The volatility in Turkey’s economy does not change Commercial Bank’s perspective of the long-term importance of the country, said Commercial Bank Group CEO Joseph Abraham.
“Turkey is a very important market in terms of its geopolitical positioning. The two-way trade between Qatar and Turkey is growing very rapidly. Mutual investments are going up and more Turkish companies are now opening up businesses in Qatar. Qatari companies are also entering Turkey in a big way,” Abraham told Gulf Times
in an interview in Istanbul on Monday.
“We are committed to Turkey in the long-term. Turkey and Qatar are key strategic partners and we remain convinced of Turkey’s long-term strategic importance, both globally, and within a Middle Eastern context. Our commitment to Turkey is demonstrated through our near $1bn investment in Alternatif Bank, recent injections of $50mn of capital, and the purchase of Alternatif Bank’s new head office in Istanbul this year,” Abraham said.
Due to the strong bilateral relationship between Qatar and Turkey, the Commercial Bank Group CEO noted, “There will be flows of capital, investments, trade and business between the two countries. Having a strong presence in Turkey through Alternatif Bank is important to enable us to tap into these flows.”
A view of the newly opened head office of Alternatif Bank in Istanbul
Commercial Bank owns 100% of Alternatif Bank’s shares. Commercial Bank became the majority shareholder in 2013 holding an initial 74.24% stake, completed a “put option" in December 2016 to purchase the remaining shares from Anadolu group.
On Alternatif Bank’s five-year strategic plan, Abraham said, “We are executing well, although we are moderating part of our loan growth due to the current challenges in the Turkish market. This represents a conservative adjustment to the plan and not a fundamental change in our approach or strategic focus.”
Asked whether the fall in the Turkish Lira (in the recent months) was a matter of concern for the Commercial Bank Group, Abraham said, “We brought in a very experienced management team to Alternatif Bank last year, who are proactively handling the issue on the ground.
“We are confident in the management team’s ability to manage this situation. Of course, when you have currency volatility and all its ripple effects, you need to monitor the situation very carefully.
“The fall in the Turkish Lira is a temporary challenge that Turkey will overcome. The Turkish economy is very resilient, which will resolve itself and come back very strong. We are very confident in Turkey’s future potential and our overall commitment to the country remains undiminished.”
The Commercial Bank Group CEO highlighted Qatar’s commitment to Turkey and said, “Even during this period of volatility, Qatar has pledged to invest $15bn of direct investments to help support the Turkish economy.
On Alternatif Bank’s branch expansion in Turkey, he said, “We have an appropriate number of branches as we are not aiming to be a very large, mass market bank, competing with all the majors. However, we will optimise branch locations to make sure they are appropriate as we continue to build our business.”
Abraham said, “The world is also moving towards more alternative delivery channels rather than physical branches, and our approach is to combine leveraging digital and other alternative channels together with an optimum branch footprint.”
To a question on Alternatif Bank’s loan growth, he said, “Alternatif Bank has grown their Turkish Lira loan book quite significantly over this year and it will continue to grow selectively, given the current risk and macro-economic environment.”