Paul Trowbridge is the chief executive of the Sharjah-based United Arab Bank (UAB). The Australian, who joined the lender in 2009 from National Bank of Oman and is spearheading UAB's Dh40 million (US$10.8m) expansion in Abu Dhabi, says the financial crisis may have made everybody more cautious, but life is not all about saving money.
Is the country's banking industry back on track?
I would say so. If you think about it, banking is one of those leading indicators of how people feel about themselves and also the environment. Do they feel confident about the future? Let me give you an idea: the UAE last year had economic growth of just under 5 per cent and that is about three times the euro zone and the United States. I think that translates into people feeling much more confident in this part of the world than they were in the past couple of years and also compared to the rest of the world. One of the things that people have gotten used to is what I call the "new normal". It's not as though it is buoyant, robust, here-we-go-again-type growth. It is more about saying the world we are living in, we've seen some bad things happen, we've gotten used to them and can deal with them.
Also, the people who are here, compared to three years ago, are what we term committed expatriates. They have a career here, not a job. So these people are not here for two or three years and then will disappear. We've reached a good solid core of people. And that's what a bank wants to see.
Does the "new normal" mean that banks - and people - are more cautious now?
I think what we've seen, as painful as it was for some people and certainly some banks, is that it was a good cleansing process. People have become much more cautious because of it and that is a good thing. It has reminded governments, companies and individuals that what is important is things like cash flow.
Consumers in the UAE would love to see lower credit interest rates and there's been a lot of talk that the Central Bank will soon cap rates. What are banks doing to prepare for this?
I think a responsive bank is a bank that always protects its customers and part of that protection is to structure the facilities with the right sort of pricing. It doesn't matter whether a credit-card pricing might be lower than somebody else, but if you advance too much to the wrong person, it doesn't matter whether the rates are lower. Too much debt is too much debt.
What is key to managing your personal finances?
Of most importance is managing cash flow and understanding the timing, not only the amounts; when money comes in and when money comes out. You can earn large amounts of money, but it's got to come in at the right time and you've got to ensure there are good cash flows.
For expatriates, it may be to repatriate or remit money home. Are they getting the best possible currency rate? Are they doing it at the right times?
For locals, I think it's actually understanding and managing their own requirements and knowing where they are in their life. To understand there is going to be a growth phase for them if they have a young family and that it's a big commitment for them. And understanding that, in 20 years' time, perhaps things will be easier for them. But I would always ask people to look very carefully at their cash flow.
What's your best savings tip?
I would answer this question in a different way. Sometimes, we shouldn't focus on saving money. We should focus on making money. It could be about working out what you do well and maximising your own potential and that could translate into income. But at the same time, it's not only about saving money, it is also about having a good-quality life. If you work hard, you deserve a good-quality lifestyle. I always look at not daily money as such, but making money and making the most out of what you've got as an individual. And rewarding yourself accordingly.