Amman Stock Exchange: Covid pandemic will remain a top challenge

By: The WFE Focus Team Dec 2021

Name: Mazen Wathaifi

Title: CEO, Amman Stock Exchange

The pandemic has brought many changes to the way we work. In your view, what changes are here to stay that will shape the workplace of the future?  

During COVID-19, numerous countries around the world and people are being encouraged to practice social distancing, as well as to self-quarantine if they’ve been in contact with someone with the virus. Schools are making the shift to online education. Non-essential businesses are closed and employees who can work from home are doing so. And while we try to navigate this new normal, many of us are wondering what life will look like after the coronavirus.  

Governments all over the world have adopted precautionary measures to reduce the spread of the virus, and to mitigate its negative impact on economic activities and financial stability. Governments have employed measures to support their financial sectors to stabilize markets, and maintain the flow of credit and liquidity to the most affected sectors, especially small and medium enterprises, as well as households. Although the financial measures of different countries vary, most countries in the world have implemented some common measures. 

What will life look like after Corona? Most places have implemented their contingency plan while working remotely.  

Educational institutions that have established online learning platforms might integrate them into their normal curricula. However, because the educational experience is often as much about learning how to function in a social or professional setting as it is about acquiring knowledge and skills, it’s unlikely that schools will make a permanent and complete shift to distance learning.  

There should be a strong cooperation between the countries of the world to face challenges of the pandemic. Global policy coordination and information sharing will help authorities to share experiences and learn from each other. Digitalization of the financial sector will become a priority. Financial institutions will focus the development of a comprehensive digitalization of their services. This will require new apps and IT systems in addition to the application of new business models. Payments and transfer of money will be through applications and smartphones. Work from home will increase from time to time when the spread of the pandemic intensifies. This increases the need for effective operational and cyber security arrangements. Effective contingency and risk management plans and procedures should be in place. Financial institutions will transform their businesses through product innovation and new digital platforms.  

What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for your exchange in the year ahead?   

Despite the fact that the ASE has enjoyed a positive momentum and registered positive performance indicators this year, Covid 19 is still at the top of the challenges. The increased competition of regional markets is also a major challenge. However, we will build on the achievements we’ve made this year. Market capitalisation increased by more than 25% compared with the close of 2020. Profitability of listed companies increased by 285% in the third quarter this year compared with the same period in 2020. 

ASE launched a new world class trading system. A new electronic disclosure system was also launched in addition to a number of projects including upgrading its virtual environment infrastructure, issuing the public shareholding Companies’ Guide for 2020, and developing and enhancing the stock exchange’s website database on the Internet.  

Building on these achievements and developments, we will keep working on the enhancement of investment climate and competitiveness of the market. Therefore, the ASE has prepared a strategic plan for the years (2021 - 2023) that is mainly aimed to enhance the economic benefits provided by the ASE and enable it to provide better services. This strategic plan includes three strategic objectives. The first objective aims to enhance the technical infrastructure and developing the work environment, the second aims to enhance the market competitiveness, and the third objective is to provide innovative services and new indicators. This strategic plan includes many projects such as issuing new indices like the Islamic index and the total return index. It also aims to encourage the establishment of mutual investment funds, including ETFs, promote investment opportunities in the stock exchange through roadshows, require ASE20 companies to establish an Investor Relations Units (IR) and to issue sustainability reports.  

We believe that achieving these goals will create more opportunities in the market and increase its attractiveness and competitiveness.  

What was your most memorable moment this year as a leader? 

My most memorable moment this year was the launching of the new electronic trading system (Optiq) under the patronage of the Minister of Finance and in the presence of key important leaders in the financial sector. This launch coincided with the first centenary of the establishment of the Jordanian state and the 22nd anniversary of the founding of the ASE.   

It is worth mentioning that the new Optiq trading system, which won the award for the best trading system of the year 2020, is a joint project of four Arab countries; Oman, Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan. It was built by Euronext, one of the leading developers of trading solutions, which owns and operates a number of European stock exchanges.  

What are three key industry themes you will be focused on in 2022? 

With the markets and the economy seeing continued effects from the COVID-19 pandemic, many investors are likely turning their attention toward the next calendar year. Regarding the main themes in the year 2022, we will focus on:   

· Measures to be taken to combat the effect of Covid on capital markets 

· Enhancing Competitiveness 

· Spreading sustainability culture and awareness 

Tell us one thing that will change in 2022 and one thing that won’t? 

The current circumstances and the pandemic accelerated change and the need to enhance the attractiveness of the market and retain public confidence in the economy and the capital market. A number of projects will be implemented to achieve such goals during 2022. A priority project is spreading sustainability culture among listed companies. A first step in this connection is the obligation of the top 20 listed companies to issue their first sustainability reports for the year 2022. ASE has exerted efforts to spread this culture.In cooperation with international institutions including UNDP, UN Global Compact and Social Value International (SVI), we held a number of workshops and seminars to familiarize these companies with ESG principles and sustainable development goals (SDGs). As for the answer to the second part of the question, uncertainty is still there to a certain extent, maybe less than the beginning of the crisis, but I believe that the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to impact our lives and economies in many ways through this year.