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"We Are Showcasing India as an Opportunity" Aiming for Indian SMEs, the CEO of the largest commercial lenders in the Doha shares his plans

By Sandeep Soni

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Dr R Seetharaman, the Indian-origin Group CEO of one of the largest commercial lenders in the Gulf State of
Qatar, Doha Bank, has been instrumental in bank's international expansion, including India which happened last
year. With an eye on Indian SMEs, Dr Seetharaman shares the action plan in detail with Entrepreneur.

What investment measures have you undertaken to help SMEs?

Through our formal engagement with the Qatar Government-owned public bank: Qatar Development Bank (QDB), 87 percent of the debt offered to small businesses is guaranteed by us when it comes to debt equity. Teams at both banks evaluate the project across sectors and fund them. This has been very successful. In November 2015, over $16 million were allocated to small businesses. This is the real reward for small businesses that want to actualize their ideas through support. The Gulf States are very supportive to small businesses. The prime rate is seven percent
all inclusive. This makes Gulf an attractive destination for entrepreneurs while their back office can remain in India. Doha Bank along with QDB has been the prime mover since 2005 in supporting SMEs. Over $250 million have been invested so far. Moreover, we help in setting up their businesses whether in free zones, science and technology parks or onshore.

What bilateral impact you see between the two regions after launching in India?

We launched Doha Bank's India operations in April last year. As a result, corporates are now coming to the Gulf States, and other Gulf States' banks also want to launch their operations in India. In fact some of them have already applied for
licenses after witnessing our experience as we are showcasing India as an opportunity. Our center is in Mumbai with one branch, in Mumbai and Kochi each after we amalgamated the India operations with HSBC Bank Oman last year in April. So far, we have supported around 237 Indian entrepreneurs and around 1,000 SMEs over the years. We are associated with commerce chambers of states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Telangana.

Do you have any particular scheme for SMEs to fix their working capital issues?

We offer credit cards are exclusive for SMEs' imminent needs. It works like a regular credit card but offers special
privileges like discriminatory interest rates for SMEs. Since SMEs' gestation period is sometime long, a credit card
helps them in facing any operational challenge. The limit depends on the size of a business. For example, an
Indian restaurant chain in Qatar with six outlets has a limit of around $85,000. A medium-sized entrepreneur
can have a limit of around $600,000. This helps SMEs to consolidate their working capital issues like commuting
expenses, supply chain costs and workers' salaries. Around 1,200 businesses in Gulf are using our credit cards.
Similarly, debit card works like any other debit card. We are yet to launch this facility in India.

Would you be launching Doha Sooq in India?

Doha Sooq is Middle East's first e-retail marketplace powered by Doha Bank. Sellers can list and sell their products online. Currently, there are over 200 merchants listed on the platform. We are working on launching a similar platform for Indian business people and have already written to Indian authorities for necessary approvals.

Any support for SMEs you have in your green banking initiatives?

We want to support the green mission including water or waste management by helping SMEs in price discrimination while encouraging them with socially responsible projects. Our e-banking team takes care of green banking
initiatives in the Gulf. There are great opportunities in that particularly in retail and wholesale.

How much time does it take for a new business to set up in Qatar?

The minimum time taken for setting up businesses depends upon the industry or the vertical they are operating in as a tech business takes less than three months depending upon the space it is focusing on.

How do you help Qatari SMEs venturing into India?

We offer SMEs with market intelligence for example partners they want to work with. Qatari SMEs, which want to come to India, some of which already are in Chennai and Mumbai, we help them with local authorities' clearances, debt, etc. We
would be going to work with private investors including VCs and PEs as a part of our medium-term initiatives.

Sandeep Soni

Former Features Editor

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