Group Chief Executive’s review

Murad Ali Murad

Number of BBK
Lite branches

6

An additional four BBK Lite branches – providing innovative banking facilities for expatriate workers – were also opened during 2019.

Operating expenses
(BD millions)

63.2

Total assets
(BD millions)

3,865.0

BBK is known for its leadership in deploying technology-enabled services, continuously enhancing products and other functionalities to further contribute towards digital transformation in Bahrain.

BBK’s over-riding strategic priority is to generate healthy returns for our shareholders and contribute positively to the betterment of all stakeholders and the societies we serve. Our focus centres on implementing the key initiatives for growth at the heart of our three-year strategic cycles.

BBK has once again achieved outstanding results, maintaining our track record of sustained profitability and setting new records in the process. The year’s performance was particularly noteworthy in light of the continuing challenges faced by the entire banking sector.

Our conversion of perpetual bonds to shares was successfully concluded, and we raised USD 500 million from the international financial markets. We also became the first bank in Bahrain to pay an interim dividend.

BBK’s over-riding strategic priority is to generate healthy returns for our shareholders and contribute positively to the betterment of all stakeholders and the societies we serve. Our focus centres on implementing the key initiatives for growth at the heart of our three-year strategic cycles. The past year was the first in our current cycle and FinTech initiatives continue to play a leading role.

BBK Bahrain

As our home and primary market, Bahrain is always central to our plans as we concentrate on protecting and growing our domestic market share. BBK is classified by the CBB as a DSIB (Domestic Systemically Important Bank), a mark of distinction but one that brings additional responsibility.

Bahrain was ranked by the World Bank among the world’s top-10 most improved economies in 2019. Part of the national economic reforms taking place and contributing to the ‘most improved’ status was the introduction of value-added tax at the beginning of 2019. This entailed Bahrain citizens and residents becoming accustomed to entirely new procedures.

In 2019, BBK network expansion included the development of our digital branches in shopping malls. The new-generation branches include a digital zone ‘BBKPlus’ which includes interactive electronic tellers and machines for the instant issuance of debit cards and bank statements – both firsts for Bahrain. The first BBKPlus branch implementation was completed at Bahrain City Centre Mall and further roll-outs are planned in 2020.

BBK Privé, the private banking and wealth management solution launched in 2018, completed its first full year of operations and is performing very satisfactorily, particularly with investment advice and wealth management clientele. BBK Privé provides affluent clients with an integrated package encompassing assets, liabilities, investment products, and bespoke services to suit their particular needs.

An additional four BBK Lite branches – providing innovative banking facilities for expatriate workers – were also opened during the year, offering a blend of personal services and smart teller machines to create a welcoming environment convenient close to our customers’ workplaces.

BBK Kuwait

BBK Kuwait has continued to focus on maintaining the quality of its loan portfolio, diversifying sectoral exposures, and increasing fee-based income. Under a new management team, Kuwait branch has expanded its corporate activities, better positioning itself within the active Kuwaiti market.

Kuwait is considered one of the most stable economies in the GCC region, especially its banking industry. The middle-income segment represents a good potential customer base for BBK’s retail team, while the SME sector creates opportunities for the Bank’s corporate arm.

BBK Kuwait branch plans several new digital banking and card product initiatives in 2020, as well collaborative ventures with major local banks.

BBK India

With four branches located in Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, and Kerala, BBK India continues to perform well. Significant growth was achieved once again in 2019, mainly arising from higher customer deposits.

The creation of an NRI division was well received by non-resident Indian nationals across the region. BBK is a preferred banker among corporates and diplomatic missions for their fund management.

The operations in India are now more broadlybased through bancassurance tie-ups with LIC of India, PNB Metlife, Bharti Axa General Insurance, and Reliance General Insurance. We expect to improve bottom-line contributions over the next year by further diversifying revenue streams.

India’s government is expected to introduce more economic reforms and initiatives such as cuts to corporate tax and strengthening the insolvency and bankruptcy code. These developments augur well for the country’s banking sector as a whole.

BBK Dubai

The Bank’s UAE representative office, located in Dubai, is an active operation that facilitates the interaction between BBK Bahrain and clients that are located across the seven emirates of the UAE.

