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Sir John Bond visits HSBC in Doha

Qatar: Sunday, April 24 - 2005 @ 14:53

‘We are actually celebrating 50 years in Doha this year,’ says Chief Executive Officer Kevin Smorthwaite. ‘HSBC offers a blend of personal and commercial banking in Doha, but the strongest growth is in commercial banking at the moment.

‘We now offer the full spectrum of corporate services, including trade, treasury, custody, payments and cash management, insurance and investment banking. Our investment banking resources previously came from London and Dubai.

‘But now we have a permanent investment banker in residence for the first time to handle corporate finance issues, capital markets, IPOs, private placements, project finance, and syndicated loans.

‘Qatar is also catching up with the rest of the word in terms of insurance expertise which is another area of enormous potential for HSBC. And in personal banking we are looking at the possible financing of mortgages as we now have an experienced insurance relationship managers in Doha and Islamic banking.’

The main foreign banking rivals to HSBC in Doha are Standard Chartered Bank and BNP, so this is a fairly small market for international banking and relatively underdeveloped. But Mr. Smorthwaite is anxious to lever the advantages of his huge group in this rapidly expanding market and to upgrade local banking services in the process.

‘What differentiates us is our ability to cover a broad range of commercial services at the ground in Doha and our international network,’ he says.

‘Payments and cash management are behind the curve in Qatar and companies are not used to managing liquidity payments and real time account information. This will change as Qatari companies grow and need to be more up-to-date in their financial management.

‘We can also offer foreign exchange and interest rate hedging and derivatives. These are the advantages of an international bank and we spend a lot of time talking to our customers about these techniques.’

Mr. Smorthwaite is also optimistic about the outlook for the development of equity and debit capital markets in Qatar, although he, like many others in Doha, is concerned about the current high valuations in the local stock market.

‘There are some great companies to invest in here, particularly those related to oil and gas with clear concessions and government backing, and we are talking to international investors about them,’ he explains. ‘But at the same time there are some unrealistic expectations in the local stock market at present’.

Likewise Mr. Smorthwaite is keeping a close eye on the upcoming Qatar Financial Centre whose chief regulator Philip Thorpe was sacked by the Dubai International Financial Centre last summer after internal policy disagreements.

‘So far the QFC is on a different track to the DIFC,’ he says. ‘It intends to be a low-cost location and offer a three-year tax holiday for companies, and is about attracting specialist services to add value to the local economy. The QFC will also have its own rules and be regulated to international standards. We certainly view it as a very positive development.’

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Sunday, April 24- 2005 @ 14:53 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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