Alex Thursby is the chief executive of National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD), having taken up the post in July.
Here, he, talks about the bank’s retail operations in this country, its plans for the future and its listed stock.
NBAD does not seem to have been as aggressive as other UAE banks in asserting itself in the retail space. What are your plans on that front?
We really want to assert ourselves in the retail space over the next three to four years. We’re a good player but we’re not an outstanding player. We’re sort of number five. We want to be higher than that. I think there are several areas where we can make improvements but if we are specific I think we can do a better job in the Arab expatriate segment. I think we can do a better job in the UAE national segment and to an extent in the non-resident Indian segment. That would be the three segments that we are chasing. Clearly, with regard to that, developing in the affluent segment, our elite gold proposition, is important. We had two propositions that were neither Martha nor Arthur. So we’ve put them into one and we will really start to focus on a value proposition. One big, strong value proposition. So what does that mean in terms of product? We’ll keep doing credit cards and get better at it. We’ll keep doing personal loans. But three areas that will have very strong growth are: [firstly] deposits, current account and account services. We’ve got a lot of work to do in that area. The second area is the mortgages and the third area is to get wealth products out.
NBAD branches always seem full. Would you not prefer your customers to do most of the basic transactional stuff online?
We like the branch network. We think it has value. We are reconfiguring the branch network, doing it up. So you will see places like Rolex branch. That’s the new branch for NBAD. We’re doing another 17. We’re getting the branding a bit more consistent because we are not consistent in our look and feel. Slowly and surely branches are becoming more and more led towards sales and service and less towards telling and things like that. One of the other things that we will start to do in 2014 is e-channel proposition, smart phone proposition. And we are some way off that. It will be more smartphone, tablet led. It will be about transactions and information and eventually we will lead it to sales so eventually you will be able to buy from the net. We will be a lot more aggressive. We are behind the market but I do think you have to balance it off as well. It’s not about the destruction of the branch network. It’s about the role of the branch changing, much more sales orientated, more settling of things. So If you need a mortgage, final settlement. It’s about cluster and then using the day-to-day, being much more through the ATM network and through the e-channel network that we have to create. And, frankly, our e-channels are sort of an early 1990s, mid-1990s sort of style. So the investment that we will be putting in to that will be quite significant. Building retail banks of our size and scope is a two-year exercise to reconfigure it and that has started. The apps and those sorts of things you will start seeing in the third and fourth quarter of 2014.
Islamic banks have been very aggressive in expanding in the past couple of years. Is this a field where you would like to plant a flag, too?
And I think they will continue to be. Part of the thing is that we haven’t come to a conclusion about it. We have an Islamic proposition. We are reappraising it right now, looking at how we can update it. We are assessing how we can compete. That’s the first thing and then saying if we can compete with this and this, how to do we enter the market in a much more assertive manner. We are looking at it at the moment. I wouldn’t say we are definitively yes, but it’s moving towards the yes bucket.
Foreign investors seem to have trouble getting a hold of your stock. Do you have any plan to increase the size of your free float?
A lot of our shareholders like to keep our stock for a very long time, which is cool. I think the issue is a lot of our shareholders like to keep our stock. I don’t think it’s an issue of any constraints. It’s just liquidity. People just hold because we are a safe bet. We’re happy with our current shareholding position. It’s not a hugely liquid stock because people like holding our stock. It’s very difficult to find sellers. And we’ve got a good capital position, so we don’t need to raise capital and we are generating capital, which is good.