With majority shares in the National Bank of Iraq (NBI) and a presence in the Dubai International Financial Centre, Capital Bank is carving out a niche position from its base in Amman to act as a truly regional bank. Bassem Khalil Al-Salem, Chairman of Capital Bank, tells us why he is upbeat about Iraq’s future and how Capital Bank is already prepared to help bring business back to the worn-torn nation.
How does Capital Bank stand out in the Jordanian banking sector?
Operating over €2.3 billion in assets, Capital Bank is a well-established incumbent in the Jordanian banking sector, backed by leading local and regional institutions including the IFC, Hikma, Nuqul Group, and the Social Security Corporation. Our two decades of expertise has secured our unique position in the national banking sector, bringing wide exposure to European investors that wish to venture into the regional market through our established presences in Iraq and the UAE, as well as Jordan.
What investment activity best defines the bank’s “unique” position?
At its core, I think that Capital Bank’s distinct function is providing an ideal gateway for conducting investments in the region, specifically in the Iraqi market, and in an increasingly international marketplace, bringing European investments to Jordan. We have set a clear focus on cross-border business flows, as we do not believe in taking a regional approach through minor business activities but aim to continuously grow our existing activates in both Iraq and the UAE.
Are Jordanian banks equipped to handle the large-scale infrastructure development demand of the region?
Jordanian banks are sufficiently capitalized, with a total asset base representing over 175% of the country’s GDP. This demonstrates a clear ability to cater to the majority of the financing needs for local large-scale projects. Jordan has also been a country of choice for major financial institutions, including EBRD, Proparco and the IFC, whom have played a key role in financing large infrastructure projects alongside local investors and financial institutions.
What makes Capital Bank so well prepared to handle Iraqi business?
Capital Bank is the only Jordanian bank with an established presence in Iraq; we bring the advantage of great dialogue with the Iraqi government, along with deep market insight that dates back to over a decade. NBI’s presence in the market serves as ‘our eyes and ears’, enabling us to monitor the country on a close level and understand the nature of existing opportunities. Through our exposure to the Iraqi market, I believe that a number of opportunities will surface on the back of the upcoming wave of regulatory transformation – we have set ambitious plans for Iraq and are prepared to fulfill our critical role in the economy by introducing new financing solutions and services, and solid investor backing would definitely ensure properly leveraging this change.
What is your personal outlook for Iraq’s future?
Albeit at a slow pace, reconstruction activities are taking place in Iraq with hopes of reviving the economy. Economic activity is expected to take off and signs of government investments are evident in the streets of Mosul and Baghdad. I believe that the country holds great promise for investors, one that is backed by an abundant supply of oil – the country is the fifth largest holder of oil reserves in the world at 140 billion barrels – water, and an educated population.
Why is now an important time to begin investing in the region?
In general, sentiments regarding the Middle East are improving, where relatively easing political tension and stabilizing oil prices leave outlooks for the region biased to the upside. It is time to transform what was once deemed a challenge into an opportunity, and Capital Bank is prepared to act as a gateway towards this critical change.