Banker Middle East sat down with HE Hesham Abdullah Al Qassim, Chairman of Emirates Institute for Banking and Financial Studies (EIBFS), for a conversation on the hurdles faced by banks in talent management and the institute’s approach in addressing these.
In terms of talent management, what kind of challenges do financial institutions in the country face?
Managing talent in the rapidly evolving financial sector is a challenge. Regulations and technology are changing the face of the industry and it’s always difficult to obtain the best talent necessary to cope with that change. It’s a matter of demand and supply. While in some areas we have adequate personnel, there are other areas such as credit management, risk management, audit, IT security, treasury and Basel III, as well as specific areas of corporate banking and Islamic banking, where we have a dearth of qualified executives.
Take the case of Islamic banking, for example. Most bankers in the Islamic banking space are recruited from conventional banks. Therefore, getting personnel with specialised skills in this area remains a challenge. We need more experts in Islamic finance and banking. For that to happen, we require institutions to impart high level courses to professionals. When it comes to UAE nationals it is important for us, as an institution, to carefully manage their growth and provide ongoing platforms for development during their banking or financial careers, in line with the government’s vision. This is key to attracting talent at the entry level, where numbers are still low.
We have witnessed UAE nationals, even if it is not a substantial number, who have left their banking careers midway because of the lack of opportunities to grow. We must stem this and it’s important that we ensure that they are not only qualified when they start their careers as graduates, but also receive the necessary training at all levels to allow them to progress and climb the corporate ladder.
What is in the pipeline for EIBFS this year?
The Emirates Institute for Banking and Financial Studies (EIBFS) has a continual pipeline of programmes that we offer to banking and financial professionals as well as students. This year, we have planned a marginal increase in the number of courses offered under our flagship Annual Training programme (ATP) to reach 585 in total. This marks a three per cent increase from our initial target of 570 courses in 2017. The EIBFS delivered a total of 980 vocational training and educational programmes, as well as activities including workshops, during the period from 1 January to 31 December 2017, which is the highest in our history. What we have seen over the years is that the final number of courses and workshops/ forums offered at the end of the year always surpasses the previous year’s target by a wide margin. I will not be surprised if we touch the 1,000 mark this year.
Part of this growth is the sustained demand from UAE financial institutions, mainly banks and insurance companies, which regularly reach out to us to help create customised programmes to train their employees. We work closely with the heads of human resources at banks and insurance firms. We also have pro-active HR and Advisory committees which have been formed with the participation of all national banks. These committees are mandated to conduct training needs analysis and, based on the results, come up with a series of programmes suited to different employees. We also aim to provide 12 Professional Certificate Qualifications in 2018. Offered in collaboration with specialised international institutions, these qualifications are an important component of our programmes.
To add to that, we have a target of 40 customised programmes, as well as 15 national development programmes aligned with the UAE government’s Emiratisation vision. We realised that it is critical to conduct the training programmes closer to the participants and their workplace. In addition to the main campuses of Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the EIBFS has also scheduled training programmes in Al Ain as well as other Northern Emirates. Our target for 2018 is to offer 28 programmes in Al Ain, 18 in Fujairah, and seven in Ras Al Khaimah.
Some of the newer courses that we will offer this year include credit proposal writing, Central Banks UAE Regulations Training, Advanced Selling Skills and Techniques and Quality Assurance. Through our collaboration with the reputed Bangor University in the UK, we offer an extensive bachelor’s programme that equips students in a broad array of disciplines. This allows EIBFS students who have completed their requisite credits here in the UAE to proceed to Bangor in the UK for their final year and receive the degree therefrom.
Finally, we aim to conduct nine workshops and seminars with industry experts from the UAE and abroad. These will be relevant to recent developments in the financial sector and outline the opportunities as well as challenges for banks in the market. From our experience, we have seen the incredible value that such forums provide; they are a great platform to share insights and encourage collaboration.
What Emiratisation initiatives does the EIBFS have for financial institutions in the country?
Over the years, the EIBFS has introduced various customised programmes for UAE nationals, keeping in mind the needs of banks as well as insurance companies. Emiratisation initiatives in the banking sector play a significant role in supporting the national economy, and thus we are constantly reviewing our courses based on the needs of financial institutions in terms of their Emiratisation strategy.
