Abdul Hakeem Mostafawi, CEO HSBC Qatar

As the first Qatari head of an international banking institution in Qatar, Abdul Hakeem Mostafawi has become one of the most high profile bankers in Doha since his appointment as the CEO of HSBC more than three years ago. TheEDGE sat down with Mostafawi recently to discuss what motivated his rise to the top echelons of local banking, and to obtain his insight and perspective on where the banking business is going in the country and Qatarís overall economic environment as whole.
Sipping a cup of coffee he made himself from a small machine in his Doha office, Abdul Hakeem Mostafawi reveals he always wanted to work for an international bank. Following his graduation from the University of Arizona in the United States, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration major, and a minor in marketing, he joined HSBC in their internship programme in their Hong Kong office in 1989.
His career development, says Mostafawi, has always been orientated towards passion, commitment, hard work and the rewards that would inevitably follow. And as an international institution he felt HSBC would be the ideal environment, in which he could learn the banking profession from different colleagues from around the world. His tenure in Hong Kong, Mostafawi adds, was also a great experience and preparation for his subsequent positions, as it was a highly dynamic business atmosphere – much like Qatar is today.
“The timing was good,” Mostafawi elaborates, “because there was this process that was happening politically, but at the same time you are where the environment was very vibrant. For me as a Qatari being there was a great experience.”
Businesswise, Mostafawi feels the buzz of Hong Kong in the late 1980s has much in common with Qatar in 2012, although with obvious exceptions. “It is different because this area is resources, oil and gas orientated, whereas that area is export and services driven,” he says. “But the similarity is in a sense that there is a boom. Rapid growth that was happening there, and now here, the people and the kind of sentiment.”
After a year in Hong Kong and a short stint in London, Mostafawi returned to Qatar to be closer to his family and further his career by contributing to HSBC’s operations here and the development of the country as whole.
He worked his way through the organisation, starting out in retail banking, becoming a successful branch manager in Al Rayyan and at a new branch in Al Sadd. Mostafawi then managed the trade services department of HSBC, which was largely associated with projects and trade, and moved on to become the head of “wholesale banking”, covering both corporate and investment banking, before becoming chief executive officer (CEO) in October 2008.

As the first Qatari head of an international bank in Doha, Mostafawi agrees he has perhaps been somewhat overhyped, as there are in effect only two such institutions operating on a large scale and in retail banking in the country. Nevertheless Mostafawi humbly acknowledges the importance of his posting for HSBC – which has been present in Qatar since 1954 – and the local banking sector.
“I think the significance to it is that it is always good to have somebody from a country that understands the local culture well,” Mostafawi expands. “Someone who understands the sensitivities and needs and wants of the community. For example, I have a global exposure by being part of this organisation and at the same time a Qatari like myself can understand what the needs of my country are. I am in the middle of that and I can articulate that. And we do that very well, for example, we have seen over the past six or seven years that Qataris and Qatari businesses are increasingly becoming global and investing beyond Qatar.
“We are a strong emerging market bank and this is one of the areas that the Qataris have interest in,” continues Mostafawi. “China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and even some of the developed markets where we have strong connectivity, like France and England. And we help our clients that way. So me being a Qatari helps in a better understanding of our client needs.”
Mostafawi also believes that as a Qatari his clients, peers and colleagues hold him more accountable. “The Qatari people expect you to deliver because you know what they want,” he says.
Of equal significance, continues Mostafawi, is that his appointment reflects the culture of HSBC itself. “23 years ago, HSBC invested in me and likewise today we are investing in so many other Qataris to become future leaders of this organisation. We are a bank that has been here for nearly 60 years, and we did not just come to do business, we are part of Qatar’s progress all along, as also playing a significant role in the development of local talent.”
As far as both Mostafawi’s and the bank’s involvement in Qatar’s business and social communities are concerned, the two are intertwined. He is a co-founder and member of the International Chamber of Commerce in Qatar (ICC). He also serves on the board of the Qatar British Businessmen’s Forum and Injaz Qatar, and is a member of the Young President’s Organisation (YPO).
HSBC, Mostafawi explains, has certain expectations of the organisation’s leaders. “Community connectivity is very important,” he confirms. “What are you giving back? For example, HSBC is part of ICC International. So where is the value by having ICC here? Well, Qatar is growing in trade on the back of significant investments in the hydro-carbon sector, so it is important to bring on those NGOs and other bodies to play a role here. And for ICC International, it brings in the know-how of how to conduct trade, arbitration, etcetera. Then you have Injaz, which is giving back to schools, and other organisations and myself and a group of colleagues from different organisations are trying to give something back to the community.”

