Driving change: Saudi Arabia gears up for women motorists

Time: May 05, 2018

JEDDAH: No sooner had the announcement been made in September 2017 that Saudi women would be free to drive in Saudi Arabia from June 2018 than many of world’s largest car manufacturers began to target them with advertisements.

In addition, driving schools for women were set up in the Kingdom for the first time, while motor insurance companies made plans to target the new female market, and ca maintenance workshops for women are being offered.

Five Saudi universities have launched driving schools for women: Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh, King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Tabuk University, Taif University and Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University.

The Saudi Driving School, at Princess Nourah University, the first for women in the capital, was launched in partnership with the Emirates Driving Institute in Dubai, an established driving school in the region.

The first motor insurance center for women in the Kingdom officially opened for business on May 1, 2018. The Salama Insurance office, at Salama Tower in Jeddah, is run by an all-female staff.

“The company has many initiatives in employing females, where we have integrated departments managed 100 percent by Saudi female employees, such as the contact center management in the men’s section,” said Salama CEO Omar Al-Ajlani at the grand opening. “Today’s initiative adds a lot to the business as we became the first company to open a specialized women’s center to take into account the privacy of women in Saudi Arabia.

“When a claim is received by the company, we will automatically get the client’s information from Najm insurance services or from the General Department of Traffic, then adjustments will be made until compensation is transferred.”

Al-Ajlani added that “having a female center will allow women freedom and comfort to deal with employees who understand that women are new to this process. Banks and telecoms companies have had female branches for many years but this is the first time an insurance company has opened a female branch.”

Mirfat Halawani, a section manager in the new office, said: “After receiving the accident report from the client, it will take five days to cover the damage caused by the insured vehicle.”

Sultan Al-Ghamdi, a claims manager, said: “This initiative will allow women to manage their car claims in a safe and facilitating environment.”

This article was first published Arab News

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Saudi bank pegs growth hopes on mortgages, women buying cars

SOURCE: Arabian Business

Time: March 29, 2018

Saudi Arabia’s second-biggest bank is betting that government efforts to develop the entertainment industry, boost home-ownership and open up the role of women in the economy will fuel growth this year.

The kingdom is undergoing an economic overhaul driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that includes removing restrictions on cinemas, concerts and women driving and working.

It also plans to subsidise home loans to expand the private-sector’s role in funding mortgages as part of the transformation plan to diversify the economy away from oil and reduce the population’s reliance on state spending.

Al Rajhi Bank is also planning to expand its corporate-lending business on optimism that businesses will start borrowing again later this year, after loans to the private sector fell in 2017, CEO Steve Bertamini said in an interview.

Rising demand for corporate and housing loans should help Al Rajhi outperform peers in 2018, he said.

“Our goal is to outperform the industry,” Bertamini said. “Housing demand gives us confidence that we’ll be able to continue to do that, and if corporate demand begins to improve, especially if the government begins to fund some projects, we think that will be positive for the banks and also for us.”

Al Rajhi’s fourth-quarter profit was 2.45 billion riyals ($653 million), beating the highest analyst estimates as it boosted income from financing and investments.

Loan growth

The bank underwrote 44 percent of all new Saudi Arabian mortgages last year and growing the home finance business is its “number one objective for retail banking,” said Bertamini, 53, who joined Al Rajhi in 2015. Previously, he was CEO of consumer banking at Standard Chartered Plc.

With Saudi Arabia’s economy expected to return to growth this year, the government’s plan to boost spending should help drive demand for corporate loans, Bertamini said. Total bank loans across the industry fell 1.1 percent last year as the economy shrank.

Al Rajhi, which makes most of its profit from retail banking, wants to boost its market share in corporate banking by between half and one-percentage point a year. The bank’s share of corporate assets rose to 7.3 percent at the end of last year, according to the bank’s own figures.

To do that the bank is focusing on lending to industries that deal with a lot of customers, like retail, health care and education, where it can also benefit by offering ancillary services like installing point-of-sale machines, or providing payroll services.

Hiring women

Al Rajhi is also looking to double the size of its female workforce to about 20 percent by 2020, as the kingdom’s conservative society increasingly opens up to women. Saudi Arabia has said it will allow women to drive from June this year, ending a decades-long ban. In January, female fans attended official soccer matches for the first time, while more women-only gyms are opening, along with female-only car showrooms.

“Demand for autos by females should also be a driver of growth,” Bertamini said. “January saw depressed auto sales, but as women are allowed to drive and more women enter the workforce, I think you’ll see an uptake in demand for autos, and that will help household spending.”