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KUWAIT - Finance

Elham Yousry Mahfouz

CEO, Commercial Bank of Kuwait


Elham Yousry Mahfouz joined Commercial Bank of Kuwait in 2000 as manager – international banking and progressively occupied top executive positions such as GM – New York branch, acting GM – international banking, GM – international banking, and acting CEO. In 2012, she was promoted to deputy CEO and was later appointed CEO of the bank in 2014. Before joining Commercial Bank of Kuwait, she worked in a number of Kuwaiti financial institutions. She has extensive experience and a proven record of accomplishment exceeding 37 years in the banking sector. Mahfouz holds a bachelor’s degree with honors in business administration from the American University in Cairo.

"The key areas of improvement for the banking industry in Kuwait are consolidation, digitalization, and human capital."
Focusing on developing the new generation of talent in the financial sector, Commercial Bank of Kuwait has come up with initiatives such as coaching and a training program for young Kuwaitis.
What can be done to improve the situation of the banking sector in Kuwait?

The key areas of improvement for the banking industry in Kuwait are consolidation, digitalization, and human capital. In Kuwait, banks have already commenced digitalization because of its inherent efficiency, cost reduction, competitive advantages, and adaptation to online shopping anywhere and anytime. Consolidation in the banking sector will strengthen banks, but it is not easy in Kuwait because of the ownership structure. More stable capital brings increased sustainability. Moreover, banks and institutions need human capital to be successful, which means people need to be employed and appropriately trained. Kuwait has always pursued a Kuwaitization policy. When I started my career nearly 36 years ago, the percentage of Kuwaitis in the private sector was 20%, and it is now at 70%. Sometimes we cannot find suitable candidates in certain areas such as risk, financial planning and control, audit, compliance, and corporate governance. These are the areas of expertise we need more people in.

What kind of graduates should banks in Kuwait look for?

The typical graduation area is business administration, economics, and accounting. Yet the world market needs more IT-related majors, such as cybersecurity. While this is a part of education in Kuwait, not many universities offer a full degree in this specialization. There are many engineering graduates available in the Kuwaiti market, but we need more people skilled in digitalization. Commercial Bank has introduced a 12-month program for fresh graduates called Al-Ruwad. These graduates are trained within the bank in several departments and judged on their capabilities. They were given assignments and got to discuss real issues. We also sit with them one-on-one and decide which department is best for them. We have appointed an external coach to conduct questionnaires and analyze the outcomes. The external coach explores life facts and participant’s personality through questionnaires. The same question is asked in different ways to check for honesty and consistency. Using these results and outcomes, coaching, and guiding fresh graduates, we track their development. Each generation is different, and we need to find the right way of helping the youth of today to grow and develop themselves.

As a woman in a leadership position, how would you evaluate the current situation of Kuwaiti women and their career prospects?

Today, we see more and more women in the government and private sectors across the region. More women are becoming leaders since the developments seen in the gulf region in terms of women empowerment, which have recently shown significant and sudden change. I believe that due to their high levels of education and perseverance, women in Kuwait have achieved significant success over the past years in their careers and will continue capitalizing on this. Kuwaiti women will also occupy an increasing number of leadership positions across the market. Progress was in evidence for some time, but the real growth has been quite recent.

What are your strategies to retain your clients?

Our customers go with the pricing, service models, and digitalization. The older generation used to stand by the bank that supported them. In comparison, the new generation needs to know how much we charge them and which type of banking technology and solutions we offer them. There are things that many banks do not take care of because they think it is a waste of time and cost; for example, labor accounts. We started doing that in 2003, while other banks said no to providing such service. We also have a mobile app considered to be one of the most user-friendly out there. It is regularly upgraded, updated, and easy to use. We have a machine called BTM, dispensing bulk money in thousands for customers who do not have time to enter a branch. There are no more tellers, and the machine can help you choose your denomination in papers or coins. We have a call center that does everything for the customer.



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