Bahrain

AUB in push for #merger with KFH

Bahrain’s largest lender Ahli United Bank (AUB) has announced that two investment banks are evaluating a potential merger with Kuwait Finance House (KFH). HSBC and Credit Suisse are currently undertaking necessary valuations studies to assist AUB and to arrive at a fair share exchange ratio. If a merger proceeds, the total assets of the two banks would be $90.57 billion, making it the sixth largest bank in the Gulf. The major shareholders in the two lenders are Kuwait state-owned entities. The Public Institution for Social Security owns 18.59% of AUB, while KFH's largest shareholder is the Kuwaiti sovereign wealth fund, the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA).

#Bahrain's GFH Financial Group pays off $200m #sukuk

GFH Financial Group has paid the entire amount of its $200 million sukuk, which was originally drawn in 2007. The facility has now been settled with a recent payment of an outstanding amount of $34 million. With this repayment, GFH said it frees up further assets pledged under the sukuk for potential disposal or exit. In 2008, GFH had financing liabilities in excess of $1 billion compared to $125 million today. According to Chairman Jassim Al Seddiqi, with its prudent approach to managing liabilities, strong cash generation and levels of liquidity, GFH continues to be better placed than ever to deliver value and further build its business lines.

Supporting Islamic #fintech’s growth

In this interview Ayman Sejiny, CEO of Ibdar Bank, talks about founding the Bahrain Fintech Bay. Bahrain Fintech Bay (BFB) is working to build a fintech ecosystem that will support industry growth and position Bahrain as a regional fintech hub. Sejiniy believes that the days of 'e-banking' are nearly over and the shift to mainstream digital finance is becoming a reality. Ibdar is an early adopter, transforming its organisation into a fully digitised Islamic Investment Firm for the Global Islamic Digital Economy (GIDE). Ibdar bank provides opportunities in aviation, real estate, Sukuk and investment funds. The bank is also expanding its services to include an array of Investment Advisory services.

#Bahrain's Bank Alkhair sells stake in Turkish investment firm

Bahrain’s Bank Alkhair has sold its majority stake in Turkish investment firm Alkhair Capital, as the lender exits some markets. Bank Alkhair entered the Turkish market a decade ago, acquiring an initial 75% stake in the investment firm. The bank has faced a challenging business environment over the past year and is currently streamlining its business lines. Additionally, the bank sold its stake in Pakistani lender Burj Bank and in 2017 the firm upgraded its business licence in the UAE and expanded its capital markets business in Saudi Arabia in a bid to focus on other markets. Now Bank Alkhair has received approval to transfer its 95.79% stake in Alkhair Capital to Ankara-based A1 Capital. The value of the transaction was not disclosed.

#Kuwait's KFH invites #Bahrain's AUB to begin due diligence

Kuwait Finance House (KFH) invited Bahrain's Ahli United Bank (AUB) to begin a due diligence process for a potential merger. KFH also asked AUB to sign a non-disclosure agreement. If the merger goes ahead, it would be the latest of several recent tie-ups to create bigger and stronger lenders in an over-banked region. If the merger proceeds, the total assets of the two banks would be $90.57 billion, making it the sixth largest bank in the Gulf. The agreement to begin due diligence demonstrates seriousness in the deal process and backing from the lenders' major shareholders. The major shareholders in the two lenders are Kuwait state-owned entities.

#Kuwait bank in #merger talks to create $92bn Islamic lender

Kuwait Finance House (KFH) is seeking to hold talks with Bahrain's Ahli United Bank (AUB) for a potential merger. This would create an Islamic lender with about $92 billion of assets, six months after negotiations broke down. KFH sent a letter inviting Ahli United to sign a memorandum of understanding and a non-disclosure agreement to start valuation studies. The deal may provide a boost to debt-laden Bahrain, as the country struggles to cope with lower oil prices. According to Joice Mathew, the head of equity research at United Securities, the integration of business could be challenging because of the geographical dispersion of their assets and combination of Islamic and conventional banking.

Algosaibi signs grant agreement with Ebdaa Bank

The Algosaibi Holding Group has signed a grant agreement with Ebdaa Bank. This grant of BD100,000 ($263,000) will enhance the bank’s financial solvency and increase its ability to expand borrowers list which currently includes more than 2,500 borrowers. The agreement was signed by Dr Khalid Al Ghazawi, CEO of Ebdaa Bank, and Fawaz Algosaibi, CEO of Algosaibi Holding. As a nonprofit social financing, Ebdaa Bank seeks to help low-income Bahraini make their way to business. Fawaz Algosaibi praised the efforts made by Ebdaa Bank to provide easy financing for low-incomers and for the prudent management practices implemented by the Bank. He expressed his full confidence in the ability of the bank to manage the amount of support and maximize the benefits.

