Wasim Saifi
Wasim Saifi Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Emirates Islamic’s balance sheet is dominated by retail banking assets and going forward, this will continue to be the key driver of both asset growth and profitability, said Wasim Saifi, Deputy CEO, Consumer Banking and Wealth Management at Emirates Islamic.

“While the majority of Emirates Islamic’s business is driven by the retail banking side, which is growing rapidly, there are also significant growth opportunities in wholesale banking,” said Saifi.

For Emirates Islamic, there are three main growth drivers in the retail banking business such as Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), mortgages, and cards. SME-focused services are becoming a very important part of business for the bank, not just in terms of financing, but also on the transactional side.

“Over a period, a lot of banks have become very restrictive on what they do for SMEs. We have ensured that our processes remain fairly simple, so we are still a bank of choice for small businesses for their transactional needs,” he said.

Another promising area of growth for Emirates Islamic is mortgages. Emirates Islamic has been able to successfully cater to Emiratis looking to build homes, with a host of home finance and mortgage options.

The third growth opportunity is in the cards segment. While Islamic banks have historically lagged conventional peers in terms of card offerings, Emirates Islamic has introduced many card propositions, such as the Emirates Islamic Skywards card and the Emarati card for UAE national customers.


The bank believes that moving towards digitisation in banking is no longer an option. Aligned with parent bank Emirates NBD’s digitisation strategy, Emirates Islamic is rapidly forging ahead with its digitisation agenda, with the bank on track to roll out its first teller-less branch in the next three months.

“Emirates Islamic is also targeting the introduction of its first digital branch by year-end, as part of wider plans towards more digital and teller-less branches in the next few years. At the same time, the bank will maintain its strategic focus on its branch network, with a special focus on the UAE national customer base,” said Saifi.

Over the past 18 months, the bank has implemented several initiatives in digital and mobile delivery channels. The bank has enhanced the capabilities of its online, mobile, ATMs and IVR [interactive voice response] channels by offering new services, putting special attention in providing an omni-channel and seamless experience between channels. Currently more than 60 per cent of the bank’s customers are registered for online/mobile banking and recently mobile banking logins reached 1 million mark/month.

“Given that we are the official Islamic banking partner for Expo 2020 Dubai, we will develop Sharia-compliant products around the much-anticipated mega-event next year.,” said Saifi.

On the mortgage side, he said the bank will continue to look at partnership opportunities with housing programs to offer residential solutions to UAE nationals. “In liabilities, we have already a wide range of deposit products, ranging from savings accounts offering skywards miles to salaried account packages. We keep launching offers to further foster a savings culture among our customers,” he said.

Being part of Emirates NBD, Emirates Islamic has been enjoying the benefit of consolidation much before the recent trend of M&A in the UAE and the GCC. It has also been a key factor for the bank in terms of financial stability. When Emirates Islamic went through a challenging period in 2016, the Group took a pragmatic approach and helped clean up the balance sheet, after which it was business as usual for the bank.

“In 2016, we had a very tough year. In 2017, we had a record year because we didn’t have to worry about catching up. So that comes in very strongly if you are part of a big bank. If we were a stand-alone bank, it would have been very difficult for us to manage that,” said Saifi.

Another key benefit of being part of a larger group is in technology. Emirates Islamic benefits from not having to make stand-alone investments in technology and is able to leverage the opportunities created by Emirates NBD’s Group’s Dh1 billion digital transformation.