Saturday 13th June 2015
Our first member in Oman, bank muscat, is a leader in the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) segment in the country. GBA spoke with Ilham Al-Hamaid, Assistant General Manager, SME Credit & Marketing & Regional Corporates, about bank muscat’s current Women’s Market program and the bank’s plan to expand it.
GBA: Can you share with us some insights into the business and economic environment in Oman?
Oman’s population is approximately 4.2 million, of which 1.84 million are expatriates. Women constitute around 49 percent of the population. The Sultanate’s economy recorded healthy growth in 2014 on the back of sustained expansionary policies pursued by the government. As part of the 5-year development plan as well as Vision 2020 [a plan for Oman’s economic future up to the year 2020 that was unveiled in 1995], the government is focusing on diversifying the economy and also on development of national talent.
GBA: Tell us a little about female participation in the economy, both as employees and as business owners.
I can proudly say that Oman offers equal access for both women and men in terms of property ownership, business opportunities and education, and women are able to serve in the government at the Minister level. To show his commitment to women and their contribution to society and the economy, his Majesty [Sultan Qaboos bin Said] assigned the 17th of October as Women’s Day in Oman. He began to focus on women in the 1970s and things have consistently improved every year since then – particularly in the last five years. Currently, we have four female Ministers.
If I take bank muscat as an example, when I joined there was only one woman on the management team. Now, from the middle to senior management level, women are well-represented.
GBA: How does women’s status in Oman compare to other countries in the region?
Omani women are well-educated, many of them abroad. We also have women in leading positions in the country. When I go overseas to speak at conferences, I see strong female representatives from Oman, which tells me that Omani women have good international exposure.
GBA: How would you describe the current state of financial services for women in Oman? Are there any differences in access, quality, or customer experience from that of men?
We personally don’t differentiate our financial services products for women from those for men. Women want to be on an equal footing with men. However, women do hesitate to go for financing. Our research has shown a low level of participation from women in the Omani banking sector because they prefer to stay debt-free rather than borrow money.
Given that women in Oman also have domestic responsibilities, they want more and different types of support services compared to men. For example, after work, many of them must go home and take care of their children, while men tend to be more easily able to go to networking events to build their businesses. For this reason, we offer some non-financial services that are specifically geared toward women, including networking and advisory services.
GBA: You mentioned there aren’t barriers in access to capital, but women are more hesitant than men. In some countries we have seen banks encourage women to apply for a loan by relaxing their collateral requirements. Do you have any plans to do something similar?
Yes, we actually started doing this a couple of years ago. Around that time, the country began focusing more on SMEs, and specifically women-owned SMEs. We launched several products that don’t require collateral. Our LPO [purchase order] product gives clients 60 percent financing, and once the contract is completed they receive payment in 60-90 days. We also provide receivable finance, which is up to 80 percent financing and payment on the same schedule. Our final collateral-free product for women-owned SMEs is asset finance, which helps business owners get equipment with up to 65 percent financing, and we take joint registration over the equipment.
GBA: Have you found that these products are helpful for women?
Yes, we’ve found this is very helpful for women.
Women in Oman have equal right to property ownership as men, however, I would say only about 10 percent of the utilization of our collateral-free financing options is from women. Hence, there is scope for much more.
We also sometimes decide to supply financing without collateral for normal products. We assess applications on a case-by-case basis and decide whether we will require collateral or not. For microfinance, we have a product that is not collateral based, as well. If an applicant is a profit making operation that’s been established for at least a year and has had an account with the bank for at least a year, we will grant a loan based on turnover.
GBA: Do you have any other products that focus on women?
On the retail side, we have the Zeinah product, which is an Arabic word that means beauty. It’s a branded suite of products including credit/debit cards that offer women discounts at various outlets, including stores, health care operations and dentists. Cardholders also have access to various workshops and seminars that are conducted specifically for women. This has met with a lot of success.
GBA: How many total customers do you have, and what percent of them are women?
We are one of the leading banks in Oman, with the highest assets and largest distribution network – 148 branches, 622 ATMs & CDMs and more than 11,300 Point of Sale terminals. Of our 3,500 employees, around 47 percent are women. Of our 1 million plus customers, around 30 percent are women. We always encourage women to bank with us by offering them a suitable and useful range of products and services.
