Emirates Islamic Bank signals 'aggressive' expansion

Emirates Islamic Bank plans 90 new jobs as the Sharia-compliant lender expands branch network.

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Emirates Islamic Bank expects to resume "aggressive" lending and expansion this year, hoping to shrug off the effects of a loss-making first quarter as well as recent regulations on banks.

The Sharia-compliant lender expects to open five branches throughout the Emirates this year, said Faisal Aqil, the bank's deputy chief executive.

"This year, we've hired around 80 new staff, 60 of which were UAE nationals," he said.

"The plan is to add another 90 [staff]."

The new recruits will be hired "across the UAE" for the retail and small business lending divisions. The increased hiring comes as a number of banks reduce staff numbers in the UAE.

In spite of the Emirates Islamic Bank's expansion plans, a proposed tie with the UAE's Roads and Transport Authority has been delayed until at least next month, Mr Aqil added.

The plan would have allowed customers in Dubai to use a debit or credit card in place of their existing Metro cards.

The card, linked to a bank account with Emirates Islamic Bank or Emirates NBD, would have been automatically topped up and could have been used for payments for Metro, water taxis and parking tickets.

The launch of the so-called combi-card was initially scheduled for April.

The expansion drive comes after a change of management at Emirates Islamic Bank last month with Abdullah Showaiter taking over from the former chief executive Ebrahim Fayez al Shamsi. The bank, which is owned by Emirates NBD, hopes to turn around a loss of Dh20 million (US$5.4m) in the first quarter of this year, largely a result of provisions on bad debts totalling Dh108.5m.

The bank's new strategy aims to pare down lending to the troubled property sector and concentrate instead on sectors including oil and gas, tourism, retail andmanufacturing, Mr Aqil said.

"We've started lending and being aggressive again, and focusing on areas that we believe have good potential for growth," he said. New regulation by the Central Bank has limited the growth prospects for retail lending, but lending to small and medium-sized businesses looked attractive, said Mr Aqil.

However, the Central Bank has also stipulated that banks lower their corporate lending rates to help to bolster the domestic economy, creating another potential threat to bank margins.