ efforts to maintain good corporate governance have brought many benefits, including better investor confidence and recognition from stakeholders, including local and international institutions.