More banks in the UAE are working behind the scenes to boost the leadership skills among their employees to try to increase customer service.
Some financial companies are teaming up with educational service providers to create customised in-house training programmes that teach better communication, problem-solving and overall leadership skills. Others are quietly bringing in consultants for personal sessions that can run from two days to four months.
"Management talent is a crucial requirement for GCC bank growth and performance," says Salmaan Jaffery, the retail banking sector leader for the Mena region at Ernst & Young, a consultancy.
"Happier employees, as well as higher skilled people with better product knowledge, lead to happier customers."
A recent survey from Ernst & Young found that 10 per cent of banking customers in the GCC have already switched to a different bank because of dissatisfaction, while another 25 per cent plan to change later this year.
One reason for this trend is that the industry lacks the right model for professional development and continuous learning, says Nour Dabban, a consultant for the Dubai office of Horizon International, a recruitment firm.
But a number of banks are trying to change this. Admittedly, some have been reluctant to speak about specific programmes they have started because "they don't really want to advertise that they have skill shortages with leadership management", says Ram Nagi, an employee trainer with The Maya, a consultancy based in Dubai.
Then there is Ajman Bank, which says it will graduate about 20 staff members and recent university alums from its new "banking excellence" programme in mid-March. Its ultimate goal: to create dedicated teams of workers for delivering high-quality service that can manage the needs of all customers.
"At a time when the Islamic financial services industry is experiencing extraordinarily rapid growth, the UAE must continue to develop its people in order to seize the opportunity," says Mohamed Amiri, the deputy chief executive of Ajman Bank.
The bank's programme, which started in September and awards participants with a certificate, has included classroom learning and testing. Individuals have also spent time in specific banking departments, including retail, compliance and risk, depending on which leadership position the employee seems best suited.
"In their rotation, they would have a very specific assignment and it would include working with others and applying what they learned," says Linda Eagle, the president of the Edcomm Group Banker's Academy, the US-based company that collaborated with Ajman Bank while creating its curriculum. "We believe leaders are made, not born."
Other banks have been bringing in consultants to work on specific issues.
Shana Kad, a consultant with Life Effective Coaching in Dubai, says she is working on confidence-building exercises with young executives at one regional bank that asked not to be named.
"Banking execs in this day and age are getting younger and younger," says Ms Kad, who adds that some are in their 30s instead of their 50s as was the case in the past.
"They may be skilled in the job, but mentally, are not geared for it. They get a bit overwhelmed."
Her solution: training these executives into believing they have as much of a right to hold their job as older peers, and decreasing their overall stress level so they adequately perform as leaders.
"It's teaching people how to recognise when they've reached a goal, whether it's early in life or later," says Ms Kad.