World’s Best Banks 2024—Middle East

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Leading Middle Eastern banks offer a bumper crop of online services.

With their deep knowledge of domestic and regional markets, the regional and country winners as Best Banks in the Middle East continue demonstrating resilience and innovation in navigating the region’s many complex economic and geopolitical challenges. In addition to enhancing existing services, these banks are aggressively launching new products that are increasingly focused and specialized to serve their country’s many different demographics. Internal development labs are fueling this product growth in many cases. At the same time, partnerships and collaborations with the fintech sector represent powerful opportunities to dramatically accelerate the development and launch of new services in conventional products and in the rapidly growing Islamic banking segment. In addition to domestic growth, all seek to expand regionally, some aided by affiliations with larger regional and international banking groups. Sustainability is a crucial component in each bank’s business model through significant financing commitments and by integrating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles in its transactions.

Best Banks in the Middle East
Bahrain Ahli United Bank
Iraq Qatar National Bank
Jordan Arab Bank
Kuwait National Bank of Kuwait
Lebanon Arab Bank
Oman Bank Muscat
Qatar Qatar Islamic Bank
Saudi Arabia Saudi Awwal Bank – SAB
United Arab Emirates Emirates NBD
Yemen Arab Bank

Regional Winner

Innovation is the driving force behind Arab Bank’s success and leadership in the Middle East. This commitment is evident in its aggressive approach to developing new banking offerings, contributing to its expanding product line and diversified business model. Accordingly, Arab Bank won as our Best Bank in the Middle East and as the country winner in Jordan, Lebanon, and Yemen. Its regional expertise and ability to navigate complex market dynamics are invaluable to its broad client base, including consumer and commercial clients, multinational corporations, and regional governments.

The bank’s strong regional franchise is reflected in its revenue diversity, as 74% of earnings are derived outside its home market of Jordan. With over 600 branches spanning 29 countries, including seven in the Middle East, the bank continues to innovate with new services and enhancements to existing products for consumers, small and midsize enterprises (SMEs), and commercial clients. Additionally, the corporate and institutional banking division is effective in leveraging its international network. It is positioned to assist multinational companies in tapping Middle East markets as well as to support local companies’ regional and international growth strategies and cross-border business that is critical for infrastructure, energy, transportation, and trade finance.

Randa Sadik Arab Bank
Randa Sadik, Arab Bank

Through its Acabes in-house fintech development lab, Arab Bank cultivates its digital strategy to improve the customer experience. The bank’s first-to-market launches include Arabi Shopix for SMEs, which offers clients the ability to design and build an e-commerce website with integrated digital banking solutions. Additionally, the bank’s Omnify application programming interface (API) platform lets partner companies provide banking-as-a-service to their customers by embedding finance products from Arab Bank, and this will be expanded beyond Jordan to select Middle East markets.

To advance its digital collaboration with the fintech sector, the bank’s AB Xelerate startup accelerator sponsored an artificial intelligence (AI) boot camp. The camp provided 100 tech entrepreneurs with the opportunity to participate in interactive workshops and gain insight into developing and integrating AI and machine learning solutions for the finance, health-care, and e-commerce sectors.

Arab Bank has unveiled notable service improvements in its card-related offerings. Retail customers have new digital payments and funds-transfer offerings with RemitEx, in collaboration with Mastercard, a new cross-border payments service that includes 28 countries; also, Visa Direct enables cross-border transfers with 17 countries. The bank integrated Apple Pay and rolled out tap payment features at merchant point-of-sale (POS) terminals using a customer’s mobile phone. For greater versatility, the bank now offers Arabi Switch, combining debit and credit card features in a single card, with the ability to navigate between the two.

The bank also has expanded its digital services for corporate clients, particularly in transaction banking, liquidity management, payments and collections, and trade services, resulting in strong adoption in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) market, where over 85% of client transactions are handled via digital channels.

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Additional 2023 initiatives include the launch of a funds-transfer service, Arabi Rails, for efficient and secure remittances, initially between Jordan and the UAE. Expansion is planned for Bahrain, Egypt, Palestine, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, the bank has enhanced its digital banking app, Reflect, and its rollout to the Palestine market has added more than 100,000 customers. The bank extended its Arabi Junior youth savings program to the UAE. Partnerships in education, with the introduction of the Arab Bank Innovation Space at Al Hussein Technical University, represent a strategic collaboration to leverage opportunities for an innovative and interactive learning experience to improve student readiness for jobs in the technology sector. Arab Bank is a leader in financing renewable and clean energy initiatives, including solar projects in Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, and Palestine. As part of the bank’s ESG strategy, it issued $250 million in sustainable capital securities to finance a portfolio of sustainable projects.