Asset management industry ‘set for growth’

#Bahrain’s assets management industry is set to see continued strong growth in the next five years. Central Bank of Bahrain supervisor Abdulrahman Al Baker said this positive trend can be attributed to the rapid expansion and increasing sophistication of the GCC financial markets. Other factors include the enchanced regulation on asset management and capital markets, the growing wealth of high net worth individuals, as well as the steady economic growth in the region.

Al Salam Bank names group chief executive

Al Salam Bank-Bahrain (ASBB) has appointed Rafik Nayed as chief executive of the group following regulatory approvals. According to ASBB chairman Khaleefa Butti Al Muhairi, Rafik Nayed has a proven international track record in banking and finance as well as the necessary expertise needed for this position.

As #Sukuk Disputes Simmer, Islamic Scholars Ponder Legal Risks

Senior scholars in Islamic finance are exploring ways to prevent legal disputes with new rules aiming to clarify responsibilities. The discussions are part of the annual sharia conference of the Bahrain-based Accounting and Auditing Organisation for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI). AAOIFI has developed a comprehensive sharia standard for sukuk that is being finalised, with work underway on three accounting standards and a governance standard. According to Said Bouheraoua, director of the Malaysia-based International Sharia Research Academy for Islamic finance, Dana Gas and other cases highlight the potential need to legislate work of scholars and penalties for breaches. At present, only the central bank of Malaysia has stipulated such fines, although this requires proving breaches occurred in 'bad faith' making penalties difficult to apply.

Ebdaa Bank backs #microfinance proposal for GCC charity projects

Ebdaa Bank has agreed to a proposal to microfinance charity projects to achieve their objectives to support low-income families. Ebdaa Bank CEO Dr Waleed Al Ghazawi welcomed officials from Almajdouie Group and stressed the need for the GCC to adopt microfinance due to its benefit for charity donations. The Almajdouie Group is visiting Bahrain to share ideas about their sustainable charity projects. The group’s new project is called "Basta", which has already launched six booths in Saudi Arabia, distributed in Dammam and Al Khobar. The project aims to support kiosks to develop their projects.

Islamic Scholars Debate Validity of #Cryptocurrencies

The world's top Islamic finance scholars are scrutinizing the validity of cryptocurrencies. The discussions are part of the annual sharia conference of the Accounting and Auditing Organisation for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) being held in Bahrain this week. The key question for scholars is whether cryptocurrencies fall under the so-called "ribawi" category, which includes commodities like gold and silver. AAOIFI primarily issues accounting and sharia standards for Islamic finance institutions, but there is no current indication on cryptocurrencies. Scholar deliberations, however, could clarify what types of cryptocurrencies are religiously acceptable and influence future product development.

Coincidental documents reveal Iranian Guard smuggled billions via Bahraini bank

Iranian owners of a Bahraini bank complained about Bahrain to an international arbitration court in the Netherlands. Bahrain responded with documents proving that $7 billion was smuggled through suspicious accounts with the consent and knowledge of the bank’s management. Future Bank was closed in 2015, but documents prove Iran’s secret assistance in evading international sanctions and smuggling billions of dollars over more than a decade. Bahraini officials criticized Future Bank for allowing the cleric Isa Qassim to make cash deposits totaling millions of dollars over several years, and directing some of the money to a charity linked to terrorism. Audits revealed then that in hundreds of cases, bank transfers were accompanied by specific instructions to avoid references to Iran or Iranian banking codes.

#Bahrain Counts on #Fintech, #Saudi Ties to Revive Indebted Economy

Bahrain FinTech Bay is part of the kingdom's drive to revive its reputation as the Middle East's top banking and business center. After the plunge of oil prices in 2014, state revenues fell, credit ratings fell and debt soared. Large debts still pose a risk as interest rates rise, but Bahrain is starting to see initial signs of recovery. PayTabs, a Saudi company specializing in online payment solutions, will set up a base in Bahrain FinTech Bay in May. Tap Payments, a mobile payment company founded in Kuwait, moved to Fintech Bay last month. CEO Ali Abulhasan said Bahrain had regulatory advantages when compared to other Gulf Cooperation Countries. Foreign investment from 71 companies was $733 million last year, up from $281 million and 40 companies in 2016. This contributed to an average annual GDP growth of more than 3.5%. Central bank governor Rasheed Mohammed al-Maraj said that growth could accelerate further, as strong oil prices have bounced to around $65 a barrel from below $50 in mid-2017.

