Ali Al Mani, Chief Executive Officer of Alizz Islamic Bank shares his thoughts on the bank’s performance, strategic plans and future roadmap in an interview with Mayank Singh
Alizz Islamic Bank’s net profit grew by 27 per cent during H1 2023. Net financing and customer deposits also increased similarly by 13 per cent and 8 per cent respectively. What are the factors that contributed to this performance?
One of the primary reasons for this kind of performance was the strategy which was instituted a few years ago after the acquisition of the bank by the new shareholders. The foundation for a strong transformation strategy was actioned three years ago and that has worked very well for the bank.
During H1’ 2023, we focused on driving sales and this has helped in achieving good results. We have managed to onboard new customers, both on the retail and corporate side. The bank has also started offering new products and services which has improved our bottomline performance during the first half of 2023. This has enabled us to gain the enhanced trust of customers to bank with us. We have also managed to penetrate new segments of the market and shifted our focus towards digitalisation which heavily strengthened our customer value proposition and enhanced customer loyalty.
How are Alizz Islamic Bank’s products and services enhancing customer value proposition? Can you share some of the new products introduced during the last one year?
One of the biggest driving force towards our value-added proposition for our customers this year was offering them a complete suite of Sharia-compliant wholesale and retail banking products. New contracts were introduced in addition to our existing contracts that allowed us to enter new market segments which were previously untapped by other Islamic banks.
We participated in large ticket transactions with well-recognized companies for LPO issuances and new shareholder acquisitions which was an opportunity for Alizz Islamic Bank to compete in this area. When it comes to retail customers we try to be more flexible by offering them a multiplicity of solutions and merely limited to facilities that are assigned to a salary. Keeping in mind the specific needs of SMEs, we have created an exemplary structure with commercial facilities for them, enabling us to grow and gain a new customer base. These kinds of value-added products and services are attracting customers to bank with us.
Is Alizz Islamic Bank looking at increasing its ATM and branch network to have a larger geographical spread?
We are looking at increasing our network and presence in the country with additional ATMs & branch networks as we are aware that there are major cities in the country in which we have opportunities to grow and attain a larger geographical spread. There is also reverse market pressure on us as customers want to see our presence in these major cities, Alizz Islamic Bank has plans to expand during the year reaching out to a new customer base. Customers are looking for digital-first offerings from banks.
What steps are being taken by Alizz Islamic Bank to strengthen its digital infrastructure and online experience?
In addition to our existing digital infrastructure, we are looking at upgrading our online platforms to offer customers an enhanced digital experience. We aim to introduce new innovative features across our existing digital channels such as Mobile App & Online Banking platforms, to ease the flow of operations and allow customers to execute banking transactions themselves.
We also want to increase our presence through digital marketing. For example, a preferred way to shop nowadays is online shopping, and as a bank we are exploring options on whether we could offer something to attract customers who are buying online. In pursuance we are coming up with several initiatives in this area.
Digital is a part of our ongoing transformation strategy and the bank has a robust strategy in place to enhance our customers’ digital experience. The country is currently undergoing a significant shift in digitalization and we have noticed a growing trend in the market for e-learning platforms, E-commerce and digital payment gateways. We are aware that the market is headed in this direction and we need to be prepared, otherwise we risk being left behind. Innovation, digital and technological enablement is part of Oman’s Vision 2040 plan and we need to be in line with the country’s vision.
Is the bank developing an ESG framework to strengthen its sustainability practices and contribute to the community?
We are moving towards the adoption of ESG, but progressing ahead necessitates the creation of a framework. I am proud to share that we are avid practitioners of ESG in the bank. There are a lot of impactful initiatives related to ESG and we are working on building a solid base with a proper reporting mechanism. We have identified our main pillars under ESG and have planned initiatives under each one of them.
When we look at the Environmental pillar, we are working on several initiatives which are helping and protecting the environment such as green finance, financing of electric vehicles, enabling clean energy projects etc.
In the field of the social, we have initiatives at various levels. It starts from how we are taking care of our team, the community, and our society and we have various measures related to this area. We want to do more for kids and people with special needs. Moreover, we are moving towards sustainable initiatives. At Alizz Islamic Bank we are clear that we will spend only on things which are sustainable in the long run, as they can help the next generation.
When it comes to Governance, the good news is that the banking sector is already well-governed and regulated in Oman. If we can capture all our initiatives, collate them in a proper reporting mechanism, ensure that they are sustainable and practice them on a day-to-day basis, we will achieve our ESG mission. This will also help prepare us for any future reporting requirements from regulators and rating agencies.
Developing national talent is a national priority. How is Alizz Islamic Bank developing youth and creating job opportunities for Omanis?
I am proud to share that our Omanisation ratio is over 90 per cent but we firmly believe that it is not merely about reaching a number or ratio but about developing a talented and skilled team. Having said that we also believe in a multicultural and multinational banking working environment as this helps in diversification which promotes creativity and knowledge sharing.
We put in a lot of effort in developing our staff – both Omani and expatriate employees as we believe in providing equal opportunities for every individual and that we are one team. This strategy was inspired by the principles of Sharia and Islamic banking principles which heavily focus on treating everyone equally.
We also have a very comprehensive induction program for our new joiners that provides them an insight into every department in the bank. In addition, we conduct a Leadership Development programme called Ruwad Alizz, the programme has been developed by Alizz Islamic Bank in association with Harvard Business School and it revolves around enhancing leadership skills.
The third cohort of the programme is currently underway with the two previous cohorts having successfully implemented the programme. The first two cohorts graduated 60 leaders and the ongoing third cohort has over 30 people. The programme is not limited to leaders from Alizz Islamic Bank but inducts senior executives from the government and the larger corporate sector. We believe that this programme is creating leaders not only for our bank but for the economy and the next generation.
We came up with another programme called the Manahil Alizz Internship programme. The first batch of the programme ended recently. The aim of the program was to target potential students from Universities who would like to undergo an intensive internship programme with the bank.
Students from various Universities from across the country are selected ensuring regional diversity. These students then interned with the bank for three months providing them a close look at how the bank functions as a whole and how we contribute to the economy. We firmly believe in the importance of shaping the youth of this that we need to serve the community and society in which we operate and Manahil Alizz is an endeavour in this direction.
What are the priority areas and strategic initiatives being worked upon by Alizz Islamic Bank for H2 of 2023 and 2024?
We want to make sure that this year’s strategy plan initiated in the beginning of 2023 is completed and delivered. The next few years are about sustaining and growing the bank organically by leveraging all our investments which are being done currently.
Our strategy is based on three themes – performance, people and transformation. The transformation theme is based on two pillars – digital transformation and operational excellence. We would like these three themes to be completed in 2023. Based on our plans, I am confident that we are going to be one of the leading Islamic banks in the country.