‘Al Masrafi’ was one programme that we created to train and qualify UAE nationals for banks. Last year, Emirates NBD, Emirates Islamic, Noor Bank, Union National Bank and RAKBank sent their UAE national employees to the Al Masrafi programme to train a total of 116 nationals. As part of their MoU with the EIBFS, the banks encouraged their UAE national staff to complete professional certificate courses such as certified banking operation (CBO) and certified credit management (CCM), as well as specialised training for bank branch managers.
For the insurance sector, three ‘Al Shamil’ programmes were conducted in 2017 that trained 41 UAE nationals. As I mentioned before, the key to retaining UAE national talent in the financial sector, especially banks, is to provide them with opportunities for growth. Given the importance of creating leadership competencies, and in line with the Federal Government’s strategy to invest in national human resources, the EIBFS has continued to support senior bankers in becoming the leaders of tomorrow. In this regard, the EIBFS recently collaborated with the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, which has been offering a Leadership Development Programme in the US.
Last year, 11 senior and mid-level UAE nationals working in the banking sector were part of this programme, and in 2016, a total of 20 UAE nationals attended the Darden programme. Thanks to such exposure, today we have a number of UAE nationals from senior positions at various banks who regularly participate. To give you a perspective of the EIBFS’ efforts in terms of numbers, last year 5,945 UAE nationals—or 25 per cent of the total participants—took part in our programmes, including the ATP as well as the more customised ones mentioned above. In the last three years, a total of 18,112 UAE nationals participated in various EIBFS training programmes and workshops.
The EIBFS’ role doesn’t stop at training and qualifying UAE nationals. We are now a strategic partner of the Careers Festival organised under the aegis of the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation. We are also a key contributor to the Government Accelerators, which was created in October 2016 as the world’s first such concept. The Ministry, as well as the Government Accelerators, consider the banking and financial sector a key pillar, and to support their work we actively help in the placement of UAE nationals. For instance, in February 2017, we hosted a Careers Festival on our Dubai campus that placed more than 900 UAE nationals at various financial organisations.
The EIBFS also recommended constituting a committee to meet the requirements of banks looking for qualified national cadres. This was put into action by the National Qualifications Authority (NQA) and established the ‘National Committee for the Development of Professional Standards’, which will optimise study programmes within the banking industry with the strategic objective of supporting the UAE’s Emiratisation drive while also increasing the number of qualified personnel within the sector. The committee includes members from UAE Central Bank as well as a consortium of commercial banks.
What are your projections on the market this year?
The full year earnings of GCC banks in 2017 show that profits are improving, costs are reducing and there is a substantial drop in cost of risks, which is positively impacting their profitability. Islamic banks are also performing well and experiencing good profitability, and the UAE continues to be a large player in the Islamic finance market. I think this shows that we are on an upward trajectory and that the industry is well poised to register growth. As an institution that caters to this market, it is imperative that we stay relevant to banks and financial institutions, given that it is an industry that needs constant training in line with the transformational changes taking place all over the world.
What’s EIBFS’ strategy for the medium term?
I am happy to share exclusively with you that the EIBFS recently worked with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to produce a report outlining the institute’s strategic direction until 2020. As part of this, BCG concluded a Strategy Review exercise to define a revised strategic positioning and operating model for the EIBFS in line with the UAE financial training landscape, as well as audits of internal and external stakeholders, customers and international training institutes.
The report highlighted that our efforts to launch various programmes to enhance our offerings have been recognised by the banks, and that there is the general perception that our quality has improved. However, the report also noted that there is room for improvement in terms of our perception among senior banking stakeholders.
Going forward, our strategy calls for further evolution in line with the increasing sophistication of the UAE’s market. This essentially means that in the medium term, over the next one to three years, we will continue our focus on training sessions with minor, well-defined tertiary roles, for example through our academic programmes. We also aim to expand our range of offerings, focus on certifications and enhance quality as well as perception. With regards to the mandate of our academic college, which includes Bachelors and Diploma programmes, BCG recommended partnership with other academic providers, preferably within the UAE. It was suggested that we launch a new academic partnership model to leverage partner strengths for the delivery of high-value specialised programmes.
The partners will provide core course delivery and add credibility to each degree as part of their commitment to delivering best-in-class education, especially in advanced courses. In turn, the partner benefits from a stronger link with banks. This is something we are keen to work on going forward. The strategy report also mentioned that the EIBFS should play a more active role as a participant in defining professional standards. As an advocate of Emiratisation and a strategic partner of the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, we will continue to engage in nationalisation strategies.