When the opportunity came for Khalid Jamal Al Kayed to join the founding team of Bank Nizwa in mid-2012, the position didn’t only represent his first role in Oman, but also an opportunity to introduce a new industry to the Gulf country.
"When we started, not only were we establishing a new bank, but it was more about introducing a new industry to Oman because Bank Nizwa was the first fully-fledged Islamic bank in the country," he tells The CEO Magazine.
Al Kayed’s career began in Jordan before taking him to Cypress and then back to Jordan as Deputy CEO, Chief of Finance for Safwa Islamic Bank, a subsidiary of the Dubai Islamic Bank. When he later became General Manager of Finance, Al Kayed brought decades of banking experience to the team. In 2017, he was confirmed as CEO after eight months acting in the post.
Three phases of growth
Since opening its doors in 2013, Al Kayed explains that the bank has been through three distinct phases. "Phase one was the startup phase, from 2013 to 2015, where we worked to build the infrastructure, wrote policies, hired people and introduced the product," he says, recalling a challenging couple of years.
"While preparing the foundations, there was also the need to grow market awareness and sell a new type of banking experience, services and products."
The "growth phase", as he calls it, stretched from 2016 to 2020. "We were able to reach the market and to record strong growth and strengthen our financial position and brand," Al Kayed says.
During this time, the bank turned a profit for the first time. "We also cleared our financial deficit," he reveals.
Phase three started in 2021 and is expected to run until 2025. "This is where we stop being a growing bank and become a stronger bank," he explains. In less than a decade, the bank has taken a paid-up capital of US$390 million and turned it into US$3.9 billion.
Despite a decade of C-suite roles, Al Kayed says the move into the CEO role came suddenly. "Being engaged with Bank Nizwa for some time at the senior level and dealing with the board and other stakeholders prepared me on the infrastructure level for the move," he explains. "But honestly, this switch was not planned."
I had to set my mind quickly and immediately from being a finance guy into a leader.
"I had to set my mind quickly and immediately from being a finance guy into a leader, into the business target owner rather than a controller or even a business partner."
It was a shift that required him to deliver immediately. "There is no grace period," he says.
Upon his appointment, he enrolled in an executive management program at Columbia Business School. He also drew upon the background knowledge he acquired during his stint as acting CEO. Both actions allowed him to identify early in his tenure three high-level strategic objectives to ensure sustainable growth – asset equity, liquidity management and profitability.
A fourth has since been added – efficiency through digitalization.
"The traditional way of banking is no longer and we have to run fast with that," he says. "We are now moving more in digital services and products."
Bank Nizwa’s first digital-only branch is set to open by the end of the year and will be the first of many, he enthuses. Other initiatives, such as digital onboarding and digital-only savings and current accounts, have already been rolled out.
Resolute in his belief that "open banking is the way of the future", Al Kayed says his vision for the future of banking is one where the entire ecosystem is strengthened through engagement with the country and other stakeholders. "Digitalization enables an improved client experience and allows us to use data for better decision-making processes within the bank," he says.
He also hopes that these digital capabilities will bring more value to Islamic banking, especially as Bank Nizwa competes for corporate and retail customers against more mature (and traditional) banks in the Omani market.
"Islamic financing can be a long process as you have to adhere to Sharia law," he says. "Shifting to the use of smart contracts will make a difference in showing Islamic banking as a new proposition. It will give more advantage to the industry."
A leading light
As the first Islamic bank in the country, Al Kayed understands that theirs is a duty that "goes beyond Bank Nizwa as an institution".
"We are taking responsibility to support the Islamic finance industry overall," he says.
Also core to this is the role the bank plays in supporting the Sukuk (Islamic bonds) market in the country; currently, its investment banking division is working to develop a local Islamic index.
"We’ve actually positioned Bank Nizwa to be the ambassador of ethical banking in Oman and are looking to be the trusted financial partner," he explains. "We are aiming towards more of a sustainable contribution to the economy and the community of Oman."
We are a sharia-compliant modern bank, using technology to reach our clients and stand by our clients in both good and difficult times.
Personal banking customers can now finance a house or a car through Bank Nizwa’s Islamic products.
"They can live their whole lifestyle using our services," he says. Small and medium-size enterprises as well as wholesale banking clients can also access a suite of Sharia-compliant products.
This balance of tradition and innovation Al Kayed is fostering at Bank Nizwa is creating a unique proposition in the market. "We are a Sharia-compliant modern bank, using technology to reach our clients and stand by our clients in both good and difficult times," he says.
And he’s looking forward to exporting this concept to other markets. "We are looking to strategically develop our presence outside Oman through non-organic growth," he says. "We already are engaging with banks and financial institutions in the investment world. It’s something that should happen in the next few years."