BBK Dubai also supports the Bank’s Mumbai branch in India, providing liaison services for non-resident Indian customers based in the Emirates.

BBK Istanbul

Now in its third year, the Turkish representative office grew its assets by around 21 percent in 2019, despite the economic and political challenges in Turkey.

The Istanbul team’s longstanding relationships with leading Turkish companies has provided an advantage for BBK to initiate new corporates relationships. BBK Istanbul is also active with the Bahrain Turkey Business Council, with a view to identifying future opportunities between the two countries.

Looking ahead, Turkey has raised its 2020 economic growth forecast to five percent and lowered its inflation outlook to 8.5 percent as the government outlined a relatively quick rebound from recession without stretching the budget.

CrediMax

BBK subsidiary CrediMax is a pioneer credit card issuer and acquirer. A range of state-ofthe- art products were developed and launched in 2019. These include contactless payment acceptance, smart POS terminals, and a multi-currency pre-paid contactless card – Cardy EX – giving holders the choice of making payment in up to six major currencies: Bahraini dinars, US dollars, GB pounds, Euros, UAE dirhams, and Saudi riyals.

CrediMax also completed MaxWallet interoperability with Benefit Pay Wallet and is working on extending the same kind of integration to other wallets.

Several more innovative projects are under development. CrediMax recently signed an understanding that paves the way to join EazzyNet, the internet banking platform. The provision of the biometric payment network will give CrediMax cardholders a safer and more convenient way to conduct their transactions and purchases through PoS terminals and other payment channels by using their fingerprint.

Invita

BBK subsidiary Invita is a leading regional contact centre operating across the banking, insurance, retail, utilities, and airline sectors. Key business wins in 2019 included a new tender for a government entity that has been an Invita client since 2007.

Invita received the ISO 9001:2015 certification for its operations, upgrading the previously awarded 9001:2008. It has also been recertified for PCI-DSS v3.2.1, upgrading from the previous PCI-DSS v3.2.

The company is exploring the use of artificial intelligence and solutions such as Chatbot and Robotic Process Automation. It is also working to harness WhatsApp as a service channel.

Invita is currently setting up a records digitisation and archival facility that will enable business partners to store, organise, update, maintain, and retrieve records with the help of a secure online retrieval system.

Aegila

Since its formation in 2017, Aegila Capital Management has secured three highprofile real estate assets and established strategic relationships with leading European market participants.

As a principal investor, Aegila deploys capital on behalf of its shareholders on a deal-by-deal basis without having a fixed-strategy fund mandate. This enables the firm to target assets that traditional real estate funds may find structurally challenging.

Aegila’s investments in 2018 achieved projected income returns during 2019

With a pipeline of attractive opportunities, Aegila is well-positioned to become a market-leading real estate investment and advisory firm in Europe. In 2020, the firm will continue targeting deals that are underpinned by attractive locations, high-quality tenants, and long-term value-creation potential.

Our people

The BBK family remains the key to the Bank’s sustainable success. We continue to invest in attracting and retaining superior talent through the development of an encouraging corporate culture, providing opportunities for employees to grow their capabilities and fulfil their potential.

Training and development programmes, in partnership with local and international educational institutions are available to all, e-learning remains a primary focus, and an increasing number of employees are benefiting from studying specialisations that range from credit and investment to master’s degrees, as well as professional certifications.

As part of our commitment to embrace new technology and maintain BBK’s leadership in this area, we launched our first programme for management trainee development in financial technology (FinTech).

This is designed to shape the next generation of Bahraini talents who will support the Bank’s digital transformation with the skills required to succeed in a digital economy.

Programme members began their first phase of learning with a visit to Turkey, where they toured a number of leading FinTech companies.

We also launched our credit culture programme, high-level technical training designed to further strengthen the Bank’s credit risk framework and establish a unified credit culture across the Group.

Presented in collaboration with a specialist international training provider, the programme included 70 employees involved with risk management, international banking, and corporate banking, drawn from the Bahrain headquarters, regional representative offices, and overseas branches.

