Banks in the Gulf Arab region are keen on increasing their return of equity until 2015 through developing products and services for the almost untapped market for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
This is the result of a survey among 47 C-level and senior executives at major banks in the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) done by global management consulting firm Accenture presented in Dubai on Tuesday.
Retail banking and private banking, conventional and Islamic, will be one of the main drivers for growth, according the survey. About 91 percent of the respondents said they aim to increase their investment in the SME field and 85 percent of the respondents confirmed that they will invest in the retail banking area.
"The demand structure in the clients' pool changes," said Amr Al-Saadani, managing director of Financial Services Industry at Accenture Middle East, "Arab SME founders are getting younger, and an increasing number of women found their own company in the Arab world."
"More than half of the GCC total population of 40 million people is younger than 30, and women's share in work is constantly increasing."
While many local Arab banks launched departments dedicated for women in recent years, "demand for skilled banking staff is outstripped by supply."
In order to overcome the shortage of talents, "53 percent of the respondents plan to improve coaching and mentoring, 51 percent want to revamp compensation through higher salaries and bonuses, and 47 percent aim to increase transparency in career paths."
Competition is high among the banks to find the best talent, " especially in Saudi Arabia," Al-Saadani told Xinhua.
Banks in the Kingdom are not only confronted with the growing pressure from the market, but also because the Kingdom's rule of " Saudization," which demands firms that at least 51 percent of its staff must be Saudi nationals.
The potential in providing loans to SMEs is huge. According the Al-Saadani, only 2 percent of loans in the GCC are granted to SMEs, "compared to an average of 27 percent in the OECD countries."
The potential fields of growth, however, are not solely based on monetary aspects. "The need for call centers and service branches is also a field banks want to extend," according the survey. About 93 percent of all respondents regard a "robust customer management" as a top driver of profits and growth through 2015.
Al-Saadani said a third of banking executives aim to grow their businesses by growing inorganically, "meaning we will see more mergers and acquisitions in the coming years."
In October, Dubai's largest bank Emirates NBD took over a small Islamic lender named Dubai Bank. But in Qatar, a planned merger between International Bank of Qatar or IBQ and its rival Al Khaliji Bank did not materialize earlier in June this year.