Muscat – In an exclusive interview with Muscat Daily, Hussain al Yafai, CEO of Standard Chartered Oman, provides valuable insights into the bank’s evolution in Oman and its pivotal role in driving commerce through corporate, commercial, and institutional banking. Delving into the alignment of Standard Chartered’s activities with Oman’s Vision 2040, Yafai discusses the bank’s contributions to Oman’s economic growth, particularly in major fundraising activities and debt capital market issues. He also elaborated on bank’s role in sustainability-linked financing and ESG initiatives.
Standard Chartered has been present in Oman for nearly 55 years. Could you please provide a brief overview of how the bank’s operations have evolved over time?
Our role is to drive commerce. Through our Corporate, Commercial and Institutional Banking we support clients with their transaction banking, financial markets, corporate finance and borrowing needs. We also support their international banking needs across 53 markets, which include some of the world’s fastest growing economies and most active trade corridors. The bank’s global network complements our strong local proficiencies, allowing us to support the growth and development of Oman’s economy through innovative and efficient solutions.
How does Standard Chartered align its activities and commitments with Oman’s Vision 2040?
Oman’s 2040 Vision aims to create a competitive business hub underpinned by strong regulation and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) goals. This presents many opportunities for growth in corporate banking, given the increased demand for financing from businesses in various industries.
The same is true for institutional banking, as the government continues to develop its infrastructure and invest in key sectors such as tourism, healthcare, and education. Alongside this, the Muscat Stock Exchange aims to promote public offerings, diversify capital markets solutions, and encourage investment. It is also looking to upgrade its market status and bring capital markets to the centre stage of economic development.
Taken together, these are exciting times for a bank like Standard Chartered that serves the broader Omani economy.
Can you talk about Standard Chartered’s involvement in major fundraising activities and debt capital market issues for the government, government-related entities, and corporates?
Standard Chartered has played a pivotal role in several notable deals in Oman.
Earlier in 2023, the bank served as the sole ratings advisor and global coordinator for Energy Development Oman (EDO) during its inaugural $1bn Sukuk issuance. This transaction marked a historic milestone for EDO as it ventured into capital markets with its first benchmark USD Sukuk issuance. Moreover, it represented the first issuance from Oman in that year and the first USD-denominated transaction for an Omani government-related entity since 2021.
Standard Chartered was also appointed as deal manager by Oman’s Ministry of Finance as part of a liability management exercise in which the Oman government sought to repurchase outstanding securities, potentially totalling up to $1bn. The exercise sought to support the Oman government’s strategic objective of reducing its debt burden and enhancing its debt-to-GDP ratio, a critical metric in its pursuit of attaining an investment grade rating.
The bank also recently issued its first-ever green guarantee for China Energy Engineering Shanxi Electric Power Engineering Company for a solar energy project in Oman.
What is the bank’s focus regarding providing job opportunities and training and development for young Omanis? Additionally, can you shed light on the diversity and inclusion initiatives of the bank?
We employ more than 82,000 people across the globe, and we support our employees and provide the autonomy and opportunity to make an impact. We are on a journey to innovate and transform, with the employee experience at the heart of our evolution. We are building a successful bank that drives commerce and prosperity through a culture of inclusion.
We tackle the issue of diversity in three ways: Great Place to Work, Great Place to Bank, Support for Our Communities. Globally, our colleagues come from 132 nationalities and 30% of our senior roles are held by women, including 14 female CEOs.
In Oman specifically, Omanis make up all senior management, over 90% of middle management, and we have an overall Omanisation rate of close to 94%. Omani women also make up a significant portion of our team, with our local heads of HR, Properties and CFCC (compliance) all Omani women.
Can you provide insights into your bank’s role in sustainability-linked financing and ESG?
Our sustainable investments product range continues to grow and is now available in 16 markets across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. We mobilised $300bn in green and transition financing and have set up a Transition Acceleration Team to support carbon-intensive sectors.
Our Sustainable Trade Finance Proposition was launched in March 2021 to help companies build more resilient and sustainable supply chains. We are involved in the Just Transition Energy Partnership projects in Emerging Markets (e.g. Indonesia).
We have successfully deployed our expertise to Oman through the CEEC-SEPEC green guarantee and are working with several clients on developing ESG frameworks. Two of such frameworks have already been completed in the electricity and telecommunications sectors. There are an additional six more currently at various stages of completion across a number of sectors including logistics, tourism and hospitality, mining and natural resources.
What is the significance of Oman as a market for Standard Chartered’s strategic footprint in the Middle East?
Standard Chartered Oman has been present in the sultanate since 1968, and has been actively supporting the economy ever since. Our operations in Oman form a core part of Standard Chartered Group’s strategic footprint in the Middle East – and support Oman’s 2040 Vision – which aims to create a competitive business hub.
In what ways does Standard Chartered engage with the local community and contribute to corporate social responsibility in Oman?
Giving back to the communities we work and live in is more than just a commitment or our responsibility – it is what we stand for as an organisation. Volunteering is a core component of our community engagement strategy. It allows us to use their time and expertise to create a positive impact on our communities, our own well-being and our broader business. That’s why at Standard Chartered that we offer every employee three days paid leave to volunteer annually. Not only does it bring great personal rewards, it enables us to build connections, develop new skills, and gain fresh perspectives.
Across our network, 43,851 colleagues volunteered and collectively logged more than 58,461.5 employee volunteering days at the end of October. In Oman, our employees have achieved a rate of 48% participation rate in volunteering activities. A few examples include our collaboration with the Omani Ministry of Health, where Standard Chartered Oman organised a blood donation camp for Standard Chartered employees and several local businesses and banks. Our employees also volunteered in visiting the children with cancer and heart ailments and donating Eid gifts in the lead-up to the holiday. We have also previously Worked with Dar Al Atta’a on a COVID relief donation of $225,000 towards social and financial relief to families, small businesses and individuals who lost their jobs, because of the pandemic and lack of tourism, as well as Ramadan food distribution to needy families over several years. Our employees have also taken part in clean-ups post major cyclones.