Reinforcing the Bank’s family-based culture, the BBK Alumni Club remained of great importance, enrolling new retirees and ensuring alumni receive priority service at the Bank’s branches.

Technology

FinTech is constantly growing beyond the basic functionalities of online banking. It now encompasses developments such as messaging technology for marketing financial services, 24/7 virtual assistants, mobile apps, voice banking, and social media integration tools.

One of the key factors driving industry changes is consumer behaviour. Traditionally, banks had limited availability and opening hours that were not ideal for many customers. Increasingly, we are moving away from legacy processes and adopting live platforms that provide ease of communication and quick answers for customers.

The rise of artificial intelligence in banking closely follows the trend driven by the messaging revolution. Chatbots or robo-advisors are becoming the new normal and can be a great resource in helping customers. They can take on simple queries or even more complex tasks such as suggesting investment plans or the most appropriate bank account for individual needs.

BBK is very much in step with these trends, as evidenced by our new automated digital branches. We have also demonstrated our commitment to technology by hosting our second tech-related event in collaboration with the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance as a knowledge partner, and under the patronage of the Central Bank of Bahrain.

Under the theme ‘Transforming Businesses and Society through Digitisation’, the forum focused on how the Bahrain economy can benefit from the growth potential of the digital revolution. More than 500 senior representatives from various sectors participated.

BBK is known for its leadership in deploying technology-enabled services, continuously enhancing products and other functionalities to further contribute towards digital transformation in Bahrain.

Internal control

The Group maintains a sound adequate internal control system and processes which are in place across all BBK departments, branches, and entities with the objective of safeguarding the Group assets. The dedicated Internal Control Unit has implemented well-designed and comprehensive systems and procedures that assist in identifying and managing risks that could arise in the course of conducting business. These controls are reviewed and updated periodically and as required.

Awards

Citibank bestowed an award on BBK in 2019, recognising its leadership in payment procedures. The Citi 2019 Straight Through Processing (STP) Award is an honour presented to leading financial institutions for achieving high rates of STP. It also recognises the quality of technology and automation of payments from BBK through Citibank.

Business continuity

The Bank continues to enforce a robust business continuity programme for the Group, protecting the interests of customers, shareholders and employees while maintaining the Bank’s reputation and financial sustainability.

The programme is managed by BBK’s dedicated Business Continuity Management department that plans, simulates and manages crises and recovery. This ensures the continuity of critical businesses and functions essential to minimising any disruption that could arise from a wide range of unforeseen scenarios.

Business continuity procedures and plans are reviewed and updated annually, and the adequacy of the Business Continuity Centre is reviewed to ensure it is properly equipped for purpose.

In compliance with Corporate Governance and CBB requirements, BBK successfully conducted a Bank-wide exercise and test for all business units, simulating their business continuity and recovery plans, and testing their capabilities to provide essential banking services to retail and corporate customers.

BBK also renewed its ISO 22301-Business Continuity Certification, providing added reassurance to the quality of our process and planning.

Outlook

Throughout 2020 we can expect to see a continuation of the challenging environment, with new complications arising even as historic matters are resolved. Improving geopolitical issues in our region give cause for encouragement, as do the resolution of Brexit and the first phase of a trade agreement between the USA and China.

From a BBK perspective, our priorities will remain largely unchanged: quality of management, quality of assets, and serving our customers. We have already been successful in reducing the ratio of non-performing loans and this will continue to be a high priority. And of course, we will continue our fast-track progress to fully integrated FinTech and digitalisation.

Expansion and diversification initiatives will also remain on the agenda. In this context, the potential for acquisitions is attractive, particularly to enable diversification into Shariah-compliant products and services.

Appreciation

On behalf of my management colleagues, I express appreciation to our Board of Directors for the support and guidance they consistently extend to us. Similarly, our thanks go to the supervisory authorities in the territories where we operate – the Central Bank of Bahrain, the Bahrain Bourse, and the regulators of the State of Kuwait, the Republic of India, the United Arab Emirates, the Republic of Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

Finally, I extend whole-hearted appreciation to our loyal clients and our employees, whose dedication contributes so much to BBK’s continued success.

Reyadh Yousif Sater

Group Chief Executive