To complement their projected growth this year, international banks with regional headquarters in Dubai are planning to increase their workforce in various strategic and growing segments.
Senior bankers speaking to Emirates Business said the region continues to provide healthy business opportunities and building on a long-term plan means continued investment in quality people.
Standard Chartered Bank, whose UAE operations house more than three per cent of its 75,000 workforce, is looking at doubling its relationship managers in the country over the next two years. The bank currently has 180 relationship managers in the consumer banking segment, which includes small and medium enterprises, private banking and priority banking.
"We are actively hiring, looking to grow our relationship managers in the UAE by 40 per cent this year. My goal is to double relationship managers over two years," said Chris de Bruin, Standard Chartered Head of Consumer Banking for the UAE.
Shift in strategy
Since last year, Standard Chartered has been aggressively beefing up its portfolio of affluent customers in emerging markets by recruiting relationship managers.
"It is a universal strategy to grow on the value segment," said Tracy Clarke, Group Head of Human Resources and Communications, Standard Chartered.
A number of banks have in recent months shifted their strategy from high-maintenance smaller accounts towards the affluent – who are fewer in number but with a higher net worth. This is not a move welcomed by everyone. De Bruin said: "Our strategy here is not to focus exclusively on high-value customers. We [would] serve anybody, but to do well with high-value customers, you have to be very attentive.
"Relationship managers are expensive and we use them for our high-value customers."
Despite the shake-up of the high networth individual segment, wealth management and the equity/research business that complements it, as well as investment banking, continue to do well in the region, said Saeed Maghdoori, President and COO - Mena, Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
"We have had a focused increase of head count," he said. "You don't plan your growth based on a three- to 12-month cycle. You plan based on a long-term vision of the region."
Maghdoori said the bank has doubled its equities and research team from 2008 to 2010 and is looking to grow further. It is also looking at expanding in Saudi Arabia, where it had set up an office one-and-a-half years ago.
"We are in discussions with the regulators to expand the scope of our licence to be able to provide access to international investors. Our current licence allows wealth management and investment banking advisory," he said.
RBS has recently identified the UAE as a strategic hub to serve its large corporate and institutional clients based in the Middle East and Africa; and the bank is looking at "very ambitious" revenue targets for 2010.
For this, Simon Penney, Head of RBS Global Banking and Markets for Middle East and Africa, said the bank will continue to look for "talented people as we further build our investment banking presence in the Middle East".
The bank has recently brought in a new regional head for the equities division as it seeks to expand in that segment.
"Besides the UAE, we also have a branch in the Qatar Financial Centre and we are interested in expanding local talent in Qatar as well," Penney said.
The trend now is that banks pinpoint the growing business segments and bring more people on board to service that area, while downsizing in less valued segments.
"We are not interested in a huge factory of people processing papers," said de Bruin. "When we say we want to grow 10 per cent, it doesn't mean we want to grow people by 10 per cent. It depends which businesses do well… and we're always interested in investing in the businesses that do well."
"For example," he said, "we have a large call centre in India, but because there have been fewer calls, the number of call centre agents fell by 30 per cent. Certain roles get smaller."
Standard Chartered said it had seen 120-150 people move away from the bank in 2008, but most of that was due to natural attrition and the strategy shift of the bank.
"In 2008, we made a strategic adjustment to focus more on wealthier people, so there are some people that we cannot redeploy, so we gave them a redundancy package. But we didn't have a premeditated redundancy plan," de Bruin said.
Last year, however, saw a growth trend. "We've actually been growing in 2009 in head count because we are now on our new growth strategy," he said.
No local redundancies were made at Lloyds TSB Middle East, said Richard Musty, Managing Director.
"Our recruitment strategy, which has a clear focus on emiratisation, remains the same," he said, adding that it hopes to grow its emiratisation figure from 39 per cent in 2009 to 43 per cent by the end of 2010.
"[This year] we will see more focus on customer service as businesses will have learnt valuable lessons from managing through a recession. Those businesses that have performed financially well will be extremely well placed for when the economic upturn returns to Dubai," Musty said.
Maghdoori said the consolidation of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch has also not resulted in any job cuts.
"There is no overlap and no pain, so it just became stronger," he said. "BoA presence was more in commercial banking, while Merrill Lynch was more into wealth management and investment banking and the equity business."
Citibank, whose global head count was systematically reduced by 25 per cent from 3,74,000 in mid-2008 to 2,80,000 as of August 2009, is offering some new jobs, but the head count growth at the bank would be flat overall this year, according to sources close to the bank. Citi has around 3,500 full-time employees in the Middle East, of whom around 1,000 are in the UAE.
According to people familiar with the bank, it did not have an active redundancy plan for the Middle East.
Most of its businesses in the region fall within the Citicorp part of the bank, as classified by the bank itself, which comprises businesses that are poised for further growth, versus the Citi Holding assets, which are marked for sale and divestiture.