x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Creating a savings culture in the UAE

Mohammed Al Shamsi is like most Emirati teenagers of his age who likes to go out with his friends and spend some of his monthly allowance on the latest brand clothes and gadgets. But what sets him apart from other teenagers is the fact that he is what is called a "minor millionaire".

Mohammed Qasim Al Ali, the CEO of National Bonds, says that minors make up 16 per cent of UAE bondholders. Randi Sokoloff / The National
Mohammed Qasim Al Ali, the CEO of National Bonds, says that minors make up 16 per cent of UAE bondholders. Randi Sokoloff / The National

Mohammed Al Shamsi is like most Emirati teenagers of his age. The 17-year-old youth likes to go out with his friends and spend some of his monthly allowance on the latest brand clothes and gadgets, such as an iPhone, an iPod and a BlackBerry.

But what sets him apart from other teenagers is the fact that he's what is called a "minor millionaire". And has been since the age of 13, when he won a giveaway prize of Dh1 million through National Bonds Corporation, the Dubai-based Sharia-compliant savings scheme.

What also makes him different from his peers is that he's been saving his allowance since the age of six, when his father set up a National Bonds savings scheme for him.

Thanks to his parents, the year 12 student, who attends Al Dhafra Private School in Al Ain, understands the importance of saving his money and planning for the future.

"My father wants me to prepare for my future life, for marriage," says Mr Al Shamsi, who is the second youngest of four children.

"I have three sisters and they are also saving. But I have saved the most."

To date, he has Dh1.2m tucked away for his future, boosted by that National Bonds prize of Dh1m.

"I was surprised," he says of the win.

"Yes, it has helped me for my future. But for now, I am not thinking to play with it or to use it. I am thinking of my future, such as when I settle down and have a family."

Mr Al Shamsi is an anomaly in the UAE because of the lack of savings culture among residents, particularly among the under-18 demographic.

But since the financial crisis, this has been recognised by the UAE Government as a serious issue that needs to be addressed and it has mandated the country's banks and savings corporations, such as National Bonds, to embark on a range of nationwide financial literacy campaigns to encourage more residents to save and to understand the implications of sound money management.

National Bonds has spearheaded the campaign, while a few banks have followed, including Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, which launched its Your Money campaign last year, and the Dubai-based Emirates NBD, the country's biggest lender by assets, which last month kicked off its Pay Yourself First promotion to encourage its customers to put away their savings as soon as they were paid, rather than at the end of the month, when they were less likely to have any money left over to put away.

National Bonds, however, believes the cornerstone of its campaign belongs with the country's youth - and says it is winning the battle in creating a savings culture among minors.

According to a recent survey by National Bonds, there has been a 12 per cent year-on-year growth in its customers below the age of 18, while there has been a 25 per cent increase in the amounts of funds being saved by this demographic.

With more than 660,000 customers, minors make up 100,000 of that total, or 16 per cent of bondholders. The survey found that Asian minors made up 23 per cent of the total of under-18 savers, with Indians and Pakistanis the biggest savers at 20 per cent.

"It is definitely a success - another achievement that takes us one step further in our mission of creating a savings culture in the UAE," says Mohammed Qasim Al Ali, the chief executive of National Bonds, which announced a profit rate of 2 per cent for 2011.

"What makes it even more relevant is that this generation is the toughest to appeal to because they have not yet been subjected to life's expenses, such as rent, cars, utilities, marriage, children and education, so it is harder to convince them about the importance of savings."

Despite not experiencing the responsibilities of adulthood, Mr Al Shamsi says that is exactly what his father has been preparing him for.

"My allowance is about Dh5,000 a month," he says. "Every month, I save maybe Dh2,000 to Dh3,000 of that.

"My father has taught me to save money because you should expect anything at any time. So you should save money for the future in case anything happens, such as losing a job."

Mr Al Ali agrees. "Our goal is not only to increase their awareness of savings, but to equip them with the right tools and habits to assist them in doing that so that we can see the effects on the stability of the economy and less dependence on bank loans or government handouts," he says.

To leverage on the popularity of its savings schemes for under-18 savers, which have to be taken out by parents, Mr Al Ali says National Bonds is visiting schools around the country and handing out savings boxes to students, as well as educating them on the importance of adopting healthy financial habits from an early age.

"We are planning on holding more of those sessions in the near future throughout the UAE," he says. "The more we can engage with them on a face-to-face level the better results we will get."

Since Mr Al Shamsi became a millionaire four years ago, his friends have also started to invest their pocket money in National Bonds.

'They are happy for me, of course," he says. "But everyone would like it, so they are trying, too. I hope they win and get money like this.

"All teenagers should be learning to save; to plan their future and to not make their future harder when they get older. And I will teach my children what my father taught me - to save."

 

fglover@thenational.ae