In spite of its position as an economic mecca, graduate banking jobs are becoming scarcer and more specialized.
Expatriates account for more than 75% of the workforce in the UAE, making it a key employment destination for people with the right skillset. As one of the fastest growing economic centers in the world, the UAE would appear to be a great area for banking career opportunities. In spite of its reputation as an economic hub, however, the UAE is no longer the magnet it once was for banking and finance professionals.
By the end of 2015 the banking sector comprised 23 national banks and 34 foreign banks with 957 branches throughout the Emirates, as well as various other finance related entities. Despite expansion within the sector, and driven by the present economic climate, many international banks have closed down their commercial banking operations or relocated them to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).
The banking industry has additionally suffered from the government’s drive to recruit more Emiratis into the workforce. Banks have led the field in Emiratization with many positions previously occupied by expats now open only to Emiratis. This is particularly true in the lower echelons of banking.
While banks have been among the most aggressive industries in the UAE to hire Emiratis, the absence of locals in top level management is noteworthy. Foreign employees still rule the roost in the majority of chief executive positions.
Expats still dominate investment banking, while locals tend to occupy junior and mid-level positions in commercial banking. An overwhelmingly large percentage of expat professionals working in banking and related areas are employed in international banking and financial organizations, operating from within the Dubai International Financial Centre free zone. Despite the hard drive toward Emiratisation, there are insufficient experienced and specialized UAE nationals to meet the manpower demands of the banking sector.
Any banking graduate looking to relocate to the UAE must be highly specialized and bring an in-demand skillset to the table. Although jobs may be scarce and competition for positions fierce, there are still entry-level opportunities to be found in private banking.
Global markets, investment banking, wealth management, venture capital, private equity funds and asset allocation are areas where foreign expertise is required. There is also a growing demand in risk and compliance, particularly for those with anti-money laundering expertise. In 2016, several positions in risk management and monetary and reserve management have been advertised by the UAE Central Bank, which regulates the banking sector throughout the entire Emirates.
Increasingly, the best positions are not being advertised at all. The most promising young bankers are being head-hunted or poached from other organizations. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds does not advertise vacancies at all, choosing to cherry pick the most promising graduate candidates from its recruitment portal where CVs can be posted all year around.