Table of Contents
- Common Features of Women’s Bank Branches in Saudi Arabia. 12
- Education, training and development in women’s bank branches. 14
- Benefits of Women-only bank branches in Saudi Arabia. 15
- Conclusion. 16
Women-only banks are common in the Middle East. As the need for more participation of women in the economy increases across most countries of the Middle East, women are starting to take control of their families, their finances, and all their economic activities. They are becoming more independent in how they spend their money. As a result, financial institutions in the region have attracted an increasing number of female customers. Financial institutions have taken advantage of the increasing number of women customers by not only attempting to meet their needs but also employ more women to serve their customers in all their branches.
Due to the culture of the Middle East, women prefer to talk to fellow women while discussing their financial affairs. In this case, women are considered to understand each other’s concerns and can relate comfortably to their personal experience. This necessitated the establishment of women-branches with entire staff of women including tellers, branch managers and personal banking managers. Apart from provided better banking services for women, women-only branches also enhance employment opportunities for women.
Major Banks in Saudi Arabia opened women branches in 1990s. These bank branches are staffed by women only, and serve female customers only. Muslim countries are commonly known for separating male and female banking services due to the culture of the Muslim society. However, separation of male and female roles in banks has been experimented even in the west. For instance, western countries experimented with women bank branches in 1960s. Saudi Arabian banks have some systems and rules which require women to work in separate management positions as a way of conforming to the culture of Saudi culture. For every functional department, there are two managements: female and male managements. For example, customer services, finance, investment banking, personal banking and other departments have two different managements for men and women. This system has seemed costly as it contributes to large overheads. Therefore, Saudi Arabia banks have opened women-only branches which are managed and operated by women, and serve women customers.
In Saudi Arabia (the world’s leading exporter crude oil), women have been given a good opportunity to contribute in the economic activities of the company. In the banking sector, they are given various responsibilities as managers and staff. In fact, several banks have opened separate branches for women in order to enable women to work in banks while at the same time conforming to the culture of the society. In such bank branches, women are considered to be responsible for about $11.9 billion. The National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia has raised the number of women-only branches from 2 in 1980 to 46 in 2013. Saudi Hollandi Bank also plans to increase its women branches from 11 to 15.
This research project will analyse women’s bank branches in Saudi Arabia. It will highlight various banks that have opened women’s branches including Bank of Alrajehy, Riyadh Bank, National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Hollandi Bank, etc. The paper will seek to establish the type of services and internal operations, number of employees and their roles, environmental issues, and the role of women Saudi Arabian banking. The paper will also establish the levels of customer satisfaction in women-only banks.
Traditional ideals and cultural beliefs and attitudes have hindered women in conservative countries such as those of Middle East from entering Islamic Banking Industry. Nowadays the attitude towards women in the Islamic Finance sector has changed, and has become more liberalized. Women in Saudi Arabia now hold positions in finance sector. For instance, Hafya Abuzabibah is now the Vice President and head of Sustainability and Business Excellence Department of National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia. Women can now balance between their career and family; hence they can easily manage Islamic Banking activities and services. Eagle (2011) suggests that 25% of the global Islamic Finance workforce is made of female employees.
As the Islamic Finance sector grows in the Middle East and more women are becoming involved, opportunities have become available for women in banks. The growth of Islamic Finance sector has increased the need for skilled experts and professionals; hence professional women have become even more acceptable in the finance sector than before. As a result, women banks have been developed to employ expert women and serve female banking customers in the Islamic Finance sector.
Riyadh Bank is a large financial institution with operations in Saudi Arabia and the entire Middle East. The bank has a strong corporate and retail banking franchise in its markets, and finances various loans in oil, petrochemicals, and infrastructure projects in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It operates more than 252 branches. Among them, 80 are women branches and 20 are self-service electronic branches. Riyadh has two types of management: men and women management. Each of the two types of management serves different gender as a way of following the cultural norms of Saudi society. In Saudi’s culture, women are not required to work with men at the same place. Riyadh Bank has a total of 2041 branches. 980 of them are women branches.
Nahad Tahar was the first Saudi woman who worked in a bank. She lived in Bahrain and worked in Riyadh bank. She was the founder and CEO of the bank. She was also the first female CEO of a gulf investment bank.
Women’s beaches in the Riyadh bank are supported by the government and operate profitably to provide women with the best personal banking. In 2009, the company’s profitability was recorded at 3,030 billion SR. Riyadh employs more than 22,609 employees, and 10,222 are women. These women work in the Capital and Beaches branches of the bank. Each of the bank’s women branches has a branch manager who is a woman responsible for all branch operations and all employees. Almost all women in Saudi Arabia have bank accounts with Riyadh bank because its Women Beaches Branch provides many financial services including lending, deposit, mortgages, etc. Furthermore, women maintain the Saudi culture of not working with men by opening and operating their own accounts in Riyadh Bank women branches.
