All change

Kuwait Real Estate Bank saw an opportunity for growth in converting to Islamic finance. But changing business and IT structure at the same time is no mean feat. ACN discovers how the bank transformed itself into Kuwait International Bank.

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By  Brid-Aine Conway Published  January 18, 2008

Islamic banking first came to prominence during the oil boom of the 1970s and today a similar growth spurt is being seen.

With leading international financial institutions like Deutsche Bank, HSBC and JPMorganChase all entering the sector in the last ten years, it's easy to see why a bank like Kuwait Real Estate Bank would see a business case to transform itself to the Sharia-compliant Kuwait International Bank (KIB).

The biggest challenge for us was the fact that we were changing two things together – the business paradigm was changing as well as the system

Converting to Islamic banking presented a number of challenges to KIB. Rather than being an Islamic bank start-up, or creating a subsidiary that dealt with Islamic banking as others have done before, KIB was transforming its business structure from a conventional banking paradigm, and converting its IT infrastructure simultaneously.

"The biggest challenge for us was the fact that we were changing two things together - the business paradigm was changing as well as the system, when usually what happens is when you change the system, you freeze everything else. We did not have this luxury - the business processes were being changed and new products were being designed as we were implementing the new systems. The various project parameters were all changing together, this was our biggest challenge," explains Lamya Al Tabtebai, executive IT manager at KIB and one of the nominees for CIO of the Year in last year's ACN Arab Technology Awards.

And although the bank was changing its software and applications, it still had to retain the necessary information for all of its existing customers.

"Due to the fact that we already had existing customers, we had to carry on with our existing data of course. However it was remapped to the new settings of Islamic banking. So we had to remap and redirect all the existing assets and liabilities to Islamic banking," she adds.

In fact, KIB was changing not just its software infrastructure and applications, but its hardware infrastructure as well, though Al Tabtebai sees this as a pro rather than a con of the conversion.

"We had to change our hardware infrastructure because the existing hardware infrastructure was already in use for more than five years and it was at the point of being evaluated for upgrade or replacement. So the conversion timing was good, it gave us the chance to also replace the hardware platform," she says.

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