The UAE banking sector has responded well to the COVID-19 crisis, according to H.E. General Manager Jamal Al Jassmi of the Emirates Institute for Banking and Financial Studies (EIBFS), the UAE member of APABI. The UAE was not accustomed to remote work, but it quickly adapted to new work models, which it will probably keep in part after the crisis is finished.
Because the UAE has good digital infrastructure, business was not disrupted after bank branches closed and staff moved to the work from home model. Banks took the opportunity to supplement their staff training. EIBFS gave an agile response by starting programs in just one week, and it also developed its own Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platform for banking in 2020 called Insight. The platform currently has over 100 courses and more than 10,000 learners.
The overall UAE economy was not severely affected, despite an increase in bad loans. The central bank introduced the Targeted Economic Support Scheme (TESS) in March 2020, which has since been extended until 2022. TESS provided banks with zero interest funding, in exchange for postponing repayments for customers affected by COVID. Its total size reached AED 250 billion (USD 68 billion).
UAE is now well on the road to recovery. It has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates, at more than one dose per resident, and 40% of the population has taken two doses.
Jamal believes there’s a consensus that work won’t return to normal once all in-person activities are again possible, now that remote operations have been fully demonstrated. Most positions will require only 2-3 days of in-person presence. Further partial-day schedules could be arranged for mothers who must take care of children. UAE banks previously had high operating costs for the region, in terms of both real estate and staff, so the new system may help resolve old problems.
EIBFS has adjusted the content of its training in response to the new situation. In the past year, it has introduced “learning journeys,” which re-organize the course content for different career paths. A total of 12 roles are covered, and each pathway takes 3-4 months. This year, it also plans to introduce an AI system to guide personalized learning objectives.
Spurred by the pandemic, the UAE is also moving into online-only banking. The digital bank Liv has been joined by new entrants such as Zand Bank, and new neobanks including ADQ will be coming soon. This digitalization process will ensure continued demand for new types of skills.
This process will create losers as well as winners. In particular, one current initiative by EIBFS and the UAE government is called “Emiratization,” a push to include UAE nationals in mid- and top-level bank executive positions. EIBFS is working with banks to ensure that the Emiratis are upskilled and reskilled from their current roles in retail banking to more specialized areas, as 70% of the Emirati workforce is in retail banking, which faces digital headwinds. EIBFS hopes that its work will help banks and their employees will smoothly transition to a more digitalized post-COVID world.