Najat Mohd Saleh is the Head of credit Risk at Ahli United Bank. She comes with extensive experience of 30 years in the banking sector. 

Najat speaks to us about the impact of Covid-19 on banking, the role of technology during the pandemic, and how the future looks like for the sector. 

Talk to us a little about your journey as Head of Risk Management in the banking sector, which has been traditionally male dominant.

Over the course of my career, which spans 30 years, I have had the privilege to both witnesses and be a part of the paradigm shift in leadership and banking. Throughout the years I have worked in a diverse range of departments and positions both locally and internationally with the intention of garnering a varied skillset as well as well-rounded market knowledge.

As bank risk management has evolved to encompass and focus on more recent concepts such as cybersecurity and cyber terrorism, it has also evolved and progressed to include a diverse group of professionals. During my early days in the risk department, you would rarely see women on the teams.

What drew me to risk management was how complex and challenging the work was, the gender disparity presenting as its own added set of challenges. Having been appointed the first Kuwaiti female head of risk, it’s safe to say that risk management has come a long way.  As far as our bank is concerned. Women are born to be a leader and caring as they do in the family.

Banks were working in the front line during the lockdown. As a leader, how did you manage to keep your team motivated?

The COVID19 pandemic was a challenge that the whole world was not prepared for. The main obstacle we faced as a team was having to adapt to working from home and in some cases, working from overseas. Within no time, we had organized secure remote access for all members of the team, and I was very proud of how quickly we had adjusted to our new normal, all while continuing to deliver a high standard of service for our customers.

Throughout the pandemic I lead by example, prioritizing the staff’s mental and physical health as well as ensuring I was able to be contacted for support all day. With regards to motivating the team, I chose to lean on my maternal instincts and caring nature to uphold our morale. It was important to recognize that these were a unique set of circumstances that we were collectively experiencing for the first time.

Moreover, this pandemic was affecting everyone in very different ways and by being understanding of that, we were all able to support each other and get through it together.

The requirements of banking customers have changed drastically over the years. What does the future of banking look like?

Banking is been an ever-evolving industry, which we all saw first-hand with how quickly we had adapted to working remotely without any hindrance to the quality of service offered.

The pandemic has opened up the opportunity for all banks to focus on digitalization, which, in my opinion, is the future of banking. Becoming fully digital will require the development of a vast amount of infrastructure, which is already underway. Customers will be looking for the easiest and fastest options available, which could result in somewhat diminished brand loyalty as well as some major competition between banks and the main beneficiary would-be customer.

How does Ahli United Bank promote diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace?

At Ahli United Bank, we focus on the individual’s experience and ability, rather than their gender or background. This appointment system has allowed us to cultivate a more inclusive and diverse culture at AUB that focuses on high-quality services and productivity.

This diverse culture is reflected throughout AUB’s structure, from bank clerks to senior management. In our case, many of the Senior positions are held by females and we are seeing a healthy work culture.

What do you think needs to change for the banking sector to attract more female leaders?

Today there are many women in Kuwait leading the banking sector, compared to 30 years ago when that was a rare occurrence.

We need to continue to encourage more women to push boundaries within the banking and apply to any and all positions that interest them.  As a sector, we should place further emphasis on continuing to diversify the workforce to reflect our communities in order to continue to make strides and progress as an Industry.