Rania Nashar, CEO of Samba Financial Group, is the first female CEO of a listed commercial bank in Saudi Arabia. She talks about modernization in the kingdom and at the bank, as well as Samba’s role in supporting the reinvention of the national economy.
Global Finance: You have smashed glass ceilings in Saudi Arabia. Do you believe that young Saudi women can climb the executive ladder more easily now?
Rania Nashar: There is no doubt that the developments taking place in the kingdom, specifically in terms of stimulating the role of Saudi women, have removed many barriers—including psychological ones—and are encouraging young women to explore new roles in the economic and commercial landscape. Women are moving forward with confidence and taking their rightful place in the workforce and wider community. Although the presence of women in higher positions was not the direct result of these changes, the new developments taking place certainly inspire many women to expand their participation and actively pursue their aspirations.
GF: Is the current sluggish economy a threat to Samba’s high asset quality?
Nashar: I prefer to describe it as “in economic transformation” rather than “sluggish.” The size of the recently announced budget is the highest in the history of the kingdom, and it includes an unprecedented move to expand investment in capital projects. This is a source of satisfaction and motivation for markets and business sectors. Samba has a high-quality and extremely solid asset base. We have taken all measures to maintain our advanced asset standards, taking into account the potential challenges.
GF: Will Samba expand further into global markets?
Nashar: The eyes of local and global business communities are turning increasingly toward the Saudi market in response to its economic transformation. The kingdom’s Vision 2030 and its national transformation program are providing a firm foundation for robust activity. Our efforts are therefore now focused on local markets. We are increasing our readiness to meet the requirements of the next phase, which includes Samba’s becoming a development partner for the government, supporting its policies and initiatives. Our plan is to keep the door open to all possibilities that will help Samba to expand its presence and range of activity.
GF: What is Samba’s role in promoting growth of the non-oil private sector under Vision 2030?
Nashar: Samba, like other financial institutions, will have a major role in implementing the kingdom’s Vision 2030 and the associated megaprojects that have been announced. It is clear that one of the main pillars of Vision 2030 is to stimulate the role of the private sector in the national economy, diversify sources of income and reduce dependence on oil as the primary source of GDP. This means stimulating markets, encouraging the concept of entrepreneurship and providing more incentives for the growth of the commercial, industrial and service sectors. Samba will have an important role as a provider of financing and advisory solutions.
GF: How would you rate Samba’s digital services?
Nashar: At Samba we are seeing an unprecedented upsurge in online banking and banking services, at both consumer and corporate levels. Today, mobile phones represent a mobile bank in the full meaning of the word. Customers can perform most of their banking transactions around the clock at the push of a button. Samba has gone a long way down this road. We continue to work hard to expand the scope of electronic services and products and to continually upgrade these services with the latest generation of technologies. I can say with confidence that Samba’s digital-banking service is a source of pride for all employees because it is up to the highest international standards.
GF: What is the outlook for Samba’s net interest margin? Can wider margins help to keep earnings strong?
Nashar: Fluctuation in the interest rate is determined by several factors, including the volume of liquidity available and the trend of the US Federal Reserve. This is because the Saudi riyal is pegged with the dollar. The Federal Reserve has raised the interest rates several times during the past year, and I think rates could rise again this year. This will have favorable implications for raising the margins at Saudi banks—especially if it is accompanied by a reduction in expenses.