As far as the Qatari banking sector goes, predictably Mostafawi feels it is strong, though he says this is reflective of the economy in general. Nevertheless, he feels there are challenges that remain for the sector, in as much as it is not immune to the global economic slowdown and recovery process. “Qatar is part of this world and if it gets impacted, so do we somehow,” he says. He adds however that this will ultimately have a positive effect on banking and businesses in the country, as it has caused us to revise our thinking in a way we might not have had the global economy continued to grow unabated.
“I think the biggest challenge for the sector in Qatar is that it is over banked,” he says. “Consolidation is going to be crucial. It is inevitable and it is going to be market-driven. Because if you don’t have economy of scale, after a while you are going to face these challenges, such as ‘What’s next?’”
As far as HSBC being part of this consolidation process, Mostafawi is candid, adding that the bank would be open to acquisition opportunities should they arise.

As far as the focus of HSBC’s Qatari operations are concerned, the bank has a diverse range of activities, which Mostafawi says are all equally important, as are all of their customers, who range from expatriates to local individuals and companies, large and small. “Just because someone is from a large corporate doesn’t mean he is better than the SME. It is just two different things,” he explains. “In retail we have an advance proposition – very much about high income salaried customers. That’s one. And we also focus on high net worth individuals through our Premier and Private Banking propositions. These two propositions are important because we add value to these customer segments through our international network as the businesses and customers become more and more global and our networks support the process.”
Here Mostafawi underlines that the value an international bank such as HSBC brings to these customers is its global connectivity, and that advanced account holders can open accounts and transfer funds wherever the bank has branches.
“One other area we are focusing on here in Qatar,” continues Mostafawi, “is wealth management. We believe there is a lot of scope for that to develop given the fact that Qatar has among the highest per capita income.”
In addition to general corporate banking products and services, HSBC also has an offering called Leading International Bank (LIB), serving firms that have branches in different countries. “Our clients can centralise their operations from wherever their head office is,” says Mostafawi.
“We are also a window into investment into this country,” he continues, “because a lot of the foreign investors use us as an independent party to evaluate opportunities in Qatar. So as a result we have a significant segment of the multinational business here. Also we have the investment banking arm of the bank, this requires a bit of experience and expertise in areas such as advisory towards mergers and acquisitions and initial public offerings, so it requires more knowledge and skill, in which we are supported by a group of people pooled from our global centres of excellence and we use these talents all around the world, serving the group globally.”
Technology, says Mostafawi plays a big role in both the communication aspect internally in HSBC, as well in servicing customers. “We are one of the few banks,” he says, “that you can connect yourself to the world through our payment and cash management and trade and supply chain channels, whether you have an account in America and one in China you can do everything from here. There are only one or two banks around the globe who can do this effectively…the other aspect of it is the retail sector, where we do a lot of product development and improve the services all the time.”
Mostafawi reveals that HSBC’s approach to developing new products has always been steady. “This is because we are a conservative bank and I like it, this is the way it should be,” he says, adding the customers’ needs and the integrity of their transactions must always come before profits. “You need to strike a balance between the shareholder’s objectives and the customers and depositors.”

In discussing the role of technology in modern banking, Mostafawi points out that there is still a long way to go in improving the way this can add value to customers and clients in the banking sector, particularly in the Middle East. “Different countries are in different economic cycles,” he says. “That’s why they are called developed or emerging. Young people are adapting to new technologies more than ever as they are not afraid to try something for the first time. So it is evolving in a way. In the future, customers will use more alternative channels.”
Mostafawi is highly positive regarding the future of Qatar’s economy. “Growth in a country like Qatar is very much driven by the government and its progressive policies,” he says. “There is so much infrastructure related spending coming up, so that is one sector, then you have the oil and gas side. The upstream is more or less developed, so there is much focus on downstream.”
One area of concern however for Mostafawi is inflation, especially when it comes to the rapid growth that is set to continue for many years to come, and also why he agrees diversification of the economy is key.
“I think this is where we are very lucky and proud to be in a country where the leadership really has the 2030 Vision,” he closes, “and today we are also one of the biggest events and conferences destinations. Politically the country has a much more prominent role. Socially and culturally there is lot happening at the same time. It is great to be part of this nation’s story.”


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