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QNB flies flag for Qatar’s growth

QNB became the Middle East’s biggest bank last year and is now stepping up acquisitions abroad. Can it follow Qatar’s corporate champions and transform into an emerging market-focused bank worthy of the state’s newfound financial power?

Change planes in Doha and you cannot miss the three letters covering the side of the bus transferring you to the terminal: QNB.

Qatar National Bank until recently kept a lower profile than Qatar’s other state-backed corporate flagships, such as Qatar Telecom (Qtel) or Qatar Airways. But that has begun to change: in January, Paris football club PSG said it would carry QNB’s logo – the bank’s first big sports sponsorship deal outside Qatar.

Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) indirectly bought a stake in PSG last year. Now the sovereign wealth fund, which owns 50% of QNB after subscribing to a $4 billion rights issue in 2011, has given the go-ahead to QNB’s other new foreign acquisition plans.

Indeed, QNB is joining the club of state-sponsored so-called Q companies stalking the emerging world.

"The Qatar model is to build champions in many businesses, such as Qatar Airways, Qtel or [property developer] Qatari Diar," says Ali Al-Kuwari, QNB’s chief business officer. "These champions are the ambassadors of Qatar’s success outside of Qatar, and QNB considers itself Qatar’s financial champion. There is no other."

Christian Eichner, QNB’s head of group strategy, says the bank’s new five-year plan, formulated partly with advice from management consultants McKinsey, envisages QNB replicating the success and profile of emerging-market banks of the calibre of Brazil’s Itaú or Singapore’s DBS by 2017.

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