Employment growth in Bahrain’s financial services sector last year reinforces the Kingdom’s status as a leading financial centre in the Middle East and indicates it is well positioned to weather the worst of the economic downturn, says Kamal Ahmed, Chief Operating Officer of Bahrain’s Economic Development Board (EDB).
Ahmed’s comments follow reports that more than 1,700 new jobs (1,731) were created in Bahrain’s financial services industry during 2008, taking total employment in the sector to 13,922. Fifty seven per cent of these new jobs went to Bahrainis, with 43 per cent going to foreign workers. The figures, revealed in an annual survey conducted by the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB), represent a year-on-year increase of more than 14 per cent and a 68.5 per cent (5,659 new jobs) over the past three years.
Ahmed says: “Bahrain is the most established finance centre in the Gulf and continued to expand in 2008. Backed by the highest and most transparent regulatory and supervisory standards in the region, the Kingdom offers investors a tried and tested location for financial services businesses.
“Of course, these are last year’s figures and we appreciate the global situation has changed. But the growth in our financial services sector over the past three years, which these figures illustrate, has been based on prudent, conservative principles. Yes, there are likely to be tough times ahead and we are not complacent about continued success in the current climate, but we believe we are well positioned to weather the storm and emerge strong.”
Ahmed maintains that Bahrain’s track record of nearly 40 years as the region’s leading financial centre is even more important in the current climate.
He says: “The Kingdom has seen global downturns before and benefits from the experience to deal with difficult times. No one is immune from the global crisis but the strength and depth of Bahrain’s finance sector means it is certainly well cushioned.
The CBB’s Financial Sector Employment Survey also shows the majority (985 or 57 per cent) of jobs added by financial institutions during 2008 have gone to Bahrainis, taking the number of native workers employed in the sector to 9,283, from 8,293 in 2005. There has also been a 12 per cent increase in the number of women employed in the sector, who now account for 37 per cent of all Bahrainis employed by financial institutions and represent 25 per cent of the sector’s workforce in 2008.
Ahmed says this is further proof of the Kingdom’s sustainable and increasingly professional talent base that has developed along with the finance sector. “Quality of growth depends more than anything on the quality of people and in Bahrain we have already seen the benefit of a well developed education system and what this can do for economic development.
“The Kingdom’s business sector is supported by the most productive, well-educated and highly skilled national workforce in the GCC. Our advanced education system continues to improve and prudent investment in skills-attainment remains a key priority to support diversification of the economy and further private sector growth.”
Bahrain’s Financial Services industry comprises more than 400 licensed institutions and is one of the largest contributors to the Kingdom’s economy, accounting for 27 per cent of GDP (2007). The Kingdom’s finance expertise includes banking, insurance and funds. Bahrain is also a leading centre for Islamic finance, with the largest concentration of Islamic financial institutions in the region, and is at the forefront of the growth in the Sukuk industry.
Leading financial services firms already in Bahrain include: AIG, ACE Insurance, American Express, Bank of China, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, BNP Paribas, Citibank, European Islamic Bank, Hanover Re, HSBC, JP Morgan, Lazard, Merrill Lynch, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Standard Chartered.
Jean-Christophe Durand, Regional Director GCC Countries, BNP Paribas, said: “Bahrain has a very high quality local workforce who are dedicated and want to do well.”