Interview: Rania Nashar
What specific opportunities does Vision 2030 provide for the growth of bank financing?
RANIA NASHAR: Vision 2030 is paving the way for a qualitative change in the Kingdom’s economic system. We foresee a recovery in the business environment, given the active investment and economic movement that we believe will accompany the restructuring of critical infrastructure plans and mega-projects. This recovery will attract foreign investment, prompt the development of new economic cities, open the door to stimulated production, and encourage small and medium-sized enterprises. We believe that growth indicators from all sides will have an impact on the banking sector. Saudi banks are well known for prudent policies, which give them the ability to adjust to market changes and fluctuations, and reduce the cost of capital.
To what extent will the planned introduction of new fiscal levies affect consumer lending?
NASHAR: Financial activity is closely linked to any economic activity that is affected by market changes. However, the extent of any negative impact depends on the degree to which banks are able to adapt to changing requirements, regulations and procedures, and strike the balance between the interests of all parties. I believe that Saudi banks have the capacity to deal with the imposition of any new fees, and maintain the pace of their operations, financing transactions and banking activities to best serve their clients’ interests.
What risks do credit cards and non-performing loans (NPLs) pose for the Kingdom?
NASHAR: The biggest risk facing the credit card industry today relates largely to skimming, or the reproduction of information and customer data leakage, a major challenge for banking institutions. However, we are working hard in the Kingdom to adopt procedures and establish standards that will limit exposure to such operations. These steps will make Saudi banks among the safest banking institutions in the world, especially in the area of credit card trading and loans. The ratio of NPLs in the Kingdom is classified as being within the best ratios globally, with low levels that account for barely higher than 1.5% of total loans.
How are digital innovations affecting traditional banking models in Saudi Arabia?
NASHAR: The banking industry is becoming a rapidly evolving digital world, and this affects most banking services. In Saudi Arabia, and Samba in particular, the industry is enjoying a pioneering experience. It blazed a new trail early on in terms of introducing and adopting banking technologies. This gives it a highly competitive edge and makes it one of the most robust economic sectors, at both local and regional levels. We have focused on improving the quality of banking services and are working closely with our customers so that we are able to meet their banking needs. We intend to keep pace with global developments in this area, especially in the generation of smartphone and tablet technology, which represents the future of banking activity.
How has the participation of women in the financial services workforce been encouraged?
NASHAR: Anyone who follows the Saudi economic scene can see the concrete steps that the Kingdom has taken to encourage the participation of more Saudi women in the business sector and expand employment opportunities available to them. The banking sector has played a leading role in consolidating these efforts. For example, the number of jobs occupied by women in Saudi banks represents 13.5% of total employees in banking institutions. On a qualitative level, banks have pushed more women to senior leadership positions within the industry because of their belief in women’s management abilities. For this reason, I believe that banks are key supporters of the Kingdom’s drive to empower women, a sentiment echoed by Vision 2030.