Banks in the Middle East are liquid and well capitalized, particularly in the oil-producing countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Most GCC banks posted higher profits in 2013, as they extended more loans at wider margins. Nonperforming loans declined, as economies in the region continued to expand. Kuwait Financial Centre, Markaz, expects GCC banks’ profitability to grow in the high single digits in 2014. The majority of banks are domestically owned.

Foreign ownership in banks is severely restricted across the Gulf, ranging from 35% in Oman to 49% in Kuwait and Qatar. Ratings agencies expect an improvement in asset quality and about 10% loan growth this year. Consultant Booz & Company said in a recent report that banks in the region would need to manage their capital and liquidity proactively in coming years to remain strong in the face of new Basel III requirements.


Arab Bank

Arab Bank operates the largest banking network in the Arab world and generates 75% of its income outside its home market of Jordan. Despite its wide presence in the Middle East, Arab Bank has managed to avoid the negative repercussions of the Arab Spring uprisings and has continued to expand and post strong financial results in recent years.  Arab Bank’s net operating income surpassed $1 billion in 2013, while the group’s earnings rose 43% to a record $502 million.

The bank has maintained strong liquidity, with a loan-to-deposit ratio of 67%. Its capital-adequacy ratio exceeds 15%. Worldwide, the bank has a network of 600 branches in 30 countries, which has helped it to open up the region to global trade opportunities. The bank’s online trade finance and cash management platforms serve corporate and institutional clients. Arab Bank does a growing business with Asian corporations in the Middle East. It also has a strong presence in the project and structured finance markets. In the retail sector, Arab Bank is introducing new delivery channels and expanding branch networks in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia and Palestine.

Nemeh Sabbagh, CEO

Ahli United Bank

Ahli United Bank earned a record $579 million in 2013, including an exceptional gain of $213 million from its sale of its 29.4% stake in Ahli Bank Qatar. AUB has full banking operations in Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Iraq, Oman and Libya, as well as a UK subsidiary. The bank follows a regional and diversified business model and has been awarded higher credit ratings than Bahrain’s sovereign rating. Ahli United Bank has a conservative nonperforming loan coverage ratio of 149%. The bank’s cross-border business has grown steadily and accounts for 23% of its total loan portfolio.

Adel A. El-Labban, group CEO and managing director

Commercial International Bank

Commercial International Bank reported a 35% rise in earnings and a 21% gain in assets in 2013, remaining Egypt’s largest and most profitable private-sector bank. CIB has 153 branches and a leading market share in loans and deposits. Its corporate banking group captured an 80% market share of Suez Canal payments. CIB also achieved higher trade-finance volumes. The bank increased the number of deals it financed, mainly in petrochemicals and heavy equipment. CIB is the first bank in Egypt to apply the Bolero Online solution for letters of guarantee.

Hisham Ezz Al-Arab, chairman and managing director

Bank Melli Iran

Bank Melli Iran, the country’s largest commercial bank, is also its main international bank. It has a leading market share in foreign exchange, project and trade financing. State-run Bank Melli has more than 3,000 branches in Iran, where all banks must be shariah-compliant. Altogether, Iran’s banks hold nearly 43% of global Islamic banking assets, according to KFH-Research, a subsidiary of Kuwait Finance House. Following Iran’s November 2013 nuclear deal with six world powers, sanctions against Iran were eased by about $7 billion, although bank sanctions remain in place.

Abdolnaser Hemmati, chairman and managing director

Bank of Baghdad

Bank of Baghdad, one of the largest commercial banks in Iraq, is a subsidiary of Kuwait’s Burgan Bank. It has 40 branches in Iraq, as well as a branch in Lebanon. Bank of Baghdad has a score of subsidiaries in Iraq that are involved in such industries as insurance, construction materials, food and clothing. It has been listed on the Iraq Stock Exchange since 2004.

Adnan Al-Chalabi, managing director

Bank Hapoalim

Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, increased its commercial banking market share from 26% in 2010 to 32% in 2013. It also has a 33% share of the retail banking market, which is served by 276 branches. Bank Hapoalim focuses on fast-growing customer segments, such as Israel’s Arab population, the ultra-orthodox sector, technology companies and small businesses. In January the bank opened its new trading floor and dealing rooms outfitted with the latest technology.

Zion Kenan, president and CEO

Arab Bank

Arab Bank’s conservative approach to lending and its diversified operating model have paid off in recent years with steadily rising earnings. The coverage ratio for nonperforming loans stands at a comfortable 139%. The bank’s customers, both corporate and retail, benefit from the bank’s significant investment in technology. With a range of products targeted at various market segments, Arab Bank continues to strengthen its business line. It offers special services and relationship managers for well-to-do clients, and a program for middle-income executives and entrepreneurs.