Riyadh women bank branches serve women by providing one of the best banking services in Saudi Kingdom. Well-trained professional female banking staff drives the company’s success in banking. Women staff is always interested to serve its customers effectively and enable them to meet their banking needs. The company also provides effective services by taking care of its customers quickly and efficiently, while maintaining complete confidentiality and privacy. The women’s branch operates independently and offers good terms for its women customers in order to increase its profitability. The bank does not require minimum balance or guarantee from a sponsor in order to open an account for its customer. The bank also allows customers to receive bank mails through their own accounts. This enhances privacy of customers.
Riyadh bank targets to achieve two goals: finance service and management. The bank attempts to achieve effective finance services by women and for women, because women need to keep their own money.
There are various employees in Riyadh bank with different responsibilities. Some women employees work in the customer service to take care of their customers and serve them accordingly. Furthermore, they market bank products and financial services for the women branch. Employees also work in various departments: department of stock, department of exchange, department of security, etc. Every women branch in Riyadh Bank also has a card functionality that allows employees to get rewards for their good performance. Branch managers in Riyadh’s women branches meet three times per year in order to discuss various issues of the bank including treasury income, problem-solving, development and strategic plans for the coming years.
Women-focused services in Riyadh’s women-branches
Riyadh is committed to meeting the needs of customers and the changing environmental needs in the market. The company has developed a variety of businesses in order to meet the needs of its customers. In order to cater for various customer needs and respond to changes in the external and internal environment of the business, Riyadh’s women branches have developed effective cash management, accounting and finance services.
Riyadh bank also has a solution for Saudi women who prefer to operate their banks at home without necessarily going to the physical locations of their branches. Riyadh’s online banking is available for all women to work from their homes and control their own accounts online. With an online account in Riyadh Bank, a Saudi woman can undertake transactions such as deposit, loan, online payment and other banking services.
Women branches in Riyadh bank also have also received many awards for their banking services and customer services. For instance, the company received an award for its electronic banking in the Kingdom and Middle East. Furthermore, the bank received markets-based bank awards for Middle East and Africa in 2004.
Women branches of Riyadh bank operate two services: account services and special services. In account services, the bank has various accounts. They include: current account, savings account, time deposit, Riyadh net, and loans and borrowings account. Current account is free to open. Savings account is available for all women customers; both retail and commercial. In terms of special services, Riyadh Bank’s Women branches provide golden service, Islamic Banking and business banking.
CSR and Ethics in Women’s branches of Riyadh Bank
Riyadh’s Women Bank Branches are keen in maintaining ethical banking and corporate social responsibility in the communities it serves. The company provides good ethical banking services in which women customers receive the benefits of banking services just like any other member of the society. Riyadh Bank also supports women and children in Saudi Arabia through volunteer work. Riyadh women’s bank branches participated in volunteer work in 2012 when breast cancer campaigns were conducted in Jeddah and Riyadh. The bank also supported orphaned children and supported poor families. Most of these volunteer works were carried out by women’s branches.
The National Bank of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1953 and became the first bank top be licensed in Saudi Arabia. It is currently the largest bank in Saudi Arabia and one of the leading commercial bank in the entire Arab region. The company has USD 92 billion worth of assets, 3.3 million customers, and 9,600 customers (Riyadh Bank, 2013). 92% of the bank’s employees are Saudi nationals. NCB offers retail banking services and owns 90.71% of NCB capital which is the top investment bank in Saudi Arabia. The bank also has 65.61% stake in Turkish bank, TFKB. The bank operates extensive branch network, including women branches. It also owns nearly 2,000 ATM networks throughout Saudi Arabia (Riyadh Bank, 2013). NCB has also won various awards including “Best Asset Manager” from the Islamic Business and Finance Magazine. It has also received international certification as a result of business continuity management. The Bank has also established women branches to serve women and to support its focus on women empowerment.
Women Empowerment and Focus
National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia is committed to the support of Saudi’s national goals of improving women participation in the national economy. In fact, the bank plans to develop a comprehensive women’s program and utilize the experience of other members of the Global Banking Alliance for Women to promote women participation in the world economy; focusing most of its efforts on Saudi Arabia.
The bank also has several branches for women. Among all its 290 branches in Saudi Arabia, the bank has dedicated 68 branches to be used exclusively by women customers (Riyadh Bank, 2013). All the remaining branches are used by both male and female customers. Women in the company’s workforce are also targeted to double the current number within the next two years. This will increase women participating in the national economy, adding to the current10% female workforce in the company which represents the highest women participation in the entire Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Women staff in the bank is also offered training, mentoring, career development, and mobility paths. This enhances improved skills, knowledge and skills of women employees in the company. Participation of women in training and development enhances great performance of the entire workforce – hence promoting banking service in both mixed-sex and women-only branches of the bank. Various women-based departments and branches established throughout Saudi Arabia by NCB enhance women privacy as they carry out their banking transactions (Al Bawaba Business, 2001).
