Qatar has a buoyant and increasingly diverse banking sector catering for the needs of all kinds of customers. The industry is supervised by the Qatar Central Bank (QCB) which was established in 1993 as the successor to the Qatar Monetary Agency. QCB acts as the government's agent to control the country's monetary policy and to monitor the commerc
- ial banking system. It regulates interest rates on Qatari Riyals funds. Other banks can float interest rates within limits specified by QCB. The bank also administers the country's relations with international financial agencies, acts as a banker for the government and issues currency notes and coins. There are currently fifteen commercial banks operating in Qatar, of which seven are Qatari, two are Arab, and the rest are foreign. The oldest and largest of the Qatari banks is the Qatar National Bank, with its equity base controlled equally by the Government and by private sector shareholders.
- Qatar has a well structured network of local and branches of foreign banks which provide a full range of banking services. Since these banks started releasing interim results in 1997, the indication has been showing that the financial sector is generally healthy and confidence worthy. These positive trends in banking have been driven by a buoyant economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that the gross domestic product (GDP) in Qatar expanded in 1997 by 15.5% compared with 10% the previous year, which made Qatar as the world's fastest-growing economy at the time.
A breakneck push for gas combined with rock bottom oil prices for much of the late 1990's left Qatar with a heavy debt burden. But innovative government responses have been rewarded. The first response came in 1998 when the government instituted a 10-20% cut on expenditure by reducing for the first time in history the government wage bill combined
- with the merger of government ministries and reductions in subsidies on petrol and health care. The second response came with the decision in the same year to privatize 45% of the state telecommunications monopoly. Qatar Telecommunications Corporation (Q- Tel's) privatization was completed in December 1998 when subscriptions were opened for all, regardless of nationality, on both the Doha and the London
- Stock Exchanges. It received Best privatization of 1998 in the Middle East and North Africa from the IFR privatization International Journal.
The third response came in May 1999 when the government surprised markets by offering a generous one billion US dollars, 10 year bond issue with spread of 395 basis points above the London inter-bank rate. This offer succeeded in attracting serious international interest and the bond was successfully oversubscribed. In a similar fashion, the Governm
- ent then approached the domestic market offering a 550 million US dollar treasury bond to local banks, which was twice oversubscribed.
- Despite recessionary tendencies of the economy in the late 1990's, many banks in Qatar have taken heed and gone through major restructuring programs to adapt to the rapidly evolving Qatari market. Organizational structures were improved to increase efficiency, new systems for issuing and managing the banks' credit card businesses were acquired, (IT) departments were upgraded to remain on track with developments in this field. Realizing that e-commerce (electronic commerce) will flourish in the coming years in this part of the world, several banks have competed and done the necessary ground work to ensure leadership in introducing E- banking in Qatar.