Kuwait's Largest Lender Plans Saudi Arabia, Egypt ExpansionBy
National Bank of Kuwait seeks to hire ‘hundreds’ of bankers
Lender is focusing growth plans on stable GCC markets
NBK, as the bank is known, will open in Riyadh and Dammam by the end of next year after opening its first branch in Saudi Arabia in 2006. The bank’s Egyptian unit also aims to have 60 branches in the most populous Arab country by 2020, up from 43 currently, and will open four or five next year.
“We started focusing our regional growth on more stable markets in the Middle East, namely GCC countries -- Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. -- in addition to Egypt,” Group Chief Executive Officer Isam Al Sager said in an interview in Cairo late on Sunday. “We have one operating branch in Saudi Arabia and just received required approvals to open two more branches in the kingdom.”
The Kuwaiti bank is among Gulf-based lenders looking to expand regionally to beat the limitation of small home markets and build their investment banking businesses to compete with bigger foreign rivals. Some lenders are also in talks to merge to create bigger banks. National Bank of Abu Dhabi PJSC and First Gulf Bank PJSC combined this year to create one of the region’s biggest lenders.
NBK is also considering opening branches in India and Germany, George Richani, chief executive officer of NBK’s International Banking Group, said in a separate interview on Sunday.
Egypt is also a growth opportunity for NBK as it recovers from a period of instability, Al Sager said. The country went through years of turbulence after a 2011 uprising, which scared off investors and undermined growth.
“Egypt is among the largest Middle Eastern markets, with a well-diversified economic base and the largest population in the region,” he said. “That offers us a great opportunity, especially with the very low banking penetration rate.”
NBK Egypt expects 20 percent growth in loans in 2018 because of a widely-expected decline in interest rates and a recovery in economic growth, according to Yasser Hassan, the bank’s managing director. A big part of that growth will come from lending to small- to medium-enterprises.
In Kuwait, NBK’s Islamic unit Boubyan Bank will “continue growing ahead of the overall market growth” and will make an increasing contribution to group earnings, Al Sager said.
NBK has no immediate plans to sell bonds after it raised $750 million in May under a $3 billion program, but will return to the market when a good opportunity arises.
“We were quite liquid back then and we are more liquid today,” Al Sager said. “That said, we wanted to diversify our funding base, lengthen the maturity of our liabilities and more importantly open further communication channels with investors. Going back to the market we will remain very opportunistic.”