History of Banking in UAE

If you are planning to move to the UAE, you would surely need a bank account to manage your finances. Whether you are a job seeker or planning to run your own business, you must find the best bank account to manage your finances. 

Opening a bank account in the UAE is very easy as the country has a well-established banking industry. However, to make an informed decision, you must know everything about banking in the UAE. Let us begin with learning about the history of UAE bank accounts. We will also take you through the best banking options with valuable financial benefits. 

Banking History of UAE before the Union

The UAE had an already established banking sector. The history before the union is somehow connected to the Imperial Bank. 

Imperial Bank was opened in 1946 by one of the famous bankers, Frank Johnson, in Dubai. The bank is now a part of HSBC, which has played a critical role in developing the banking industry in the UAE. HSBC was the first bank to open ATMs in the country. 

Based on the HSBC records, Frank Johnson started his banking career in the UK and joined the Imperial Bank project in 1921. After completing two years of training in London, the banker was expected to set up business for Imperial Bank. In 1942, he secured an agreement for opening the first branch of Imperial Bank in Kuwait. 

UAE Banking in Dubai

On the Trucial Coast, Dubai was one of the seven sheikhdoms that formed the United Arab Emirates in 1971. Frank Johnson had an interest in the tiny Gulf state since the 1880s due to certain events.

In 1894, Sheikh Maktoum Bin Hasher Al Maktoum was in power. He understood the consequences of the historical shift in Lingah and decided to make Dubai the most commercially attractive port along the Trucial Coast. 

By 1901, Dubai had nearly become the trade centre for most sheikhdoms, and most merchants had started to relocate to the city from Lingah.

On October 14, 1946, the Imperial Bank opened its doors in Dubai for the first time. The bank offered jobs to Dubai denizens who were reporting to an expatriate manager. Imperial Bank was renamed as ‘The British Bank of Iran and the Middle East’ in 1949. After being withdrawn from Iran, the bank was again renamed as ‘The British Bank of the Middle East’ in 1952. In 1959, HSBC acquired ‘The British Bank of the Middle East’ and used the same name until 1999. 

In 1958, the Standard Chartered Bank opened its first branch in Sharjah and started operating in the UAE. 

Formation of UAE’s National Banks

Emirates NBD and First Abu Dhabi Bank were the first two banks that took the banking sector to new heights in the UAE. Here is how they established their first foothold in the country.

1. Emirates NBD

Established in 1963, ‘The National Bank of Dubai’ was the first UAE national bank. The bank was formed by His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. On March 6, 2007, ‘The National Bank of Dubai’ merged with Emirates Bank International and became Emirates NBD. The shares of Emirates NBD were listed on the DFM (Dubai Financial Market) on October 16, 2007.

The merger between these two banks turned out to be one of the most effective regional consolidations in the history of banking in the UAE as it helped combine the resources of two well-performing banks in the UAE. Since the day of the merger, Emirates NBD has delivered excellent banking services with an enhanced value across different sectors, including Retail, Investment, Islamic, Corporate and Private Banking, Asset Management, Global Markets & Treasury, and more throughout the region. The group now operates in 13 countries serving more than 14 million customers across the globe. 

Emirates NBD offers unique banking products including bank accounts, fixed deposits, investment options, credit cards, loans, mortgages and more for both individual and corporate clients.

2. First Abu Dhabi Bank

First Abu Dhabi Bank, earlier known as ‘The National Bank of Abu Dhabi’, was established in 1968 by one of the former rulers of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. 

The bank was formed after the merger of two large banking entities, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi and First Gulf Bank. The merger was officially announced on July 3, 2016, and the transaction for the same was approved on December 7, 2016.

First Abu Dhabi Bank is currently performing as one of the best financial solutions providers in the UAE. It is headquartered in Abu Dhabi and operates in five other continents, including Europe, the Americas, Asia Pacific (APAC) and the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). First Abu Dhabi Bank offers multiple banking products including bank accounts, credit cards, loans, fixed deposits and more.

Other Local Banks in the UAE

Here is the list of other local banks offering the best bank accounts in the history of the UAE.

Name of the Bank Year of Establishment Headquarters In
Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank Founded in 1985 Abu Dhabi
Commercial Bank of Dubai Founded in 1969 Dubai
Dubai Islamic Bank Founded in 1975 Dubai
Emirates Islamic Bank Founded in 1975 Dubai
Sharjah Islamic Bank Founded in 1975 Sharjah
United Arab Bank Founded in 1975 Sharjah
Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank Founded in 1997 Abu Dhabi
Dubai Bank Dubai Founded in 1975 Dubai
Noor Bank Founded in 2008 Dubai
Al Hilal Bank Founded in 2007 Abu Dhabi
see more

Origin of Central Bank of UAE

Based on Union Law No (2) 1973, the ‘Currency Board’ first introduced and circulated the UAE national currency, Dirham, on May 19, 1973. The national currency was formed to replace the present currencies of that time, the Bahraini Dinar and the Qatar and Dubai Riyal.

Further, based on Law No. 10 of 1980, the ‘Currency Board’ was replaced by the Central Bank, presently the Monetary System and Organization of Banking maintaining currency reserves in gold and multiple currencies in the UAE. It is a fully-fledged banking entity performing a supervisory and regulatory role over the country’s surging financial eco-system.

Types of Banking in the History of UAE

The UAE banking industry offers different types of bank accounts for different banking purposes. Let us first learn about the types of banking we have in the country.

1. Commercial Banking

Commercial banks are the financial institutions that provide loans, accept deposits, offer basic banking products such as bank accounts, fixed deposits and more for both individual and business clients. Most banks in the UAE are into both individual and corporate lending businesses and hence fall under this category.

2. Wholesale Banking

These banks offer banking services to large-scale institutions including government agencies, other banks, large corporations, other financial institutions, real-estate developers and more. The services provided by wholesale banks include working capital financing, mergers and acquisitions, currency conversions, large business transactions, etc. In addition to the commercial banks, there are eleven wholesale banking institutions listed with the Central Bank of UAE, where you can open a wholesale bank account.

3. Retail Banking

Retail banking is also known as consumer banking. The retail banks in the UAE offer banking products and services for individual customers. They encourage consumers to manage their finances in an efficient manner while saving more. The banks enable account holders to increase their savings by earning a reasonable amount of interest in no time. The retail banks in the UAE offer banking services like bank accounts, loans, credit cards, fixed deposits, mortgages and more. 

Most banks in the UAE are dabbling in the corporate sector while offering retail services for their clients. That is why no bank in the UAE is strictly classified as a retail bank. However, most of the local banks in the UAE consider retail banking as their most lucrative business. 

4. Investment Banking

Investment banks majorly help huge business entities and governments with the creation of capital. These banks aid in the sale of securities and underwrite new debts for all kinds of businesses. They help both corporate and private investors with reorganisations, broker trades, mergers and acquisitions, etc. The investment banks in the UAE also guide investors regarding the issuance and placement of stocks and other debt instruments. 

5. Universal Banking

These banks combine all the three primary banking services, retail banking, investment banking and wholesale banking, under one roof. In other words, universal banks offer all three – retail, investment and wholesale banking services for both individual and corporate clients. Only the large banking entities are entitled as universal banks in the UAE. This type of banking has blurred the concept of classifying banks by their functions.


Now that you know how the UAE banking industry came into existence and is constantly evolving to fulfil the financial needs of all the UAE residents, you are good to go and start banking in the country. You can visit our website to find the features and benefits of the top bank accounts in the history of the UAE. 

Give us a call in case you have any doubts. Our financial experts will analyse your financial needs and help you find the best bank account accordingly.

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