Ahli United Bank (AUB) is leading the advancement and growth of Islamic banking in Bahrain following the December 2023 completion of its conversion to a fully Shariah-compliant Islamic bank. This involved the transformation of critical systems, which was done seamlessly and efficiently to facilitate the conversion of client accounts and products to Shariah-compliant alternatives. This transition follows the bank’s acquisition by Kuwait Finance House, now the second-largest Islamic bank globally, which has contributed to several initiatives and digital enhancements. The retail bank launched a new mobile banking app that added 50 new features to provide improved performance, functionality, and security. Additional initiatives include the introduction of the AUB Premier credit card for retail banking customers, providing extensive rewards and travel-related benefits. Corporate clients benefited from enhanced online banking services that provided a consolidated user experience for banking activities across the bank’s Middle East network, contributing to a 32% increase in 2023 transaction volume.

Effective customer service is critical, and AUB has boosted its relationship management capabilities with over 100 digitally automated services to improve the accuracy and efficiency of client inquiries. Data and system integrity are also top priorities, and AUB has adopted cloud technology to ensure a secure backup environment and enhanced its network protections to prevent cybersecurity threats and data loss.

In Iraq, Qatar National Bank (QNB) retains its status as Best Bank, operating primarily through its majority stake in the domestic institution Al-Mansour Bank. This franchise provides consumer, SME, and commercial banking through a nine-branch network, representing an important QNB market and contributing to the bank’s regional presence. The ongoing development of the domestic market will leverage the considerable resources of QNB as the Middle East’s largest bank by assets, as well as its extensive regional and global banking network. A significant opportunity exists with the expansion of digital offerings in Iraq, where QNB’s capabilities can help serve new customers.  

The bank has successfully launched innovative digital services, including more efficient digital client onboarding, advanced contactless solutions, and digital credit cards for use on a customer’s smartphone for safe and seamless payment capabilities. New service rollouts have contributed to solid adoption rates. As of the first quarter of 2024, 87% of customer transactions are done digitally across its online and mobile banking channels, up from 77% year-over-year.  These initiatives can benefit the Iraqi market with integrated digital services that provide banking convenience on a secure platform.

The National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) continues to refine its banking model to expand its domestic and regional service capabilities. The bank holds a competitive advantage in Kuwait as the only bank offering both conventional and Islamic financial products. NBK seeks to leverage both markets and capture more business, particularly given the increasing demand for Islamic banking in the country, where NBK targets high-net-worth, large corporate, and SME segments.

NBK aims to provide a transformative banking experience for all clients. This strategy is closely tied to its digital evolutionwhere the bank applies a customer-centric approach to product and application design for the creation of new banking offerings. This has contributed to the successful launch of a new NBK mobile banking app that has resulted in strong adoption rates and increased activity. Additionally, NBK’s digital bank, Weyay, is instrumental in bolstering customer retention and reaching the goal of 30% market share in the country’s youth segment.

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Country-specific strategies in NBK’s International Banking division are the catalyst for expanding cross-border financing transactions and result from effective collaboration among teams in various locations to deliver seamless and efficient client services.

In consumer banking, an enhanced mobile banking app added 30 service upgrades, and NBK achieved a first-to-market offering with its launch of Apple Pay. To reinforce its status as the bank of choice for corporate customers in Kuwait, NBK looks to increase the adoption of digital service channels by upgrading existing IT platforms, simplifying and improving the user experience and increasing security. This includes the launch of a new suite of commercial credit cards and more efficient digital documentation processing.

Through its focus on cultivating a culture of learning across the bank, NBK is developing its workforce by empowering employees through targeted training seminars, workshops, and educational programs to improve employee skills. Sustainable initiatives include the ongoing integration of ESG principles into its business and the expansion of Kuwait’s sustainable economic development. The bank has financed more than $3.5 billion in sustainable assets is part of its goal of $10 billion by 2030.

Meanwhile, Bank Muscat, this year’s winner as the Best Bank in Oman, operates the leading franchise through a broad portfolio of consumer, commercial, and corporate banking services that are complemented by private banking, wealth management, insurance, and product offerings specialized for the country’s youth demographic. Through the largest branch network (151) in Oman—and more in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE—Bank Muscat continues to enhance its digital banking services to expand its franchise, which has captured approximately a third of Oman’s banking-system assets.

In addition to conventional financial products, Bank Muscat provides Shariah-compliant banking services through its Meethaq Islamic Banking business. This has steadily grown to represent 13% of Muscat’s financing portfolio and has captured an impressive 30% of Oman’s Islamic banking assets. The corporate bank’s dedicated branches and relationship managers tailor specialized solutions for robust digital banking services. Regarding transaction banking, Bank Muscat’s one-stop integrated platform improves cash management efficiency and simplicity for payments, collections, and trade transactions to maximize liquidity and working capital. Commercial clients can integrate seamless offerings for high-volume online services through their enterprise resource planning software in a secure and encrypted format for payroll and vendor payments. The bank’s merchant services offer clients additional contactless payment options with a digital wallet for mobile payments at POS terminals and through QR codes.

