In an exclusive interview, Banker Middle East speaks to Rania Nashar, Chief Executive of Samba Financial Group and the first female CEO of a listed Saudi Arabian commercial bank.
You were appointed CEO in February 2017, the Tadawul now has a female Chair and Citibank also appointed a female CEO to its new operation in Saudi Arabia—what significance do you apply to these appointments?
I believe that these appointments reflect the vision and leadership of the Kingdom, and that the broader objective is to make a positive change in the Saudi society, particularly for Saudi women.
It is time for them to take their rightful place, commensurate with their potential, to fulfil their ambitions and aspirations, and to contribute to the Kingdom’s society and business communities.
2017 has been a tough year for the Saudi banking sector—how has Samba coped with the challenges?
One of Samba's major strengths, one that earns it high rankings in the banking industry both in the Kingdom and the region, is its ability to adapt to emerging market conditions and challenges.
This nimbleness enables it to maintain its normal high level of performance and reduce its exposure to risk rates within minimum limits. This is what we consistently seek to achieve through our policies.
Are you happy with the way the bank is managing the rising cost of credit and expenses?
Certainly. Our cost management mechanism for both credits and expenses is prudent and professional.
Our commitment to managing costs has resulted in the positive performance that can be seen in the Group's final financial statements.
The IMF believes GDP growth in KSA to be close to zero for 2017 and looking to the whole of 2018, credit demand is expected to weaken in KSA, partly on the back of reduced government spending. Do you foresee any issues as a result of this?
The recently announced 2018 budget is the largest in the history of the Kingdom. In terms of government spending, particularly on capital projects, it has made a significant difference and it reflects the state's commitment to expand development projects.
Such indicators will have positive implications for boosting confidence in the local economy and for encouraging an optimistic outlook on growth rates.
How significant is the MoU between the Capital Markets Authority of Saudi Arabia and theSaudi Arabian General Investment Authority (in October 2017) to build a framework to allow more foreign investment in the Saudi market?
This MoU reflects the growing interest of major international and foreign investors in investing in the Saudi market. It is proof of the confidence in the local economy and it will help encourage investors who want a foothold in the Saudi market.
What is the bank’s commitment to CSR and within that commitment how do you see the partnership with the Ministry of Housing developing?
Social responsibility has always been a top priority for Samba. The bank has sought to institutionalise its activities in light of sustainable development. Our objective is to go beyond the traditional boundaries of community service activities through pioneering development programmes and projects that aim to meet people’s basic needs.
An example of this is our initiative to provide 500 fully furnished housing units to needy families. Samba has signed a MoU with the Ministry of Housing, establishing a real partnership between the public and private sectors to provide decent housing to Kingdom citizens.
Where do you see the competitive position of Samba Financial Group?
Samba is a well-established banking group. Its track record of achievements and expertise make it a leading provider of banking and financial services on both a national and regional level.
Our reputation is not the result of luck, but of decades of achievements, initiatives, and superior performance.
The proof can be seen in the international banking awards and recognition certificates that we have received for many areas of our operations.
What are your key strategies for customer acquisition and retention?
Samba is always a winner in this field. Continuous improvements in customer service quality—beyond customer expectations—remains key to our success in gaining customers’ trust and retaining their loyalty.
At Samba, we always look forward to strengthening our position as a banking partner to our customers.
How do you see the business of banking in Saudi Arabia changing over the medium term?
The banking sector in the Kingdom has always kept abreast of developments and changes in the communities and growing customer needs. I believe this is why financial institutions are more focused than ever on promoting e-banking services.
Their experience in the local market has been remarkably successful and their efforts have enabled customers to meet their banking needs efficiently, safely and responsibly anywhere, anytime.
What steps is the bank taking to ensure robust, secure and future-proof IT systems?
Samba has paid close attention to its e-banking systems and made significant investments in its technological infrastructure so that it meets the needs of the future.
Samba is now at the forefront of technology and is well equipped to meet the requirements of this era of banking services. The bank is also committed to maintaining technical and security standards.
What do you identify as key challenges for Samba now and in the future?
I believe that Samba's main challenge is to maintain its position and reputation, which are based on its achievements and its contributions to the local and regional banking industry.
Samba has the potential, expertise and the technical and human resources to support its efforts to consolidate its position and enhance its gains.