Last year was a year to forget in many parts of the UAE financial services industry. Thousands of jobs were cut and negative sentiment prevailed. Fortunately, the outlook is beginning to brighten, according to a survey by recruiter Robert Walters – its Middle East Jobs Index recorded a 32 per cent increase in demand for banking and financial services professionals in the country, and a 26 per cent rise among accounting and finance staff.

But although the sector is stabilising, digital transformation has triggered concerns among many employees regarding job security. With the banking sector using chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) to automate mundane and tedious tasks while delivering sought-after cost-savings and enhanced efficiency, will banks be able to avoid laying off human employees?

At National Bank of Fujairah (NBF), head of HR Abdulla Aleter believes that the future is not about the technology itself, but rather about using automation to empower the workforce and accelerate business growth. “The biggest challenge – that can be turned into an opportunity – is how to leverage talented employees to move from mere digitisation to innovation and be the true drivers of business acceleration,” he says.

It seems NBF is winning on this front: the bank posted a net profit of Dh471.9m (US$128m) for the year end in December 2017, and its operating profit grew 5.5 per cent in a year.

And although it is one of the Gulf’s smaller retail banks, with 16 branches across the Emirates, NBF not only invests in the latest digital technology, but also has a track record of empowering its employees – which is perhaps one reason behind an employee engagement level of 77 per cent and turnover rate of just 3.6 per cent, one of the lowest in the market.

“At NBF, we believe that to fully engage all employees, it is important to segment staff and take actions based on their specific needs, whether this be Emirati employees, branch employees, managers or millennials. For each group, we develop different engagement strategies and action plans,” says Aleter.

Employees receive a minimum number of days’ training annually, on everything from banking and finance to soft skills, leadership and management. And the bank encourages a culture of knowledge sharing and job rotation to equip employees with a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of the business.

Team-building activities, a robust wellness programme, flexible benefits, a highly accessible management team, and a focus on listening to employees and taking immediate action to resolve any issues, all contribute to keeping employees engaged, adds Aleter.

Providing training and learning opportunities and having individual career development plans are two of the most important ways to attract, engage and retain the best talent, adds Aleter. NBF works closely with employees and their line managers to identify areas for growth and potential career paths.

Last year, there were no enforced job losses and the bank says it has no plans to axe any jobs this year either. Aleter recognises that job security is crucially important for NBF employees – so the bank’s priority has been to do everything possible to provide stability for staff.

The bank has also won numerous awards: in 2018 alone, its honours include ‘HR Team of the Year’, ‘Nationalisation Award’ and the ‘Overall Gulf Employee Experience Award’. Proof that although technology, automation and process enhancement may enable a bank to deliver competitively, people remain the driving force.

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