The head of the Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) has appealed for more foreign banks to enter the Iraqi market. “There are some major banks in Iraq already, but there is room for more. Certainly we hope there will be more international banks to open in Iraq,” Hamdiyah Al-Jaff, chairman and president of TBI, told fDi while in London to attend a conference.
She said that setting up new banks in Iraq is getting easier: “The Central Bank of Iraq has played an important role in facilitating the entry of foreign banks to the market by simplifying licensing procedures for them.”
Two large state-owned banks, Rafidain Bank and Rasheed Bank, still dominate the Iraqi banking sector. Increased minimum capital requirements set out by the government two years ago should cause some consolidation among the many small private banks that also dot the Iraq financial landscape. This leaves scope for foreign entrants to the market.
Among the foreign banks that have heeded the call is Standard Chartered Bank, which reportedly is planning to set up three new offices in Iraq. The bank currently has a representative office in the Kurdish city of Erbil, in northern Iraq, which it will turn into a full branch this year. The other offices are expected to be in Baghdad and Basra.
Lebanon-based Bank Audi announced it plans to begin its operation in Iraq by the end of 2013. The bank will begin by focusing on areas such as trade credit and will initially not conduct business as a retail bank. Another Lebanese bank, Byblos Bank, also intends to open two new branches in Iraq in 2013. Byblos currently has the three operational branches in the country.
TBI is a government-owned bank responsible for trade and project finance in Iraq. It has issued letters of credit (LCs) worth about $60bn since its creation in July 2003, working with more than 200 correspondent banks around the world. TBI distributes LCs that are less than $4m to local private banks. The bank has 16 branches spread across Iraq and is looking to open foreign branches in Lebanon, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
At the Iraq Petrochem and Heavy Industry 2013 event, Ms Al-Jaff urged UK firms to take a look at Iraq and pledged finance assistance for their projects. “We at the Trade Bank of Iraq would like to work closely with all UK companies operating and coming to work in Iraq. We are ready to finance their projects when at least 50% of the project is completed,” she said.