Business | Banking

Islamic banks hit right note with Emirati, Saudi youth

Institutions make inroads in target audience of a young crowd

  • By Manoj Nair, Associate Editor
  • Published: 00:00 July 4, 2011
  • Gulf News

Preference of Islamic vs. Conventional banks
  • Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: All those messages local and international banks have been plastering on billboards and streaming over the net and mobile phones are having an impact on their intended audience.

Emirati teens and their counterparts in Saudi Arabia are pretty clued in on what they expect from their banks and how they intend to go about getting it, according to a new regional survey.

Not just that, Islamic banking services and products are much preferred by this demographic, with UAE teens more inclined than those in Saudi Arabia, said the survey conducted by AMRB in association with TRU, both part of the Kantar Group.

Banks are keenly aware of the potential and what needs to be done. "You see the young crowd coming out of prestigious institutions and most banks are trying to catch their attention early," said Sundar P., executive vice-president and head of consumer banking at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB).

"This has been the case with most banks but it has got more active in the last year or so. There's accelerated focus on tie-ups, packaging product deals, etc.

"There is a good chance that a bank that gets into an early association with a new client can do so for life."

In fact, the first two choices of UAE teens on where they would open bank accounts were Islamic financial institutions, with Dubai Islamic Bank preferred by 34 per cent and Abu Dhabi Islamic bank by 28 per cent. The National Bank of Abu Dhabi followed with 7 per cent.

Demographic

The banks for their part are assiduously working on getting their profiles right with the young UAE local demographic who would shortly be entering the job market. "There is certainly a lot of activity, and most banks would be very comfortable doing this kind of [client] acquisition," said the head of the credit cards division at a local banking major.

"From a banker's perspective, it's mostly about how comfortable you are with lending to a demographic." With 68 per cent, Dubai Islamic Bank also topped the rankings of financial institutions of which UAE teens had "spontaneous awareness," with Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank recording a strong 49 per cent in second spot.

They were followed by First Gulf Bank and Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADCB).

"Banks that abide by Sharia law are considered highly by teens in the region and most would prefer to bank with an Islamic institution, more so in the UAE and Saudi Arabia," said a spokesperson for AMRB.

Market

"The [financial services] market here is quite cluttered and it's mostly local or Islamic banks that have an edge among local Arabs. Local banks generate much more awareness than international ones in the UAE and most make it to the Top Ten list despite the strong influence the latter category has had in this market."

Sundar said: "We do have Islamic banking operations running parallel to the conventional and what we are seeing is its contribution has been going up in the last two years. Of whatever we are acquiring new, 40 to 50 per cent is Sharia enabled."

Teen preferences in Saudi Arabia run somewhat differently. Among the top four banks with which they had spontaneous awareness, Saudi British Bank (which is HSBC's representation in the kingdom) and Saudi American Bank (the Citibank representation) came in joint third, while the top spots were taken by Riyad Bank and Al Rajhi Banking and Invest.

Gender

On matters of gender, the AMRB report found that "The interest to get a credit card is quite high, especially among [national] girls in the UAE.

"They are very keen to have a credit card and debit card, and have a higher interest in banking products compared to the boys," the report added.

"Overall, the interest in banking products is highest in UAE and lowest in Egypt as a result of their awareness and exposure to this category and the level to which these products have developed in each market."

All of which is sweet music for the credit card manager at the UAE bank.

"It's a market that's potential is far from being mined to the fullest," he said. "The best part is that it keeps growing every year.

"Banks who can deliver to a certain optimum service level can have these newcomers for a long time… a very long time."

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