Sheikha Alanoud bint Hamad Al-Thani is the Managing director of business development at QFC Authority
What has been the impact of COVID-19 on the financial services industry in Qatar?
2020 was a transformational year for the entire world. We have witnessed unprecedented challenges that changed the dynamics of our societies and brought about what we call a ‘new normal’ that puts no choice for us but to adapt and strive to navigate the turbulences. The financial services industry is no exception, however it faired relatively well in navigating the COVID-19 implications, backed by the swift response of Qatar’s wise management. Fortunately, the financial services industry has largely been contained by pro-active actions by Qatar Central Bank and other government bodies. While total credit growth was 10.4% for the year, this figure almost stood still during the height of the crisis between March-June 2020. Only thanks to concerted efforts by various entities, led by Qatar Central Bank, was market confidence restored during the height of the pandemic when government health measures forced many enterprises into various measures of lockdown. The largest impact on customers and the workforce alike has been the aggressive rollout of digitalized services, ranging from onboarding to a variety of e-banking solutions that were previously in its infancy. We have also witnessed the initial emergence of FinTech purveyors in the Qatari marketplace, solutions including contactless payment technologies that had heretofore not existed in the local context.
Do you think the pandemic has affected career opportunities for females? If yes, how?
According to a research undertaken in the US and India, women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs. Women make up 39 per cent of global employment but account for 54 per cent of overall job losses. One of the reasons sighted includes, burden of unpaid care which is disproportionately carried by women and the disproportionate representation of women in sectors negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Focusing on Qatar, I expect a reduced impact on female careers than in other countries and a faster rebound due to the Qatar government’s wise management of the lockdown allowing most businesses to operate and the effective rollout of the vaccine, which will further reduce restrictions.
How do you promote gender diversity and equality in your organization?
Stemming from our belief that women do have an indispensable role in generating positive returns to the growth of any business, the QFC’s business environment is designed to nurture women’s empowerment and leadership. Throughout our 15-year business journey, our work environment offers a platform to all employees, women and men, to voice their ideas, share perspectives, and make notable contribution to business growth, with no ceiling for work hierarchy. Expansion in the female workforce outperformed overall growth in QFC employment between 2018 and 2019, with nearly 11% increase. We continue to maintain our commitment towards women’s empowerment through a number of policy decisions to help build an environment that supports women
What do you think needs to change for the financial sector to attract more female leaders?
The Qatar Financial Centre is proud to have a leading female participation rate in Qatar’s financial sector, and even more of providing opportunities for women in senior roles where they have impact when leading and shaping their respective teams within an organization. According to 2019 data, 13.5% of senior level positions in QFC companies were filled by women – compared to 8.2% in Qatar’s financial sector as a whole. These companies are performing well. This allows them, and jurisdictions like QFC, to lead by example. I look forward to seeing many more Qatari females in the industry!
Do you think the recovery from COVID-19 will happen in the next 1-2 years or will it take longer?
I expect the Qatar economy to regain its pre-crisis peak in early 2022. As the rollout of the vaccine reaches the majority of Qatar’s population by mid-summer, I expect a consumer led rebound in Qatar by the end of 2021 as people are freed up from lockdown and businesses begin to operate more freely. The rebound may take longer in other areas of the globe however, Qatar will be well placed to take advantage of the upturn in 2022. The momentum of the 2022 World will help to drive forward Qatar’s economy.