GFH joins as a founding partner in #Bahrain’s #fintech hub

GFH Financial Group said its recent partnership with Bahrain Fintech Bay (BFB) as a founding partner will drive innovation and create opportunities for growth. The partnership reflects GFH’s strategy to strengthen the integration of Fintech in the region. According to GFH Financial Group's CEO Hisham Alrayes, GFH provides new entrants access to a sophisticated network and gives advice on how to reach regional and international capital and markets.

#Bahrain Islamic Bank partners up with the largest dedicated #FinTech hub in the MENA region

Bahrain Islamic Bank (BISB) has announced its partnership with the Bahrain FinTech Bay (BFB). As the first dedicated FinTech hub and corporate incubator in the Middle East and Africa region, it will be located in the Arcapita building overlooking Bahrain Bay. The venue comprises state-of-the-art facilities, co-working spaces and a variety of other shared infrastructure. BISB CEO Hassan Amin Jarrar said that with the strong support provided by the Government and the Central Bank of Bahrain Bahrain FinTech Bay would further strengthen the Kingdom’s financial position. Bahrain FinTech Bay aims to develop and accelerate financial technology in the region by creating a platform to fuel the growth of the industry.

#Bahraini bank plans aggressive #expansion in #Pakistan

Bahrain-based Ithmaar Bank plans to add more than 100 branches in Pakistan this year through its subsidiary Faysal Bank. Ithmaar's deputy CEO Abdul Hakeem al-Mutawa says banking penetration is less than 20% in Pakistan, so there are good opportunities to grow. Ithmaar Bank's parent company, Ithmaar Holding, listed recently on the Dubai Financial Market. Al-Mutawa believes the company is well established now to approach the capital markets and the bank has no imminent plans to raise funds through a bond or loan. Ithmaar Holding is also exploring the sale of its 25.4% stake in Bahrain's BBK, which has operations in Bahrain, Kuwait, India and Dubai. Al-Mutawa declined to comment on the timeframe for the disposal of the BBK stake.

Islamic #FinTech in 2018

2018 may prove to be a pivotal year for Islamic finance stakeholders and their approach to FinTech. Potential areas where FinTech is likely to have an impact on Islamic finance are remittances, takaful, investment advisory services and online trading. Commentators see FinTech as an opportunity to provide genuine Islamic-compliant alternatives to the traditional banking model. In December 2017, KFH Bahrain, Al Baraka Banking Group and Bahrain Development Bank announced the establishment of a company dedicated to research and development in the Islamic-compliant FinTech sector. Operated by the Bahraini bank consortium, ALGO Bahrain will open in February 2018 and will be the largest dedicated FinTech hub in the Middle East and Africa. Bahrain FinTech Bay is operated by Singapore-based fintech incubator FinTech Consortium.

Head of Islamic finance body AAOIFI resigns

The head of the Accounting and Auditing Organisation for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) has resigned. Hamed Hassan Merah presented his resignation after more than three years and the board of trustees accepted it. As a complex organisation with 200 institutional members from across 45 countries, the AAOIFI had been slow to respond to issues relating to conflicts of interest and product standardisation. Under Merah, the AAOIFI tackled such issues head on, launching a review of its accounting, auditing and sharia standards. In November, Merah said AAOIFI would now prioritize wider adoption of its standards by engaging national regulators in key markets, including Turkey and Malaysia. Saudi Arabia’s central bank joined AAOIFI as an institutional member in October 2017.

#Bahrain-headquartered investment firm buys controlling stake in Mentor-based MC Sign

Bahrains's Arcapita has acquired 75% interest in Mentor-based signage and lighting services firm MC Sign. The deal is worth more than $100 million. Atif A. Abdulmalik, Arcapita's CEO, said the company was well positioned to acquire market share in a highly fragmented industry that is dominated by locally-focused, sub-scale service providers. Arcapita's investment in MC Sign reflects the firm's global presence, with offices in Bahrain, Atlanta, London and Singapore. The investment firm has been active in the Middle East too. In October 2017, the firm partnered with Bahrain's sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat to acquire 90% stake in Abu Dhabi's NAS United Healthcare Services. This was preceded by another deal through which Arcapita acquired logistics assets worth $150 million in Dubai.

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