GBA: What other inputs do you provide to support women with small but growing businesses?
We started our businesswoman initiative 2 years ago because our market research revealed the opportunity there. We partnered with the IFC, and they helped us develop a strategy. Through the IFC I attended a number of conferences and seminars where the experiences of banks in other countries with the Women’s segment were shared. One of the banks was BLC Lebanon, and I got to meet Tania [Moussallem] and her team from BLC’s We Initiative program. I was very impressed, and soon after we got to visit them in Lebanon through the IFC. We decided we could adopt those best practices and modify them for our country.
To determine how best to modify them, we conducted focus groups with the support of IFC. We found that Omani women had two main areas they wanted additional support in: networking and advisory services. We launched our businesswoman networking forum as an initiative of our Al Wathbah SME department, and immediately afterward the Al Wathbah Souq. The Al Wathbah Souq is a market that is held for 2 to 3 days each year in our bank’s head office. It allows more than 200 women to market their products and services, and connect with others in the market.
To cover the advisory portion, we partnered with 10 experts who are available to meet with our women clients each month. Any woman can go on our website and submit a request to meet with one of our experts, and the bank covers all the associated costs.
Finally, in December we are planning to launch the Omani Business Woman Awards program. This will cover another topic raised in the focus groups: recognition. So we go step-by-step, based on feedback.
GBA: How many women are involved in the businesswoman networking forum so far?
Last month we had 230 women – it increases every time we do an event. The number of women registered for our next event is currently 258.
GBA: Do you consider it to be a success so far?
Yes, we do. Out of 230 women who participated in the last event, a fair number became customers. We are able to track that transformation. And from our data we know that we have increased the percent of women applying for financing and being banked.
GBA: You mentioned you’re launching an awards program at the end of this year – is there anything else you’re planning to do this year to develop your Women’s Market program?
We have just launched the SME TV Channel, which will allow SME owners and operators to educate themselves online via video. This is focused on all SMEs, not just women – although we will have some marketing that is targeted to women.
Now we’re starting to plan for 2016, and I’m very focused on making the Women’s Market program sustainable. My aim is to learn many more best practices and see what further additions and improvements we can make to our program.
GBA: TEB Bank also has an SME TV program, but they have a much greater scale. How are you thinking about scale and sustainability?
We also went to TEB with the IFC after we went to BLC, and we adopted our idea for SME TV from them – with a few modifications for the Omani market. Looking at how to sustain it, we are going to update it on a monthly basis. We are launching it with 5 to 6 videos, then updating it with 2 to 3 new videos each month. There are a lot of private and government actors playing a role in supporting SMEs right now. We want to combine information on all the initiatives under one umbrella, inviting experts to come and be filmed for our SME TV platform.
GBA: You mentioned that 47 percent of your employees are women – what is your vision for getting more women into leadership positions at the bank?
This trend has been improving every year. We are witnessing an increasing number of female applicants for banking jobs. The bank certainly recognizes the importance and capabilities of women, and thus we expect to see a continued hike in the number of female recruits. In terms of leadership, women have been climbing up the organizational ladder for the past year, and we have good female representation in the Management Team, Senior Management and middle management levels. The bank is currently doing some analysis of the percent of women leaders we have in order to make recommendations on how best to promote the idea of reaching these levels among staff.
GBA: How did you find out about the Global Banking Alliance for Women? What inspired you to join?
I was looking for examples of Women’s Market best practices for sustainability purposes, so IFC promoted GBA to me and I was very much interested in members of the GBA. I met Larke [Riemer] some time ago, and I was very interested in her experience at Westpac. I, of course, know Tania, and I would very much like to hear from other members about their experiences and practices, and how we can adapt them for our markets and ways of thinking in Oman. I’m also looking forward to sharing our experiences and how we’ve improved.
I am also a member of a couple of government committees that will be making recommendations on SMEs, and any international experience will enhance my ability to serve on these committees. It will help not just the banking sector, but the country’s way of doing things.
As told to the Global Banking Alliance for Women
AT A GLANCE
# of employees: 3,500
% female employees: 47%
# of full service branches: 148
# of ATMs/CDMS: 622
# of clients: More than 1,200,000
% of female clients: around 30%
* As of Q1 2015.