A Career of Firsts
Nevine Loutfy ’74 is the first woman in
the Arab world to head an Islamic bank
By Sarah Topol
Nevine Loutfy ’74 doesn’t seem perturbed by the global financial crisis that brought the international banking industry to its knees last year. Sitting in her immaculate office in downtown Cairo, the managing director and chief executive officer of the National Bank for Development (NBD) is confident in her plan to reform the ailing bank and transform it into a fully Islamic shariacompliant institution, with new, modern products and customeroriented services.
Loutfy graduated from AUC with a bachelor’s in economics. With 32 years of experience in financial capitals, working with Citigroup and traveling from New York to London, Loutfy is well-prepared for her current challenge being the first female CEO of an Islamic bank in the Arab world. Loutfy also held several top positions in banks in Europe, the United States and Egypt.
In 2007, as part of the government’s privatization program, the Central Bank of Egypt sold a 49 percent share of NBD to the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, which began rebranding the non-performing institution. Loutfy set off to restructure the bank’s operations to comply with Islamic sharia banking practices; reform its customer, commercial, and small and medium-enterprise sectors; as well as implement debt repayment and employee training programs. “The bank is in a loss situation,” she said. “We aim to take it to profitability through new products, new services and new customers.”
Loutfy finds herself on the right side of a turbulent industry. According to her, in the last few years, Islamic banking has exploded across the Middle East and in Egypt. “There is a very healthy appetite among the Egyptian public and corporates for Islamic banking products and Islamic finance,” Loutfy explained, adding that the global financial crisis has forced the finance industry to reform its policies. “Everybody is reconsidering what they’ve been doing so far and facing a totally new reality, and you’ve got to adjust to it. It’s an eye opener that things don’t go well all the time, and you’ve got to be protected and ready when there’s a downturn.”
As a woman, it hasn’t been easy for Loutfy blazing the trail. She recalled when she first asked for an international posting at Citigroup 28 years ago. “It really shocked everybody because they thought women wouldn’t request an international assignment,” she said. “My boss then asked, ‘What will we do with your husband?’ And I replied, ‘You never ask a man what you will do with his wife.’” Loutfy was then posted in Italy, making her the first woman at the time to receive an international assignment from the bank.
For young generations, Loutfy has one lesson to share, “If you want it bad enough, you will get it.” The most gratifying part of her job? “Selffulfillment and the ability to get things done, but my biggest achievement in life are my two sons,” she said with a smile.