Social and environmental responsibility has been an integral part of the way Bank of Palestine operates since the bank was founded in 1960.
Today, it is more important than ever before as we work to create a sustainable economy and society in Palestine.
Bank of Palestine has been implementing an all-encompassing sustainability strategy, because we believe that true progress begins with social and economic development at a community level.
Out of strong, stable communities will grow sustainable businesses, and sustainable businesses will help strengthen the wider economy and infrastructure of Palestine.
We are committed to helping the communities we serve, by supporting individuals, families, institutions, and businesses during these challenging economic times. Through innovative partnerships and initiatives, we are generating new opportunities, opening new doors to success, and creating a solid foundation for Palestine’s future.
By “doing good” banks can be influential contributors to economic and social progress. We aim to have a positive impact in several ways:
Commitment to social and environmental standards
Demonstrating respect for the environment and human rights is an essential part of behaving responsibly as a company.
We are currently incorporating a social and environmental risk management system that will have an impact on all our activities and business functions. In addition, all Bank of Palestine policies are designed and written to ensure that the bank’s operations do not damage the environment or cause social harm.
In 2008, Bank of Palestine adopted the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) social and environmental policies, which are applied when granting credit facilities at any of Bank of Palestine’s branches and sub-branches.
These policies provide the bank with a framework for determining whether a client adheres to our sustainability strategy. All of the bank’s credit officers use a standard checklist to confirm that loan applicants and the projects that require financing meet the requirements of these policies.
Meeting the needs of our environment
We focus on offering relevant products and services to our clients. Similar to our commitment to social and economic development through support for micro and small businesses, Bank of Palestine is equally committed to bringing about social and environmental improvements through its green loans programme. As its name suggests, these are loans to individuals, families, and MSMEs for projects that lead to greater water or energy efficiency, waste water treatment, and the production of renewable energy, particularly in rural Palestine. The Middle East is one of the most water-stressed regions in the world. The World Health Organisation recommends that each person have 100 litres of water a day available. In Palestine, water availability is 60 litres per person, per day. Hence, our green loan programme is very important to the overall health of our region. Education is an integral part of this programme, so that people—particularly farmers—are aware of the programme and the benefits it can bring. To this end, Bank of Palestine conducts workshops throughout rural Palestine to explain the benefits of energy and water efficiency.
Educating our own employees about sustainability
We try to ensure that our own operations are as sustainable as possible through the way our buildings are constructed and operate, through the types of products and services we offer, and in the way we work to ensure that more and more people in Palestine have access to the financing they need to be able to contribute meaningfully to the ongoing health and prosperity of Palestine.
Risk management and corporate governance
Bank of Palestine strives to position itself as an international finance institution and to meet international best practices. For this reason, we have worked in co-operation with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) - a member of the World Bank Group - to develop an internationally acceptable risk management structure, systems, procedures, and processes, as well as to strengthen our corporate governance and risk management practices.
We have already completed three projects: Corporate governance, credit risk, and treasury risk. During 2012, we continued the implementation of the last part of our risk management project, which is the implementation of the operational risk management. As a result, Bank of Palestine will be one of the first banks in the region to comply with Basel II standards. We also reviewed our human resources policies to align remuneration with risk according to best international standards and to the recommendations of the Basel Commission
Our aim is to promote sustainable economic growth, through our core business of banking.
Access to Finance
- Branching out
Several Palestinian towns and villages are under-served by financial institutions and others are completely unbanked, restricting their economic activity. Widening the access to finance is a core part of our strategy. Bank of Palestine is committed to expanding its branch, sub-branch, ATM, and POS merchant network, not only in the main cities and towns, but in rural areas as well, where the populations have little access to banks and banking services.
As a service to students, we have also opened sub-branches in Palestinian universities to help meet their banking needs and to be able to expand their knowledge of the banking services we provide.
- Building a sustainable base for MSMEs to grow
We continue to support micro, small, and medium- sized enterprises (MSMEs), which are key drivers of growth and employment across our markets. Again this year we increased our MSME lending substantially. Our approach to Micro and SME businesses are multi-tier, ensuring that we cover these segments properly, as they represents 90% of the Palestinian Private sector, and employ 87% of the private sector labour force.
Through our specialized microfinance division, we strive to help small businesses that do not normally have access to funding. By providing financial support to these businesses, Bank of Palestine is helping to improve the strength and stability of communities, thereby reducing poverty, raising living standards, and creating more job opportunities. In addition to lending directly to micro businesses, Bank of Palestine has also provided several Microfinance Institutions in Palestine with credit facilities.
Similarly, and in order to provide financial support to a higher number of SMEs, in addition to the bank’s lending programmes to this segment, Bank of Palestine also invested in Private Equity funds, such as Riyada Enterprise Development (RED), a USD 650 million SME investment platform of the Abraaj group.
Building pillars of a sustainable economy
- Deepening the Capital Market
We have been playing a leading role in deepening the capital market in Palestine, introducing new asset classes, and providing investors with an array of investment choices. Bank of Palestine is a founding partner in the first private equity fund in Palestine – The Palestine Growth Capital Fund – an SME investment platform of the Abraaj group. We have also invested in the first private sector bonds (PADICO Holding bonds) to be issued in Palestine; we also issued the second private sector bonds through our subsidiary Al-Wasata Securities in 2012.
- Establishing a Private Pension Fund
The bank has played a very proactive role in several fundamental initiatives in Palestine. We have mobilized the Palestinian private sector to launch the first private pension fund. It led the efforts to set up the fund and to advocate for the required legislative reforms. This fund will be the first private pension fund in the region. It will be based on a model similar to the Chilean model. This pension fund is expected to contribute greatly to strengthening the Palestinian economy and society, through enabling access to finance for medium and long term projects, developing and investing in the Palestinian Capital Markets, creating employment and reducing poverty, providing stability and social security to citizens, leading to further spending and investments.
Anti-Money laundering (AML)
We perform risk based due diligence on all new customers, including verification of their identity and, where appropriate, an assessment of the source of their wealth and funds. We use sophisticated software systems for questionable behaviour associated with AML. We comply with all suspicious activity reporting required of us by our compliance programme, regulators and law enforcement agencies in Palestine (AML law of 2007). We provide training for our employees on our customer due diligence policies and procedures, including how to detect and report suspicious activity.
Since 60% of Palestinians are under the age of 25, Bank of Palestine has been focusing on Youth. Last year we partnered with Al-Wataniya mobile in a large campaign encouraging young Palestinians to open bank accounts.
We have also been working on launching a special educational laptop loan for young Palestinians. Moreover, we have created a special soft loan the “innovation loan” for youth who participate and win in innovation and business plan competitions.