Gulf financial jobs soar as growth accelerates

Posted on February 08, 2006

'Banking' the most popular online job search, as new investment banks poach top talent from incumbents

The rapid growth experienced by the Gulf's banking and financial services companies is fuelling a regional employment boom in the sector, according to the latest figures released by GulfTalent.com.

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.com.

Demand from employers appears equally strong with several banks reporting high growth projections. "We are growing our headcount by 85% this year and planning to double in size again next year." said Edris Bantan, Senior Manager of HR Planning at Bank Aljazira based in Saudi Arabia.

While most of the growth is in retail banking, it is on the corporate and investment side that banks face the greatest challenge recruiting. An increasing number of vacancies are remaining open for longer, with employers unable to find the right expertise quickly enough. "Competition is becoming very vicious in the sector and there are not enough professionals in the market." says Bantan.

Even larger banks with more modest headcount growth rates are having to work hard to retain their top employees, or to deal 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 Centre and Bahrain Financial Harbour 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.com, 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.

Areas with the greatest demand-supply mismatch reportedly include private banking, corporate finance, compliance and certain specializations within Islamic banking.

"We are actively looking for product expertise in Islamic banking but the pool of good people with the required skills, as well as an understanding of customer service, is small." said Declan Ball, Head of Human Resources at Dubai Bank. "As all banks are fighting a war for talent, one of our approaches is to bring in people with business expertise and train them on Shariah concepts"

Compliance is another 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 September 11. "As Middle Eastern banks start dealing all around the world, they have to give more assurances that everything is fine, and that requires a strong compliance function." according to a recruitment specialist at a leading Saudi bank. "This is a new area and there are not many people in this field in the Middle East."

The news comes against a background of rising salaries in the Gulf's financial sector. Earlier research on compensation trends released by GulfTalent.com in September 2005 suggested that banking and finance sector salaries had risen at an average rate of 9% over the previous year, the highest increase among all sectors in the Gulf.

The report predicted increased outsourcing of back office operations to cheaper parts of the world. It also forecast a growing appetite among regional companies to invest in the recruitment and training of Gulf female nationals, particularly in Saudi Arabia where female participation in the workforce has been the lowest.

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