Nadia Al Saeed, CEO of Bank al Etihad
Nadia Al Saeed has been the CEO of Bank al Etihad since 2008, after having worked with Mckinsey & Co. to develop a new growth strategy for the bank. Al Saeed also led the successful launch of Bank al Etihad’s Women Market Program in 2014 under the name of “Shorouq.”
She has an extensive experience in banking, and also served as Minister of Information and Communications Technology, during which she contributed greatly to the development of the ICT sector in Jordan.
What were the biggest changes that you felt needed to be made when you started at the bank?
Bank al Etihad was historically a corporate bank operating in what was quite a small market. Therefore, we partnered with McKinsey & Co. to reassess our strategy to enter the retail space and broaden Bank al Etihad’s market share. We also underwent a major rebranding exercise to reposition Bank al Etihad as not only a corporate banking destination, but also as a strong retail bank. The repositioning was very successful, as it also allowed us to refocus on underserved client segments, specifically SMEs, women, and youth.
What do you feel is the importance of the Shorouq program? Why was it started? And how does it help to empower local women?
Prior to launching the Shorouq Program, we conducted several studies targeting female employees, entrepreneurs, and business owners. What we found is that women seek professional development and improved financial status, as well as flexible, secure, straightforward and credible banking services catered to their lifestyles. However, to achieve these goals, they needed access to knowledge and finance.
Armed with this newly found understanding of Jordanian women’s needs and aspirations, in 2014, we launched Shorouq, offering a comprehensive set of financial and non-financial services that filled a gap in the market.
Why do you feel there needs to be such a service in the Jordanian banking sector (that targets women in particular)? How successful has it been?
We launched it because we felt this was a segment of the market that was underserved, thereby presenting us with a great business opportunity. As a staunch supporter of women and equal opportunities and rights, the bank created Shorouq in response to the increasing number of workingwomen and women-led projects across the Kingdom.
I am delighted to say that Shorouq has been a tremendous success. Over the program’s three-year course, our female portfolio has grown by 125 percent. Nearly 30 percent of Bank al Etihad’s client base is now women. The subsequent impact of these and other similar efforts can be enormous. If Jordan’s 2025 vision to increase female participation to 24 percent is realized, the country’s gross domestic product can grow by up to 5 percent. This only serves to remind us that by empowering women, we can create much-needed economic opportunity and vitality.
In Jordan, only 14 percent of women are in the workforce; is culture the main reason behind that? How can this be changed?
Yes, there are many sociocultural factors that cause women to avoid or leave the workplace altogether. Too often, married women with children are perceived as primarily responsible for domestic duties. In other cases, societal pressures can force women and girls to turn down certain jobs and positions.
Though sociocultural pressures are very much a reality, they are not the only reasons behind the lack of women’s participation in the workplace. Employers’ inability to create enabling work environments can be detrimental to any hopes of increasing the number of female employees. Women will most likely opt out of the workforce if they have few opportunities for career advancement. More concerning is the fact that, although women-owned businesses represent 25 percent of businesses in Jordan, only 5 percent are well served by the banking sector.
To counter such barriers, it is crucial that we not only facilitate financing, but also recognize successful businesswomen as role models and create empowering and supportive work environments. We need to create gender-conscious corporate cultures that implement merit-based recruitment and promotion, offer equal pay for equal work, recruit women for senior positions, and provide additional benefits such as a daycare, career comeback programs, flexible working hours, and paid maternity leaves. These are just some of the steps that we at Bank al Etihad have taken to encourage more women on the job.
What would you like your legacy with Bank Al Etihad to be?
Throughout my time with Bank al Etihad, I am most proud of the work we have done to help women of all backgrounds realize their business dreams and become financially independent. Supporting women through Shorouq, honoring entrepreneurs through the Annual SME Awards and becoming an employer of choice for women—those are the matters that are close to my heart, and I am thrilled by the example we have set in the banking sector.
This is part seven of a 12-piece story. Other parts include: