Qatar First Bank has undergone a transformation. It has launched a private banking proposition as well as a branch that targets wealthy customers in the region. UK-headquartered Allen International was responsible for creating the new brand identity logo, branch design and environment for QFB. Meghna Mukerjee discussed the details with Suraj Nataranjan, design director at Allen International


In December 2015, Qatar First Bank (QFB) unveiled its new brand identity and an exclusive branch concept with intentions of launching a private banking offering.

The boutique investment bank established in 2009, which is the first independent Shari’ah compliant financial institution regulated by the Qatar Financial Centre Regulatory Authority (QFCRA), forayed into offering wealth management services complemented by corporate and alternative investment offerings.


QFB’s new branch proposition – its private banking lounge – is novel for the region where wealthy clients prefer their relationship managers (RMs) to visit them as opposed to going into branches.

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The ‘branch of the future’ concept has been explored in a variety of ways by retail banks over the years but premium branches targeting affluent clients is uncommon across countries, particularly in the GCC region despite its consistently growing wealth.

At the launch in December 2015, QFB’s chairman, Abdullah bin Fahad bin Ghorab Al Marri, said the aim is to create a private bank "that will uphold the highest levels of integrity and capitalise on the growing demand for Islamic finance". CEO of QFB, Ziad Makkawi, added: "QFB is evolving its business model from merely focusing on maximizing returns for its own portfolio to a more outward client focused institution making its expertise and deep knowledge in the financial markets available to private, corporate and institutional clients."


UK based strategic brand and retail consultants, Allen International, carried out the transformation project for QFB, to develop a premium customer experience through the creation of a private banking focused branch that would represent the ideal model for the bank’s future network. Suraj Nataranjan, design director at Allen International who was involved in the project tells PBI:

"We have, within the Allen International scope, changed everything from QFB’s proposition to branding to environment, and helped them create the launch. This is a tiered offer for a select few customers. Our scope has been all inclusive and it’s taken over two years to bring this to market."


Balancing the traditional and modern

From a design and experience perspective, the initial brief for Allen International was to create a space that is akin to a members-only club where clients are invited to talk about a particular investment or to conduct small meetings with RMs.

"When we met QFB at the start, there was no such a space. They had an office within the building they are in but there was no image of private banking," Natarajan says.

QFB’s client base is dominantly Qatari and the new space is mainly aimed at Qataris that want to hold investments globally alongside carrying out their conventional banking activities. "It was about creating a customer focused environment that emphasises on advice and support for QFB to deliver premium levels of service in a relaxed space that evokes trust, professionalism, discretion and exclusivity, delivering on the brand promise," Natarajan adds.

The design of the private banking focused branch space has undergone big changes since its initial outlines were drawn up two years ago. The overhaul has been large-scale. The new branch overall is grand and has a sense of occasion to it. It has individual meeting rooms and closed teller rooms alongside safety deposit box viewing areas to appease the client’s core needs.

The design strikes a balance between traditional and modern concepts. "We have taken traditional elements and dramatically re-interpreted them to evoke an impression of modernity built on traditional foundations," says Natarajan.


Changes – inside out

The exterior of the building that the new private banking lounge is in – where QFB is headquartered – has also undergone a transformation.

"It was an 80’s build and the whole exterior needed to change to reflect the private banking offer. It was a huge move," said Nataranjan, explaining that the intended brand experience had to start from before the private client arrived at QFB. Even the car parking area has been changed to accommodate a certain number of vehicles, and one side of the building has been closed off to maintain exclusivity.

QFB’s private banking lounge branch has digital touch points across the space, but the key focus is all about relationships and, importantly, privacy. There is also an exhibition space on the ground floor with digital screens for events or to promote select investments. "We wanted the space to be fitting for small shows – in case the bank plans to invite wealthy clients for the private viewing of a fashion designer’s new line or for the launch of a new car. The car can actually drive in through the wide front doors of the branch into that exhibition space," says Natarajan.


Identity revamp

The logo of QFB has also been revamped by Allen International to represent the future strategic direction the bank is taking and to enhance its profile amongst its high net worth (HNW) and corporate clients within Qatar and internationally.

The original logo was created to reflect a pattern, which was a repetition of the word ‘first’ in a circular form, and it was highly detailed. "The level of detail within the mark was problematic when reproduced or applied through digital mediums," explains Natarajan.

Allen International’s approach was to retain the circler element created with only one instance of the word ‘first’. "The new icon is drawn with larger calligraphic strokes to help with legibility and has an exaggerated stroke at the base to reflect the Latin letter ‘Q’ for Qatar," he adds.

QFB is set to list its shares on the Qatar exchange by the end of Q1 2016. There may be more premium branches in the pipeline for QFB, beyond Qatar in cities such as London where a lot of QFB’s clients travel to for months at a time.