With the world’s eyes focused on the recent Iraqi elections, little attention is being paid to the major changes taking place in Iraq's banking and finance industry.
As part of an effort to liberalize the economy, in the first three months of 2014, the Iraqi Central Bank granted approval to 15 Arab and international banks to open branches in Baghdad, with additional branches expected to open soon. There is also a notable drive to grow and promote the stock markets, with senior Iraqi government officials and representatives from the country's two stock exchanges hosting a two-day forum in Dubai May 14-15 in a bid to court regional investors.
The Iraq Stock Exchange (ISX) is currently in the process of upgrading to the latest Nasdaq trading platform after signing an agreement with Nasdaq OMX in June 2013. The new platform, currently used by more than 25 exchanges globally, is capable of supporting multiple asset classes, although the ISX concentrates mainly on cash equities.
“We will complete the implementation at the end of June, and it will go live at the beginning of July,” said Taha Ahmed al-Rubaye, chief executive of the ISX. “We are working hard to modernize the exchange.”
The ISX is also assisting the Erbil Stock Exchange (ESX), the first exchange in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, in setting up its Nasdaq trading system. It is due to be fully implemented in July, and the ESX hopes to see around five to 10 listings by the end of 2014, including a major telecom company. The ESX has $8 million in initial capitalization and 56 shareholders, primarily from the private sector.