Speaking before the Global Banking Alliance for Women, NCB’s vice president Hafya Abuzabibah said that women are willing to use any branch in NCB – mixed-sex or women branches (Global Banking Alliance for Women, 2013) However, men are not allowed to use women’s branches. The men’s branches were established in order to allow women conduct their banking comfortably and securely. She suggests that some of the bank’s women are more comfortable to work or use the services of the women-only branches due the culture of Saudi’s society. For instance, when a woman wants to discuss a more complicated issue with officials of the bank, she needs to sit down and take off her face veil. A Saudi woman cannot do that in a mixed bank where men are working or doing business, so they choose women branches where she can discuss issues comfortably with women officers.
Being a member of Global Banking Alliance for Women, NCB focuses on the business case of women’s markets program rather than considering it as a Corporate Social Responsibility tool (Global Banking Alliance for Women, 2013). The bank argues that the women’s markets program is not presented in isolation. Supporting women in the company is not just profitable in absolute terms, but it may also prove profitable relative to other investments. Therefore, banking on women is considered as a profitable investment and should be considered as an opportunity for the bank to perform successfully in the long run. This is in line with the goal of the Kingdom’s government – to increase the participation of women in the economy.
The internal policies and operations of National Commercial Bank
Within NCB, the management is driving change in terms of both policies and operations. This includes policies on and operations by women in the bank. The management is committed in inclusion of women in high-profile projects of the bank. Already, the bank is targeting to double the number of women working for the company. This shows how the company is committed to increasing the number of women working for the bank. NCB not only seeks to increase the number of women working in its banks, but also focus on the development of their skills (Global Banking Alliance for Women, 2013). Women are groomed and mentored for promotions in the company.
Al Rajhi Bank was founded in 1957 and is one of the largest banks in Saudi Arabia and the world at large. It has total assets of SR 267 billion, paid-up capital of $4 billion and a workforce of 8,400 employees (Al Rajhi Bank, 2013). The bank operates its banking business based mainly on Islamic banking principles. It applies the Sharia laws to ensure that it meets the modern financial demands while at the same time upholding the cultural values of its communities and enhancing industry standards and development. The company also recorded a net income profit of SR 7,378 in 2011 (Al Rajhi Bank, 2013). It continues to operate in different segments and grow through diversification in various investment opportunities and corporate banking sectors that are based on a strong retail base (Al Rajhi Bank, 2013)
Women Bank Branches and women banking
Among its 500 branches, more than 100 dedicated ladies branches and about 3,300 ATMs. The first ladies branch of the bank was opened in AlShmaisi in 1979 (Al Rajhi Bank, 2013). Among the ladies branches operated by Al Rajhi are: Abha Al-Dabbab Quarter Branch, King Abdulaziz St. Al-Dowadmi Branch, Dammam Branch, Al-Bawadi Branch, Medina Branch, etc (Al Rajhi Bank, 2013).
Al Rajhi bank offers a Female Credit Card for women. The card offers distinction and privacy for women-customers of the bank. The card offers discounts at retail outlets for women to shop for the best goods and services that suit their interests. The cards are Sharia compliant and do not attract any fees or commissions on late payment. The cards are issued at any branch whether ladies branch or mixed gender branch. It is processed within only 30 minutes (Al Rajhi Bank, 2013). The cards also provide reward options that enable customers to redeem points at specific retail and merchant shops. Ladies banking in Al Rajhi also offers women an opportunity to participate in programs such as painting competition, only provided for women to exercise their talents and enhance their growth, not only in banking and finance, but also in other aspects of life.
Al Rajhi Bank develops various banking projects and programs that mainly focus on the needs of its customers. The bank utilizes the latest investment products and electronic services in order to provide investment services and innovative banking, e.g. e-banking (Al Rajhi Bank, 2013). It offers electronic services that meet customer needs. The bank continues to enhance continued commitment to provide quality products and services for customers. This has even been recognized through various awards received from financial institutions. Customer commitment and focus in the company cuts across all gender, and applies to both gender-mix and women branches.
There are various features that distinguish women’s bank branches in Saudi Arabia from the other mixed-gender banks. These features give them a unique capability to engage women in economic development and enhance growth in women banking in Saudi Arabia. The following are some of the features of women bank branches in Saudi Arabia:
- Car Service: In some situations, women do not drive cars due to their beliefs and attitudes. In this regard, two car service options are provided for women employees of the women bank branches:
- Private car and Chauffeur: this service is available for managers, branch managers, and employees working in VIP departments.