Bassel Gamal QIB CEO
Bassel Gamal, Qatar Islamic Bank

As the country’s leading Islamic bank, Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB) continues to enhance its product line with comprehensive digital solutions tailored to individuals, SMEs, large corporations, and government entities.

The bank has aligned its strategy with Qatar’s National Vision 2030, centering on fostering customer relationships, engaging with the community, and undergoing a profound digital transformation. This transformation continues with the introduction of over 50 new digital offerings and features, including the late-2023 rollout of the QIB Lite app, a simplified version of QIB’s mobile app with access to multiple banking platforms for instant payments and fund transfers.

For retail and merchant clients, QIB SoftPOS provides merchants with contactless payment capabilities, and customers now have a convenient retail option with QIB Marketplace for competitively priced products with direct account payment, credit card, or rewards points payment options. These initiatives are showing promising results, with a 17% increase in mobile banking users, a 28% increase in monthly transactions, and a high digital adoption rate of 79%. Digital sales through the mobile app represented half of the total sales volume for key products, including personal financing and credit cards. Collectively, these successes continue to boost the bank’s franchise, which has captured a 36% market share of domestic Shariah-compliant assets. By catering to all segments of society, QIB demonstrates its commitment to financial inclusion through initiatives focused on specific demographics in the community, including programs for women, low-income clients, students, and persons with disabilities. The bank also provides support for SMEs and programs to help with financial literacy.

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The Saudi Awwal Bank (SAB), winner of the Best Bank in Saudi Arabia award, continues to upgrade its services to capture market share in Saudi Arabia and regionally. Retail and commercial clients benefit from the high functionality and efficiency of SAB’s range of digital banking products via its online platforms, including SAB360, HSBCnet, and SAB Express. The bank is also focused on boosting services for SMEs.

Recognizing the potential to capture new clients in this market, SAB’s launch of its merchant portal has improved its support for retail and SME clients. It includes enhanced POS technology and transaction transparency for merchants to elevate their customer experience. The automated credit approval process for loan applications is more efficient with the 2023 rollout of the SME Digital Credit Platform, which significantly reduces manual inputs, leading to quicker funds disbursement. Operationally, a new service for seamless on-boarding led to 90% of new SME clients utilizing this platform.

Tony Cripps SAB
Tony Cripps, SAB

Within SAB’s personal banking segment, “lite” branches offer easy access to noncash services; and to capture young customers, SAB has launched alternative channels for mobile and tablets with features targeted to this demographic. Corporate banking clients benefit from dedicated relationship managers in three commercial hubs in the kingdom that draw on support from product specialists for financing, liquidity, cash management, and trade finance services.

Following the merger integration of Saudi British Bank and Alawwal Bank, the combined entity rebranded as SAB in 2023 and remains part of the HSBC Group, where SAB can leverage vast resources, research, and HSBC’s global network for access to global markets and clients for cross-border business.

Extensive technology-related organic and external partnership initiatives are fueling digital advancements for Emirates NBD, the winner as Best Bank in the UAE. The bank is transforming at an aggressive pace and positioning itself for future expansion there and elsewhere in the Middle East.

With the 2023 launch of its ENBD X mobile banking app, Emirates NBD incorporates the latest technologies to deliver the largest selection of banking products in the UAE market, including improved functionality and security features. The cloud-native app delivers a faster, seamless digital experience with 150 instant or simplified services and a global dashboard for a complete portfolio view. The app’s wealth management capabilities cater to a growing high-net-worth population that can trade securities on global exchanges. With robust functionality and strong adoption rates for ENBD X, the bank has invested one billion Emirati dirhams (about $272 million) in the app since its launch.

Other new products include Tablet X, a tablet banking platform with rapid account-opening features for credit cards, loan applications, and deposit accounts. To identify operational efficiencies, the bank is using AI to enhance productivity across business functions and create a more agile and intelligent workplace, driving innovation and optimizing productivity.

In addition to internally generated digital product developments, the bank is also engaging with the broader fintech industry through the Emirates NBD Digital Asset Lab, which is designed to advance digital financial services innovation in the UAE through collaboration with the fintechs. Emirates is also leveraging strategic partnerships across the region to drive growth in digital capabilities. Through Abu Dhabi’s HUB71 global tech ecosystem, the bank can tap into a network of high-potential startups to accelerate fintech innovation and bring customers cutting-edge fintech solutions. Collaboration with innovation enabler Plug and Play Abu Dhabi provides expertise from leading fintechs to enhance risk management and cybersecurity protections.

On the ESG front, Emirates is one of the first banks in the region to integrate the Microsoft Sustainability Manager in its strategy, which will drive efficiencies across its franchise. The bank is also a principal banking partner of COP28, emphasizing Emirates’ commitment to the UAE’s Year of Sustainability. A key component of its fintech strategy also includes the launch of the SustainTech Accelerator program that invited global green fintechs to create innovative, sustainably focused financing solutions to support climate resilience.

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