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Gulf banks catching up to international standards, says expert

SunGard Middle East MD admits lack of transparency in the region has to change

Gulf banks catching up to international standards, says expert
Wissam Khoury, managing director, SunGard Financial Systems Middle East.

Banks in the Middle East are slowly accepting that they need to be more transparent and embracing international standards, stated the regional managing director of IT solutions firm SunGard.

SunGard, which set up office in Dubai in September 2008, has over 70 clients for its financial solutions across the GCC region.

According to Wissam Khoury, MD at SunGard Financial Systems Middle East, banks and financial institutions in the region are under pressure to be more transparent in order to comply with international market demands.

"I think this (lack of transparency) will change in the future. Something as simple as publishing financials is transparency but some banks here don't even do that," stated Khoury. "Most of the banks are on the right track and some of the banks are already on that level. But there is always room for improvement."

"Are we catching up with international markets? Yes we are. Is it at the right speed...it probably could be better," he added.

In more developed markets like the United States and United Kingdom, there is a relatively stronger emphasis on transparency, compliance and tight regulation. Khoury however believes that direct comparisons shouldn't be made.

"We have different types of regulation and different worries because our banking sector is different from the US. If their regulations were that tight, we wouldn't have had the financial crisis. Regulation is ever-evolving. But yes, in financial markets, we have to follow international regulations. After the crisis there was a focus on more regulations in the region, which is great for us," said Khoury.

Regionally, SunGard's three main brand offerings are Ambit, AvantGard and Asset Arena with a client list that includes Gulfmena, Kuwait Finance House, Bank Saudi Fransi and Noor Islamic Bank.

SunGard's financial solutions are said to represent 55% of the total global revenue brought in through their portfolio, which also includes higher education and the public sector solutions.

Drawing on their worldwide experience, Khoury points out there is one key area that regional banks can improve on.

"When they (regional banks) look at an IT solutions provider, they aren't really looking for just an IT solutions provider. They are looking for IT solutions provider, i.e. someone who provides the software, they are looking for a professional services organisation that can deliver that software, they are looking for consultancy and they are looking for transfer of knowledge....If I compare it with a different bank in another region, they tell you exactly what they want. Here they come with a business plan and ask how we can help them achieve it," he stated.

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