‘We follow our clients east to west’: Mashreq Bank on its expanding presence

World Finance speaks to Mashreq Bank about its plans to grow globally

November 21, 2014

The Middle East is one of the world’s fastest growing markets in the international financial arena. World Finance speaks to John Iossifidis, Executive Vice President and Head of International Banking at Mashreq Bank, to discuss how the company has cemented its place in the region and beyond.

World Finance: John, tell me about some of the regional expansion plans your bank has embarked upon.
John Iossifidis: I joined the bank in 2009, and the ambition at that time was really to grow international, because we realised that our UAE home base was going to be fairly limited in terms of our overall ambition. There’s 52 banks in the UAE, so growth and competition is fierce.

We wanted to grow beyond that, and in that five years we’ve opened in Bahrain domestically, opened in Kuwait, expanded into our presence in Egypt, and continued to expand in Qatar. And we’ve developed a global financial institutions business.

World Finance: So tell me how demographic have actually contributed to this transition.
John Iossifidis: Part of it really for us was, as I said, strategy in terms of diversifying away, and our strategy is to follow our clients. Our clients have been regionalising, so the shift in terms of being a regional player and a regional bank have meant that we provide regional solutions to our clients as they grow outside of the UAE as well, because the UAE is a hub, and Dubai is a hub, and you’re actually seeing people moving into Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Egypt is back again. Now they have some more stability after the recent change in government.

I expect more investments coming in to Qatar

We follow our clients east to west, and by that I really mean that China, Japan, Korea, India, as they do business, firstly, with the Middle East, and secondly through the Middle East and into Africa. So we follow the trade flows and the investment flows as they go from East Asia to West Africa.

World Finance: So as your non-UAE clients mature and expand as you just described, can you tell me what sort of services are they demanding from you?
John Iossifidis: Well typically they want us to provide solutions, they want us to provide capital for them in terms of different investor bases, they want us to provide simple trade finance services and the ability to move their goods from China, or importation of commodities into Africa, or heavy machinery into the UAE as they continue to develop and invest in infrastructure.

World Finance: Excellent. Now what sort of investments are they particularly looking to tap into?
John Iossifidis: At the moment we’re seeing a lot of infrastructure investment in the Middle East, and that infrastructure investment is there, they’re monetising oil wealth at the end of the day, and we’re seeing huge amounts of infrastructure investment to create jobs for the future, whether it’s getting ready for Expo 2020 in Dubai, or whether it’s becoming a tourist hub or in Qatar getting ready for the football World Cup.

They’re also putting in infrastructure in terms of railways, airports, shipping ports, etc.

World Finance: Now we all know that the UAE as well as Dubai have really established their reputations as financial hubs. Tell me about some of the other emerging markets in the Middle East that are worth watching for?
John Iossifidis: I expect more investments coming in to Qatar. You’re seeing a play happen in Saudi Arabia, for them to be included in the indexes as we move forward. I think the other one really is with stability seeming to return into Egypt. More broadly, and it really does depend on our business and our business model, to be honest, Turkey continues to be of great interest globally.

And as I said, client base going from east to west, and following those trade flows. Africa is of huge interest everywhere, China is of huge interest everywhere.

World Finance: Exciting to watch, as the industry expands its reach and Mashreq Bank’s place in that. Thank you so much John for joining me today.
John Iossifidis: Thank you very much.