- Shuttle Bus: this is available for any other woman-employee who does not own a car.
- Security: Most women branches are furnished with tight security to ensure that women customers are safe during their banking activities, and that no man is allowed into the women’s bank branches without proper authorization and policy guidelines.
- Annual and Sick Leave: every woman working in women branches has an annual leave and a sick leave whenever she falls sick just like their male counterparts in mixed-gender branches. However, women have an extra leave when they have new babies. They are allowed two years to take care of their children.
- Hours of work: The working hours for female branches always begin at 8:30 AM and end at 5:00 PM during weekdays. This is a shorter period compared to the working hours of men who work from 8:00 AM to 8:30 pm. Women work for such a short period in their women-banks compared to men because they need to have enough time to take care of their families and children.
- Lunch and Breakfast meals are provided at the bank. This is because women cannot go out on their own cars during lunch and tea breaks because the government does not allow that.
Management of women branches requires good qualifications, skills, knowledge and experience. In this regard, women in managerial positions are required to have high education and sufficient skills and knowledge to manage and enhance growth of their banks’ staff. Managers should also be experienced for them to handle key issues affecting employees at the workplace, e.g. conflicts. The employees and staff of the company should also have good education and relevant skills and knowledge to undertake their normal finance and banking operations. Furthermore, employees in women-branches should speak both Arabic and English because banking customers speak different languages.
Training and development is also important in women branches. Eagle (2011) suggests that women who are planning to enter the Middle East financial and Islamic banking industry should be prepared for their jobs by acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills in order to perform well in the industry. It is only through training that women who work in women-only bank branches can learn to communicate effectively with their female customers. with sufficient knowledge and skills, women employees can be able to persuade their female customers to feel comfortable and confident about their banking experience. Training can also enable women to gain familiarity with their products and services that are available in their women-branches in order to sell the products using proper policy and procedures. If this is achieved, the women employees will be able to protect themselves, their customers and their banks.
Training and development for women who are already working in women-only branches enables them to gain additional experience and improve their skills in order to get promotion and take up senior positions in main officers. Education can also be allowed for current employees in order to improve the qualifications of the women employees. This also earns them a promotion to senior positions in their own branches. Women who receive ongoing training in women-only branches after they have been hired by banks will be highly equipped with the necessary tools and experience to climb the corporate ladder in the banking industry.
Women branches in Saudi Arabia have contributed in many ways to individual women in Saudi Arabia, their families, banks, and the entire economy of the kingdom at large. One of the most significant benefits of women-only branches is that it promotes the goal of the kingdom – to increase women participation in the economy of the Kingdom. Whenever women get into the position of management or staff-level in women-only branches, they get to utilize their skills more comfortably than they could do in mixed-gender banks (Bagchi, 2013). As a result, their productivity in the bank improves, and the bank’s overall performance improves as well. This is because women working in their own banks can discuss issues openly with clients and become free to conduct their banking services effectively.
Women customers of banking institutions also carry out their banking and gain banking experience more satisfactorily in women-only banks than in mixed-gender banks. Due to the culture of Saudi people, women are not allowed to work with men (Bagchi, 2013). Therefore, women customers cannot communicate well with male staff whenever they visit the banks for services. As a result, they may not receive good services; hence they cannot utilize the opportunities and benefits that baking can bring them, e.g. borrowing and depositing in the right accounts.
A women’s branch also encourages the participation and contribution of women entrepreneurs in the economy of the Kingdom. This may lead to increased growth in the banking sector and the economy in general (Bagchi, 2013). Women who work in women-only bank branches can have a voice in decision making of the banking sector because they are given full responsibility to make decisions for their bank branches. Furthermore, women-only banks allow banks to increase employment for women. This improves the income earnings of women and reduces unemployment rates of women in the Kingdom.
Women-only banks also ensure that the banking sector cares for the needs of women. These banks provide incentives to women such as allowances, maternity leaves, and a balanced work-family life. Flexibility of women at work in women’s bank branches allows them to mingle with their families and become generally useful to their children and the society at large.
As the Arab communities are moving towards more liberalized economy where women can participate in all aspects of national economic development, banks in Saudi Arabia have moved in a good pace to develop women-only branches that are run by women employees to serve women customers. Some of the Banks that have established women-only branches include: Bank of Alrajehy, Riyadh Bank, National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Hollandi Bank, etc. Banks that have women-only banks benefit from the productivity and good performance of women who could have otherwise become uncomfortable and less productive in mixed gender banks because Saudi Arabia women are not allowed by culture to work together with men. The kingdom at large also benefits from the women branches because it leads to increased participation of women in the economy. Women working in women branches also develop appropriate knowledge and skills to enable them secure a good future for their banks and the entire financial industry and banking sector.
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