Bankers flock to Dubai once again as reality bites in the West

Expats who had once left the region for want of opportunities or as a result of companies scaling down their operations are returning in large numbers to the UAE for a second stint in the country.

One category of professionals that are packing their bags for the Gulf nation are one of the higher paid ones – the bankers.

As the local UAE economy grows and job opportunities increase as compared to other markets in the world, bankers, being the financially prudent ones, know where the extra icing is.

And it isn’t just the money. The lifestyle that Dubai and the rest of the UAE offer is as big a draw as the big cheques they get at the end of the month (and, of course, the end-of-year bonuses).

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the weak growth backdrop in their home countries just adds to the appeal of working in the UAE, which also offers a fast-track to their career progression due to the rapid overall growth being seen by the country.

“Bankers are slowing starting to return [to the UAE]… primarily in the retail space. The movement within front office positions is still limited. Most people are returning due to the lack of opportunities in their own countries and the lifestyle [that UAE offers],” explained Jennifer Campori, Managing Director, Middle East and Europe, at Charterhouse Partnership, a recruitment firm.

As has been the case for the past few years, most European financial centres are still reeling under pressure with layoffs and stunted job growth.

According to Ernst & Young’s recent European Banking Barometer, cost-cutting will continue to bite in first half of 2013 with more job losses in the banking industry across Europe.

In fact, reducing staff, in both retail and investment banks in Europe, has risen up the priority list and is now second only to the compulsory regulation and risk management agenda.

The findings of E&Y survey reveal that 45 per cent of European banks expect headcount to decrease in the next six months. Banks in The Netherlands and the UK will be worst affected, with 70 and 64 per cent of banks, respectively, expecting to shed jobs.

Banks in the Nordics are more optimistic, but even in this region, 22 per cent are expecting to reduce headcount. The report, published in December 2012, and does not augur well for bankers’ jobs prospects in Europe, but is fuelling a race to Dubai among finance professionals.

“The banking sector is picking up in the UAE, mostly because there is cash-flow in the market as funds move to the UAE from other Arab countries, and also because investors gradually see new opportunities in the region and interest is slowly coming back,” Konstantina Sakellariou, Partner, Marketing & Operations Director at premier recruitment consultancy Stanton Chase International, told Emirates 24|7.

Not surprising, then, bankers and their bonuses are back in the UAE. No doubt, they bled during the slowdown years, but they also received some of the biggest pay-hikes in the country in 2012.

Data from recruitment specialists Aon Hewitt Middle East shows that, among the professional services sector, banks provided the highest salary increase, at 8.1 per cent, in 2012, with many experts expecting 2013 to be even better than last year.

“Lifestyle, new experiences, a stepping stone towards the East (with Hong Kong and Singapore being big financial centres) and occasionally, the remuneration can be attracting factors,” adds Sakellariou.

“Yes, there is a slight increase in bankers returning to Dubai. Banking is tough in any part of the world. However, it is slightly better in the UAE. With the lifestyle Dubai offers, as well career opportunities and remuneration, it will always be the number one choice for many professionals,” added Krishna Patel, Managing Consultant at Quest Search and Selection.

Recruitment experts suggest that even as bankers want to return and are doing so, getting a foothold in the industry is easier said than done.

Hasnain Qazi, Middle East Business Manager at Huxley Associates, a Dubai-based recruitment consultancy, sees more bankers wishing to relocate here but says there is no push-button to land a job in Dubai.

“Bankers would like to move back to the UAE given the resilience of the economy and the sector itself, along with typical reasons [for which] most expats wish to relocate here. However, wanting to, and being able to get a job in banking industry are two very different things and the competition for good jobs is very intense,” he said.

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