Usman Ahmed, CEO, Citi, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar
Usman Ahmed, Citi’s CEO for Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar, discusses Bahrain’s importance as a banking hub
As Citi heads into its 50th year of operations in Bahrain, a key Saudi ally, Usman Ahmed, Citi’s Chief Executive Officer for Bahrain, Kuwait & Qatar stresses that the island nation remains a very important base for the global banking giant.
“Bahrain is very important for us, not just for our local business but also for the broader region,” says Ahmed. “In addition to having a full-fledged institutional and consumer banking franchise, we conduct our treasury operations for all of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region from Bahrain and a service hub for financial institution clients from across 11 countries is also based here. And then, of course, we also have a call center which services consumer clients of the United Arab Emirates, in addition to Bahrain.”
Ahmed, who is also the Global Head of Citi’s Islamic Banking business, has been associated with the Bank for most of his 22-year career, barring three years at the end of the last decade, since taking up his first assignment in Pakistan, in 1996. Since then, he has also held various senior positions with Citi in Manila, Dubai, London and Hong Kong.
Having first been posted by Citi to Bahrain in 1999, Ahmed’s insight into the Gulf nation’s economy as well as Islamic banking – which, at one stage in the past decade, was said to be growing faster than conventional banking – is crucial, especially in the context of the reported sudden downturn in the region’s oil economy over the past three years.
“I feel that, even though there has been a macro-economic concern around the budget deficit that Bahrain has run over the last three years, the economy, as a whole, has been doing quite well and we see that in our own business,” he explains. “We have not had any stress in our portfolio as a result of the downturn in oil prices and we have not had any change in our strategy in the Country.”
In fact, says Ahmed, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in Bahrain has been positive, as a whole. “The Country’s economy has had quite reasonable growth of over 3 percent per annum, but, within that figure, there has been faster growth in the non-oil sector of 7.5 percent per annum,” he adds.
Despite the change in the dynamic between Qatar and its neighbors over the last year, Ahmed says Citi’s commitment to its client base in the region remains unchanged. “We are present in 98 countries around the world,” he points out. “We do business in over 160 countries. So we are invariably exposed to different economic cycles and political events around the world. But we always remain focused on trying to deliver, for our clients, the best possible value proposition that we can have in any particular market. That has exactly been our stance in Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. So we have not really had to make any adjustments to our approach to serving our clients in these markets as a result of recent geopolitical events. Of course, we remain mindful of the environment in which we operate but, beyond that, I don’t think there has been any desire or move to change our focus on serving clients.”
Now, as Citi prepares to both celebrate its 50th anniversary in Bahrain next year and looks to consolidate further with an eye on the future, Ahmed says that, by investing heavily in technology, the bank is focused on improving its client experience. “We have upgraded our main operating platform for consumer banking and we have also been investing in our digital capabilities, so that will be a key area of focus for us,” he explains. “We want to be the best for our clients in every segment in which we operate.”
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