Financial Sector Attracts Saudi Job Seekers

Saudi Arabia, 5 Mar 2006

JEDDAH — The finance sector is the hottest sector for job seekers in the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia. With the rapid growth in the banking and financial services companies in the Gulf, there is an employment boom in this sector, according to latest statistics by GulfTalent, an online employment service for the Gulf region.

During the last quarter of 2005, "banking" was the single most popular keyword searched for by job seekers online, while other related keywords included insurance, finance, risk, compliance, Takaful and "private equity". Overall one in every eight online job searches was related to the banking sector, according to GulfTalent.

The increase in supply of job applicants for banking is met with an equal demand by the prospective employers. Several banks have reported high growth projections in the number of employees. "There has been an increase in the number of employees we recruited over the past two years and this increase is more pronounced last year," said Saud Sabban, head of human resources at the National Commercial Bank. "The increase is mainly in support of the expansion plans of the bank, and the shift of our conventional banking to Islamic banking," he added.

However, despite this excess supply banks still face a challenge recruiting qualified employees in certain departments and levels. According to GulfTalent, most of the growth is in retail banking but on the corporate and investment side, banks face the greatest challenge recruiting locals with the right expertise quickly enough. Sabban told Arab News that National Commercial Bank (NCB) has been able to recruit a majority of their staff requirements from the Saudi labor market, only few very highly specialized positions were filled up with non-Saudis."There are a few specialized positions that we find particularly challenging to recruit from the Saudi labor market due to scarcity of qualified locals. Recruitment for these types of skills become more challenging because we have to compete with other banks and financial institutions in attracting them," said Sabban.

Whether it is the small or large banks, they are working hard to retain their top employees and dealing with the higher than usual attrition. Market leaders in particular face a barrage of competitive poaching by smaller, more aggressive rivals as well as new entrants to the market. "Competition is becoming tougher with the entry of foreign banks and investment houses that are being run from places like Bahrain and Dubai. As a large established bank, we find ourselves the prime target of recruiting efforts to staff these new entities," said the Recruitment Manager at a leading Saudi bank.

Initiatives such as the DIFC in Dubai, Qatar Financial Center and Bahrain Financial Harbor are bringing a new class of international financial institutions to the region, both raising the standards and adding to the demand for recruiting services.

To serve this growing need, in recent months a number of UK-based financial recruitment firms have moved to set up operations in the Gulf, further evidence of the booming employment activity.

While employer preferences are generally for Gulf citizens, particularly in Saudi Arabia, the rapid growth and increasing sophistication of the region’s financial sector are forcing banks to look further a field. According to an analyst at GulfTalent, many have resorted to advertising directly in international financial papers in an attempt to lure top talent from Europe and the US, while an increasing number are using regional online recruitment websites to identify and poach staff from their local or regional competitors.

"NCB has a team of competent recruitment specialists who handle the task of recruiting for our staff needs," said Sabban. The bank uses different tools for recruiting including its own online recruitment site.

According to GulfTalent, areas with the greatest demand-supply mismatch reportedly include private banking, corporate finance, compliance and certain specializations within Islamic banking. Compliance is a major growth area, driven by the increasing use of technology and Internet in banking, greater exposure of regional banks to international markets as well as the increasingly stringent international regulations post Sept. 11.