Jawad Zabar, BFC Group Holdings

An experienced in-house counsel in the banking sector, Zabar explains how a desire to be at the forefront of innovation has led to Bahrain becoming a leader in the region for introducing forward-thinking legislation and regulation.

I underwent my higher education in London, before I moved into private practice briefly, then onto an in-house role in commercial banking. I acted as in-house legal counsel at one of the biggest banks in the region (Ahli United Bank). I was also the legal counsel for one of the largest Islamic investment banks in the region (GFH Financial Group formerly known as Gulf Finance House). I have over 10 years’ experience in banking overall. That is when I moved to BFC Group Holdings as group general counsel and board secretary.

At BFC Group Holdings, we are the holding company for (among others) Bahrain Financing Company (BFC) which is the largest exchange, global remittance and wholesale banknote trading company in Bahrain.

My day-to-day challenges include adapting my approach to advising the business in a way which promotes and facilitates achieving its commercial and strategic objectives, while also making sure that it is protected from all legal or reputational risks which could affect any of its business or operations.

Bahrain’s GC network is a vibrant community, with a range of opportunities for networking, connecting, and sharing experiences and ideas. Bahrain is unique, due to its small geographical size and its important role in the region as a financial and commercial hub. As a result, the depth of international exposure you experience as a legal counsel in Bahrain is a great opportunity.

Bahrain is often at the forefront of adopting international best practices. Recent examples include being the first in the region to introduce the regulatory sandbox for fintech products, creating one of the first fintech hubs in the region, introducing personal data protection laws and groundbreaking electronic transaction laws. Therefore, the unique challenge is being able to navigate the ever changing legal and regulatory landscape; however, as with every unique challenge, it is also a unique opportunity.

Historically, it is not very common for large financial institutions to have their general counsel serve as board secretary, as it is difficult to find someone who is able and experienced enough to perform both roles. However, in recent times, I have seen it slowly becoming more and more common as organisations also start looking at reducing cost. It makes it slightly harder to achieve your goals on decreasing budgets; however, we are making every effort to adapt to this, as it looks like it will be a continuing economic trend in the region.

Bahrain is unique due to its small geographical size and its important role in the region as a financial and commercial hub. It is ever evolving, especially with the introduction of disruptive technologies. However, Bahrain is always looking to take a welcoming stance on these technologies and adapt to add value to the country, and simplify or foster frictionless transactions while promoting business growth. n