Nemeh Sabbagh, CEO

National Bank of Kuwait

NBK aims to maintain its leading market share in its home market, while expanding its regional presence. The bank’s earnings fell to $844 million in 2013 from $1.1 billion a year earlier, although it still accounted for nearly half of the banking sector profits in Kuwait, where it has a 40% market share. NBK has an Egyptian subsidiary, Al Watany Bank, and it owns 81.5% of Credit Bank of Iraq. It holds a 40% stake in Turkish Bank and a 30% share in International Bank of Qatar. NBK also is present in Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Isam Jasem Al Sager, group CEO


BLOM Bank was the only one of Lebanon’s top three banks to register an increase in earnings last year, although all three succeeded in increasing their loans and deposits. BLOM led with a return on average equity of 16.8% and a return on average assets of 1.4%. Lebanon’s banks continued to perform well in 2013, despite a slowdown in the country’s economy. BLOM is a universal bank and is the leader in retail banking in Lebanon, with a retail loan portfolio of more than $2 billion.

Saad Azhari, chairman and general manager

Ahli Bank

Ahli Bank has grown rapidly since Ahli United Bank acquired a 35% stake in 2007. Last year Ahli Bank began offering shariah-compliant banking services in Oman through seven dedicated Islamic branches. The bank also operates 12 conventional branches. A special unit provides working capital and lease financing to small and midsize enterprises. Ahli Bank has separate business units for corporate banking and treasury services, retail and premium banking, Islamic banking and investment banking. Its Al Hilal MENA Fund is the first Islamic fund introduced by a bank in Oman.

Lloyd Charles Maddock, CEO

Bank of Palestine

Bank of Palestine is the largest bank in Palestine. It has a market share of approximately 23% of deposits and loans in Palestine. It recently started a project with the IFC to develop small and medium enterprise and microlending programs for women. As the sole agent in Palestine for Visa and MasterCard, Bank of Palestine has signed agreements with several other banks to issue credit cards for their customers. The bank has worked with the private sector to introduce the first private pension fund in the region based on the successful Chilean model.

Hashim Shawa, chairman and general manager

Qatar National Bank

Qatar National Bank is 50% owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, the country’s sovereign wealth fund. With the addition of a new subsidiary in India and a representative office in China, QNB has a presence in 26 countries. Last year it completed the acquisition of a controlling stake in National Société Générale Bank–Egypt (now QNB Alahli), Egypt’s second-largest private bank. QNB also took majority control of Mansour Bank of Iraq. It boosted its ownership in UAE-based Commercial Bank International to 40%.

Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari, acting group CEO

Samba Financial Group

Samba Financial Group’s earnings for full year 2013 rose 4.1%, and return on equity was 13.6%. Saudi Arabia’s third-largest bank in terms of assets, it has expanded in the UAE, Pakistan and Qatar, and has had a presence in London for more than 20 years. Samba Pakistan has 28 branches. In its home market, Samba offers a choice of Islamic personal and home-finance products. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest penetrations of mobile phones in the world, and mobile banking is an important delivery channel for Samba. Its corporate banking group serves 90% of the top 100 Saudi companies.

Eisa Al-Eisa, chairman

National Bank of Abu Dhabi

National Bank of Abu Dhabi, one of the world’s 50 safest banks, has an international network of 60 branches in 18 countries, in addition to 125 branches in the UAE. The bank is focused on building its business in a corridor stretching from West Africa to East Asia. It expects more than 20 megacities, each with a population of more than 10 million and a growing middle class, to emerge in this area in the next two decades. NBAD is one of the largest foreign banks in Egypt. Alex Thursby, group CEO, says: “Egypt can be one of the leading franchise markets for the group in five to 10 years. My aspiration is to develop Egypt as a $100 million profit business if the fundamentals are right.”

Alex Thursby, group CEO

Arab Bank Yemen

Arab Bank Yemen offers retail and corporate banking services, with a focus on trade and infrastructure development. The bank has 10 branches in Yemen, where it has been active for more than 40 years. Yemen became a member of the World Trade Organization at the end of last year. Oil and gas exports, which account for 70% of the state budget, have declined as a result of attacks on pipelines. The unemployment rate soared after thousands of Yemeni migrant workers were forced to leave Saudi Arabia late last year.

Omar Ibrahim al-Sous, country manager


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