Rising with the financial market


United Arab Bank, the fast growing banks in the Middle East, is ranked 21st amongst the top listed companies in the UAE, in terms of market capitalization. Capital Business met with Paul Trowbridge, CEO, UAB to discuss their successful endeavours in the financial sector.


Where do you see UAE’s financial sector standing today?

The financial services industry has recovered strongly since the financial crisis, which destabilized many financial centers around the world. Local banking remains well capitalized and stable and we can see a lot of confidence particularly around the Expo 2020, Global Islamic Economy Summit and World Islamic Economic Forum.


The pace of growth in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in particular is positioning the UAE as a very safe place. We can also witness the growth in retail, premium banking, SME, Islamic products and services, corporate banking, Takaful and Sukuk business, with provisioning levels under control. 

How is UAB contributing to this success and how did it overcome the crisis?

We have been both well managed and able to take advantage of our good fortune. At the bottom of the economic cycle, our board of directors looked at their positions strategically and seized the opportunity to develop the bank further. When other banks and competitors were very quiet and had some difficulties, we grew our market share and business very significantly and had a prudent approach to risk management.

In terms of contributing to the success of this sector in the UAE, UAB is mainly a business bank supporting the SME sector, the corporate sector as well as individuals. Given the economic growth of the country which implies the presence of new people, we are offering “new arrival” packages. Through these packages, we support people who are relocating by helping them pay their checks or school fees, get a credit card or buy a car. Therefore, we have been instrumental to expats in the UAE and UAB has won many awards for its products and services including ‘Best Loyalty Program’ and ‘Best Premium Card’.

Given the importance of the SME sector in the UAE, what do you provide for these companies?

Corporates are longer established, bigger and have easier access for money than SMEs. Therefore, SMEs are small or medium size businesses that are mainly start-ups. We support them by working closer with them. We provide them with financial support hoping they will become bigger businesses. Even though they are significant to the economy’s development, it is tougher for them to get access to finance from other banks. Most of the small businesses start by borrowing money from family members. However, at a certain stage, this can no longer be applicable so they seek financial support from banks. This is where we can help through business loans of up to AED 1.5m with no collateral required, a flexible repayment of up to 48 months as well as attractive interest rates and fast approvals. The SME sector makes up almost 92 per cent of companies that operate in the country and employs more than 86 per cent of the private sectors workforce. Currently, SME contributes an estimated 60 per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and is expected to reach 70 per cent by 2021. In addition, a newly passed law aims to boost the SME sector climate in the UAE by allocating a percentage of bank's portfolio to finance SME projects. 


Could you please share with us the latest financial results of the bank?

The first half of 2014 was very positive for us. Our operating profit increased up to AED 475m which indicates a 43% growth from 2013. Moreover, the total income jumped 41% to AED 676 m; customer loans and advances grew by 35%, to AED 17.9 bn and customer deposits soared by 49%, to AED 18.6 bn. We have also witnessed a 35% jump in net profits over 2013 and 24% rise in 2012.

Although we are smaller than other banks, we have a very strong balance sheet, a resilient credit history and a great profitability.

How do you maintain high levels of growth at UAB?

When I joined UAB in 2009, there were 53 banks in the UAE and we were the smallest. We grew over the years and today we are number 14.

In order to keep great levels of growth at the bank, we maintain our customer base by keeping high standards of customer service reflected in the volumes of loans and advances. We are very close to our customers. We always put ourselves in their shoes and envision our reactions if we were in their place.  Furthermore, we are always innovating and expanding the range of our products and services as well as investing in human capital and technological infrastructure.

What are your latest activities in line with the Emiratization?

44% of UAB’s staff are Emirati. This is one of the highest percentages of locals working in banks in the UAE. It is very important for us to have a higher share of Emiratis as we are a local bank dealing with local people.

Our UAB Employee Awards alongside a Chairman’s Award were granted to the Emirati employee of the year. Additionally, we have launched a number of initiatives aiming to support Emirati employees, such as Al Tamayouz program, which focuses on the training and education of UAE Nationals and provides opportunities for advancement. In line with that, we sponsored two Emirati employees to enroll in a Future Leadership Program, managed by Commercial Bank of Qatar in conjunction with Cambridge University.

