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