Ahmed Abdellatif, the new head of Arab Banking Corporation (ABC), is carrying out a review of the bank’s strategy and is encouraging a closer relation between managers and the regions they cover. In response to written questions by MEED, Abdellatif says he is confident that ABC can improve on last year’s earnings after a strong performance in the first half of 1995.

The former head of Saudi Arabia’s Riyad Bank took up the position as president and chief executive officer of ABC in May of this year. The questions were put to Abdellatif after the first senior management reshuffle was announced in July (MEED 11:8:95).

What strategy are you outlining for the bank?

The strategy is being reviewed at present to take into consideration the many economic and financial changes occurring in the world and the Gulf area in particular, since ABC’s inception 15 years ago. The direction is to consolidate gains, rationalise efforts for better efficiency, and continue to be dynamic. The Arab markets are necessary to cement roots, while the Far East is young, and where emerging markets are more likely to leave an impact.

Do you have any new initiatives planned, including new product launches?

Certain ABC units are highly competitive retail banking environments that necessitate almost constant innovation to ensure their continued success. International Bank of Asia, for instance, is considered to be in the forefront as a provider of modern banking products and services in Hong Kong. A variety of extremely successful deposit schemes this year have included features such as interest paid up front as well as lucky draw programmes.

Other new products include Visa affinity card programmes, a multi-function cash management account (commencing in September) and Visa cards with the customer’s name written in calligraphy (a first for Asia).

Other ABC units that also innovate to compete are Banco Atlantico in Spain (deposit schemes), ABC-Jordan (commercial banking services), ABC Investment & Services (with investment products) and our Islamic Banking Unit which was the first to offer an Islamic clearing system to its customers. This stream of up-to-the-minute-banking products and services will continue into the foreseeable future.

Can you tell MEED about the bank’s performance in 1995?

Thus far 1995 has shown good improvement in profit performance, solid yet very selective asset growth, and encouragingly diversified sources of income. At the end of the first half of 1995 our pre-tax profit was $91 million which is 15 per cent over the comparable period of the previous year. This performance puts us ahead of our goals in the year to date and allows us to be cautiously optimistic about 1995 as a whole. Candidly speaking, I’m very pleased with our prospects so far and am confident that we can continue our pace of the first half of the year.

What has prompted your decision to call for regional heads to concentrate only on their regional responsibilities?

Regional heads are being prompted by host supervisory authorities to remain in their respective regions. We find this also essential if we are to fulfil our fiduciary responsibilities towards ABC’s subsidiaries and other parent company units. This move is also a prerequisite for dynamic marketing efforts.

Mike Murad had a dual role, as Asia division head and as chief operating officer. He is concentrating now on the Asia division for the reasons I have outlined previously. He is chief executive and vice-chairman of International Bank of Asia, which is a major ABC subsidiary in Asia.

When do you expect to fill the position of chief operating officer?

When the time comes.