How is UAB benefiting from trade finance?


Trade finance has a vital profit contribution to our balance sheet. It is something we have been doing very well for almost 40 years. We have links in India, Turkey and different parts of the Middle East, we also have a partnership with Commercial Bank of Qatar.  

Additionally, we are strongly supporting our customer base in the manufacturing and trade sectors.

UAB has conducted several initiatives to boost the industry such as launching an Online Trade Portal to transform the ease and speed with which corporate and SME customers can complete an array of trade finance transactions; and last year released a free mobile banking app available on Apple, Android and Blackberry devices, allowing users to perform banking transactions on the go.

The bank has been recognized on several occasions including Best Trade Finance Bank Award by International Finance magazine, UK 2013, ‘Award for Contributing to Trade Finance 2013’ from Trade & Export Middle East and Best Trade Finance House 2010 - 2011 – Banker Middle East Industry Awards




How do you plan to expand mortgage lending?


During the economic downturn, we became the largest mortgage writer in the UAE and we took the Best Home Finance Provider Award by International Finance magazine, UK 2013.


Following the strong resurgence of the market a mortgage cap was since introduced last year to discourage banks from taking excessive risks.


UAB is privileged to be one of the top local banks for mortgage disbursal. We continue to review our position closely. Dubai’s property market has plateaued over recent months therefore our mortgage book is not likely to see any significant rise. Hence, at this time, we are not looking for any significant rise in our mortgage book.


Please give us more details about Central Banks approval on UAB’s distribution of cash and scrip dividends.

The directors approved a cash dividend amounting to AED 149,460,192 at AED 0.15 per share of AED 1 each (2012: cash dividend of AED 249,100,320 at AED 0.25 per share of AED 1 each) and a scrip dividend amounting to AED 149,460,192 at AED 0.15 per share of AED 1 each (2012: no scrip dividend). And that was subject to the approval obtained from the regulator and the shareholders at the Annual General Assembly which was held in March 2014.



What are your future plans for the next few years?


We are in the midst of a five year plan that began in 2012 and is set to last until 2016. That plan has brought us much success thus far, and we are fundamentally committed to it.

However, the bank is growing, our product offering is much wider, and we have expanded by bringing in an exceptional workforce. As a result of that, we need to execute our strategy rigorously. We will continue to focus on diversifying our source of income as well as enhancing the quality of our asset portfolio and risk management. Additionally, we will be fortifying our optimal customer-centric strategy and increasing our customer base.


Besides the banking sector, could you tell us about UAB’s partnership with FC Barcelona?


We partnered up with FC Barcelona to become the club's first and exclusive financial partner in the UAE. We chose this club because we have many things in common. Just like UAB, FC Barcelona is old established and has a good reputation. About 25 years ago they wanted to do something different, thus, they decided to develop their players, staff and management by starting an academy designed on developing talents within the FC Barcelona club. This is what we actually do with our own staff, particularly with Emirati staff, since we wanted to develop ourselves and the best way was to grow our own talent.

Therefore, as FC Barcelona’s official partner in the UAE, UAB will launch a range of customized Barca-themed products and offers across the bank.



About Paul Trowbridge

Paul Trowbridge is the CEO of United Arab Bank (UAB). He started his career in 1985 with PricewaterhouseCoopers as Mergers & Acquisitions specialist and moved on to join Westpac Banking Corporation. He joined National Bank of Oman in August 2006, as General Manager in Risk Management with responsibility for credit risk policies, and procedures together with Legal, IT Security, Corporate Governance and Operational Risk. Shortly, he took over as Deputy CEO, National Bank of Oman.


Since Paul joined UAB as CEO in 2009, the Bank has grown substantially, registering record net profits and more than doubling the balance sheet.

Paul is an Economics graduate with a specialization in Micro-Economics.             


By Jenny Kassis 


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