Banking sector – great for Emirati women

Banking is a great sector for Emiratis, especially woman, says Noura Abbas Ahmed, who is the head of training and business development at the Emirates Institute for Banking and Finance Studies (EIBFS).

She took an unusual route into banking. Having graduated with a degree in health information management from Abu Dhabi Women’s College in 2009, instead of heading for a career in health care, Ms Ahmed went to Dubai International Financial Centre as a quality management specialist and then a business excellence manager, taking an MBA while she worked.

 She went on to the Ministry of Labour’s Tas’heel service centres, again in a quality role and then as a deputy general manager.

Three years ago she took that banking experience to the EIBFS.

All banks, including the UAE Central Bank, are shareholders in the EIBFS, which is funded by 1 per cent of every bank employee’s salary and finances staff training; the development programme for UAE nationals is a major focus.

 The EIBFS, founded 33 years ago, has three campuses, in Dubai Academic City, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. It helped to train 21,000 bankers last year, with more than 100 programmes covering everything from credit and risk to anti-money laundering and Islamic banking, as well as leadership programmes and “softer” training such as intensive English language courses, HR and marketing.

“I could not find a good job in the medical sector and was missing a business background. I grabbed the first opportunity that came to me as a starting point – and it was DIFC,” says Ms Ahmed, who is 30 and married. “Banking work is totally different but I don’t regret it at all. You change your career as you think it right: one day if I want to go into health, I can. Serving my country was my main purpose as an Emirati national – whether that was public or private.

 “I would advise a UAE national to work in a bank and work on their self-development professionally as a banker,” she adds. “There are lots of opportunities for nationals here.” She says that of 22,000 Emiratis in the private sector, 14,000 are in banking, with women making up 70 per cent of those bankers.

Back in 2005, the Emiratisation target for the banking sector was set at an aggressive 4 per cent per year, to reach 50 per cent of the total employee base by 2008. Only the insurance sector was given a higher target, of 5 per cent a year. According to the last publicly released statistics from 2014, banks have reached 32 per cent – 34 per cent in local banks. Some have been much more successful – Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank has a 48 per cent quota and Noor Bank 40 per cent, while the UAE Central Bank leads the way with 64 per cent.

 In insurance, where UAE nationals make up just 11 per cent of all employees, it is expected that the industry will soon be given a 17 per cent target to hit by 2020. It follows that banking, while more successful than insurance in its Emiratisation programme, may also be expected to push further, particularly in the private sector.

“Assessing quality of job role, engagement of Emiratis and educational calibre of local hires are all innovative ways of approaching the traditional quota system, which has tended to focus purely on headcount,” says Robert Mogielnicki of Oxford Strategic Consulting.

 The human capital consultancy’s chairman, William Scott-Jackson, adds that the private sector should now be “very keen to employ” UAE nationals – “provided the costs are not wildly uncompetitive”.

Ms Ahmed says Emiratis still tend to prefer the government sector for its shorter working hours, but adds that the barriers to entry are coming down in the private sector – through such measures as career development, training and flexible work hours. For instance, Saturdays are no longer mandatory work days and bankers are as likely now to work 9am-5pm as 7am-4pm.

 And training is where Ms Ahmed and the EIBFS come in. “Women are more persistent now and motivated to stay. They like to join the corporate side, not just customer service or sales. The mentality has changed, especially for women – and there has been a huge jump in performance. Before, their main aim was just to have a job.”

After all, as she says, today’s fresh bankers are “the coming CEOs” of the sector.


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