Bank Hapoalim
Customers wait beside automated teller machines (ATM) outside a Bank Hapoalim Ltd. bank branch in Jerusalem, Israel. Image Credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/Bloomberg

Dubai: The normalisation of relations between the UAE and Israel has opened huge opportunities for businesses and financial institutions to cooperate, Dov Kotler, CEO of Bank Hapoalim, told Gulf News

Bank Hapoalim is a household brand for consumer and corporate lending and has one of the largest retail branch network in the country. It entered agreements with two the leading UAE banks - First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) and Emirates NBD - in September.

Our priority is to extend banking support to business clients who want to do business in the UAE. In the same way, support UAE businesses keen to establish and export to Israel. Our tie-up with leading banks in the UAE will make the fund flows smooth

- Dov Kotler, CEO of Bank Hapoalim

Last month, the bank signed separate agreements with Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) and Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) two international financial centers in the UAE.

Investment flows

While the agreements with UAE institutions cover areas such as development and promotion of fintech and market opportunities, Kotler said his immediate focus is on facilitating business and investment flows.

“Our priority is to extend banking support to clients who want to do business in the UAE. In the same way, support UAE businesses keen to establish and export to Israel. Our tie-up with leading banks in the UAE will make fund flows between the countries smooth.

“Of course, these investment and trade flows have started in small doses, but clearly there is a lot of interest on both sides.”

Fintech expertise

Financial centers and banks in the UAE have expressed their interest in joining hands with Israeli counterparts to jointly developing financial technologies. Kotler said Israel is known for its expertise in tech startups, but added that his visits to the UAE have convinced him that the banks in the UAE are quite advanced in the use of fintech.

“From my interactions with FAB and Emirates NBD, I found that both have very advanced technology fintech-wise. That gives us an opportunity to exchange opinions and we can learn from each other.”

The bank expects collaborate on a range of fintech-related initiatives, including solutions to facilitate trade, business and financial services activities between the UAE and Israel, as well as the support fintech companies and entrepreneurs seeking to scale their presence and deployment across the UAE and Israeli markets.

UAE financial centers

Bank Hapoalim expects to develop a long-term relation with ADGM and DIFC. The new agreements will support the digital transformation of the financial services and connect the economies in the UAE and Israel.

Kotler sees the tie-up with the two financial centers will open doors for the bank to participate in the dynamic eco-systems. “Both agreements will enable fintech companies, and customers of Bank Hapoalim, access to a new world of opportunities and are sure to help foster cross-border innovation,” said Kotler.

The co-operation will see investment flows between the countries picking up pace. In the first year itself, Kotler expects the two-way investment flow in excess of $500 million.

UAE branch

Bank Hapoalim’s CEO said it is too early to commit on opening a branch either onshore or in the financial free zones in the UAE. “The banking sector in the UAE is well developed and has huge expertise," he added. "There is a lot of scope for cooperating with UAE banks for supporting Israeli investors coming to the UAE rather than opening our own branch here.”

Bank Hapoalim is keen to extend banking support to Emirati entrepreneurs planning to invest or do business in Israel.

Trade finance

Within a short timespan, a number of trade delegations have visited both countries to explore trade and business opportunities. Kotler said. These delegations are identifying opportunities in several areas such as food security, biotech and fintech, and once they are ready to go, banks from both sides are ready to facilitate necessary financial transactions.

“We expect to see some transactions happening soon - but it is too early to report anything now.”

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Kotler sees clear opportunities for Israeli exporters to utilize the trade hub status of the UAE and the logistics and transport infrastructure to gain a foothold in regional markets. While the UAE and Bahrain have normalized the relations, there are expectations more countries will eventually follow and thus open a trade channel between Israel and the wider region.

Built around core strengths
Bank Hapoalim, which was founded in 1921, operates through three core units: Corporate Banking Division, Retail Banking Division, and the Financial Markets and International Banking Division.