Bahrain leads the charge on innovation in banking and finance
Speaking to Gulf Insider, Ahmed Abdul Rahim, the Chief Executive Officer of Ithmaar Bank, a Bahrain-based Islamic retail bank, said that, long before diversification became a two-billion dollar buzz word in the oil-rich Arabian Gulf region, Bahrain had already created a thriving banking industry and established itself as a key financial hub in the region. This, in addition to Bahrain’s investments – as far back as the early seventies – in education, infrastructure, and industrialization, effectively helped create a model for the region’s diversification initiatives. Bahrain, which once helped reshape the region’s economy by leading the charge on diversification away from oil, is now helping reshape the global banking and financial services industry by leading the charge on innovation in the industry.
“Bahrain has, historically, played a pioneering role in the region’s development,” said Mr. Abdul Rahim. “This is as true for the banking and financial services industry as it is for a very wide range of industries; from aviation to motorsports. This rich legacy of innovation is part of our very fabric, and I am pleased that, under the leadership of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, HRH Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, and HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander and First Deputy Prime Minister, and guidance of the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB), the Kingdom’s banking and financial services regulator, we are continuing to build on our history. In particular, I am proud that the Kingdom continues to lead the charge in financial innovation, with both local authorities as well as banks and other financial institutions making major contributions to reshaping the industry.”
Ithmaar Bank, with 16 branches and 42 ATMs, operates one of the largest retail banking networks in Bahrain. It was recently named “Best Bank for Personal Finance in Bahrain” by the World Union of Arab Bankers (WUAB) at a high-profile ceremony attended by senior bankers from across the Middle East. Ithmaar Bank earned the prestigious award following a comprehensive selection and review process that was conducted by a committee of high-level economists and banking professionals, as well as the research department of the Union of Arab Banks (UAB) and the WUAB.
Ithmaar Bank is a Founding Member of Bahrain FinTech Bay (BFB), one of the region’s most advanced Financial Technology (FinTech) ecosystems. The Bank, which played a pioneering role in the establishment and subsequent development of Islamic banking in the region, continues to invest heavily in ensuring it remains at the very forefront of the industry.
Working with local authorities, including the CBB, the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Labour Fund “Tamkeen”, for example, Ithmaar Bank and Eazy Financial Services, a Bahrain FinTech company focusing on providing biometric technologies, formally announced in May the region’s first biometric-enabled ATM network. His Royal Highness Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the Prime Minister, had in March 2019 inaugurated the Eazy biometric payment network by making Ithmaar Bank the first biometric bank in the region.
This, and other similar innovations have helped earn Bahrain international praise and recognition with the CBB being named “Most Innovative Fintech Regulator Of The Year” by Fintech Galaxy, a digital crowdfunding platform, during FinX 2019, a Fintech event held in October 2019 in Dubai, UAE. The Award recognises the regulation entity that is actively investing and improving their FinTech start-up seamless experience and was conferred on the CBB for its initiatives in introducing and developing both the regulatory framework and ecosystem needed to support the ambition of FinTech start-ups and existing financial institutions.
“As a pioneering Islamic retail bank, Ithmaar Bank recognises the important role we must play in reinforcing the Kingdom of Bahrain’s leading role as a key banking and financial services hub in the region,” said Mr. Abdulrahim. “Our continuous support for Bahrain’s various initiatives and the close work we do with the regulator as well as with local authorities underscores how seriously we take this commitment,” he said.
“We are delighted that these efforts are paying off and that, under the leadership and guidance of the CBB, Bahrain is earning the recognition it deserves,” said Mr. Abdul Rahim. “FinTech is reshaping the banking and financial services industry globally and we are helping lead the charge. This close collaboration between the banks, the regulator and the other national authorities, creates a powerful competitive advantage for Bahrain and helps keep the Kingdom at the forefront of innovation,” he said.
Bahrain, which is this year formally celebrating 100 Years of Banking, is also hosting the World Islamic Banking Conference (WIBC), a major international Islamic banking conference. Hosted in strategic partnership with the CBB, the WIBC has been contributing to the development and expansion of the scope of the Islamic finance industry for over the past 25 years. This year’s event addresses the growth of the global Islamic finance industry through strong investments in the Halal Sectors, infrastructure, and support from the Sukuk market.
“The WIBC, which is widely recognised as one of the most important events on the global Islamic banking calendar, provides a valuable opportunity to showcase Bahrain’s contributions to the global Islamic banking industry,” said Mr. Abdul Rahim. “Ithmaar Bank has been a long-standing supporter of this key annual conference, and we remain as committed as ever to playing a key role in promoting Bahrain’s banking and finance industry. Our continued support for the WIBC is in line with our long-standing commitment to playing a real and meaningful role in supporting the development of Bahrain’s banking and finance industry. It is a commitment we take very serious and, as a pioneering Islamic retail bank, we recognize the important role we must play in supporting our community,” he said.
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