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Monday, 18 February 2008

More scope for Islamic banking

The newly-created Ajman Bank is the first Islamic bank to be incorporated in Ajman. Gulf News spoke to CEO Yousif Khalaf, a veteran of the GCC financial services sector and till recently the head of Bahrain Islamic Bank, about the scope of Islamic banks in the region as well as Ajman Bank’s priorities and services on offer.

Gulf News: Why did the new bank's founders opt for an Islamic institution rather than a conventional bank?

Khalaf: I think looking at the trends in the market and people's needs; Islamic banking has been an obvious choice. We also believe that we have a duty to promote banking values that are compatible with our religious belief. We believe our products and services will appeal to the growing Islamic finance market, which has assets of more than Dh120 billion.

Gulf News: By choosing Islamic banking will you exclude any segment of customers?

Khalaf: No way. Our services will not be limited to Muslim customers. On the contrary, we will be welcoming all customers irrespective of their religion, nationality or cultural affiliations. I think that all groups of customers in the UAE are increasingly becoming comfortable with Islamic banking and what they care most is the quality of service.

Gulf News: Will there be special focus on small and medium enterprises as Ajman has a big concentration of SMEs?

Khalaf: Yes, certainly. Ajman, our home base is a centre for a large number of small and medium enterprises. I think as a progressive and innovative banking institution we will put in our best to serve this important segment of the economy.

Gulf News: Ajman has been the only emirate that does not have a national bank of its own. Will this new bank fill that gap?

Khalaf: Yes. This will function as a national bank for Ajman. Ajman government has a new economic strategy. I think, having a financial institution that supports this strategy will be important in financing various schemes and industrial undertakings.

Gulf News: Will the bank be an active player in the real estate sector and mortgage financing?

Khalaf: That is going to be one of our specific focus areas for the next few years. We will work closely with the government and leading developers to support the freehold development programmes. We are working with some of the top end developers to become exclusive partners to finance these developments. We are in a unique position to contribute more to the real estate segment in Ajman because it is our home base and in addition we will be the partner of choice for the government and a number of developers who are also our shareholders.

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