In times of crisis, Middle East banks turn attention from growth to internal operations
Source: BI-ME , Author: Trevor Lloyd-Jones
Posted: Sun November 23, 2008 12:00 am

UAE. Total Solutions, one of the world’s leading financial services consulting firms is stepping up its activities and industry seminars for the Middle East. In this interview, Jurry de Vries head of Total Solutions Middle East explains why the company’s training programmes offer the right medicine for the financial sector, in these times of increased focus on compliance, credit scoring and technical challenges.

Total Solutions delivers consulting, contracting, recruitment and training services to the banking and financial services sector. Formed in 2001, Total Solutions has offices located in Amsterdam, Dubai (DIFC licensed) and Luxembourg.

Total Solutions is a team of highly skilled professionals who have gained their experiences through working in the financial sector for many years. This first hand knowledge benefits both the customers and candidates while having in depth discussions about their needs. It also enables consultants to familiarise themselves quickly in new organisations and implement real solutions based on best market practice.

In a heavily-strengthened schedule of training events for the coming year in Dubai, Total Solutions has announced a series of forthcoming seminars covering equity and venture capital, protection from trade-based money laundering, Islamic banking and finance and other forums on transparency and accountability for the financial sector. For the dates of upcoming events, check on the company's website link at the end of this article.

Jurry de Vries explains that the company’s original registration number with the Dubai International Financial Centre was number 15, to show that Total Solutions was involved at the beginning of the evolution of the financial sector here. Although this later changed to number 386 when the legal name changed from Total Solutions to Total Solutions Middle East, the company’s commitment is not at all diminished and it believes it has a lot to offer to confront the many challenges of HR, training and compliance that Dubai and the region is facing as it moves to the ‘big league’ of financial centres.

De Vries brings a wide range of banking experiences and knowledge to Total Solutions. Throughout his 18 years of banking career within ING Bank, he built up strong first hand expertise in wholesale securities, structured finance and tax leveraged leasing, international commercial banking, retail domestic banking and payments and cash management. Next to these responsibilities within ING Bank, he also fulfilled the role (amongst others) of Chairman of the Advisory Board to Interpay (the former Dutch payments clearing house). He is located at the regional office in Dubai and reports to Robi Dattatreya, Managing Director of Total Solutions.

He says that the rate of catching up with European financial institutions is increasing and although the Middle East banks are not there yet, in terms of back office systems, they are today scoring higher than many North American banks in some cases and the rate of improvement - and the scale of the challenges - is acceleraring.

BI-ME: What is the background to Total Solutions in the Middle East? How long have you been operating out of Dubai?

JDV: We started four or five years ago and we were one of the founding members of the DIFC offering consulting, inhouse training, HR placings and interim management. I would say that we have not only increased our business tremendously in the last five years, in revenue terms, but we value the world view of our services and of the development of Dubai itself.

BI-ME: Your company addresses the requirement that we are constantly hearing in the media, of the shortage of technical skills in the Middle East financial sector. In fact these are the skills that are in demand around the world such as compliance officers, the technical investment banking skills of structured finance, Islamic finance, investigations and forensics and fund managers. Would you agree that there is a training gap? What are the HR gaps in the financial services sector?

JDV: The Middle East has vastly increased in the complexity of financial transactions and the requirements. I cannot over-stress this point. In my opinion this is only an acceleration of what has gone before in the region, and it is reflected in the trainings that we are offering. Our company speaks as an advocate of best practice in Europe since 2001 and this increasing complexity is something we have seen with both our open training courses and inhouse training.

Our business tends to grow each time a manager from a company undergoes one of our open training courses and goes back to head office to recommend the same course, with some customisation for other managers. At the customised level we can offer more advanced information and knowledge, since we are not catering to a group with sometimes differing skill levels.

BI-ME: What the types of training and customisation that clients are asking you for? Where is the training effort going?

JDV: We are seeing a similar trend in many companies which is especially for business process redesign. The middle office and back office of banks are becoming more structured.

The STP [straight through processing] rate is increasing in this region and with this IT change, for the current time the challenges for the market are there. We are seeing 50% to 60% growth per annum and the focus has been on growth and not on operations. But in today’s market this will change, with what we have been witnessing in the world over the past two months.

BI-ME: So you believe there will be a change in the Middle East banks arising from the current global crisis?

JDV: In order to cope there will have to be more of a focus on the back office. It’s not that the banks themselves are unsophisticated, but some things will have to change. For example companies in Dubai are still sending thousands of physical cheques around the city every day and I am sure that this accounts for a lot of the traffic congestion. In the Netherlands there have been no domestic cheques, only electronic banking, since 2001, dating back to the time when I was general manager responsible for cash management at ING.

BI-ME: So in which areas are the local banks working hardest to meet the best international standards?

JDV: Many of the banks are ahead of the US in terms of back office, but still catching up with Europe and the rate of catching up is accelerating. Anti-money laundering is a very hot topic and this is the subject of one of our upcoming trainings. As the banks are getting bigger these changes are inevitable. For a bank, as the number of transactions becomes simply so high, to scan these transactions manually for anti-ML becomes a headache, and they will have to move to more automation. The labour is not available and it becomes too expensive to handle manually.

BI-ME: Do you see any other changes in the region, as the global credit crisis continues to unfold, with all the effects on interbank lending?

JDV: The other upcoming trend I can foresee is the effect of the credit crunch on the Islamic banks. At the core of the world financial crisis, we have a disconnect between the real economy and the financial economy. The value of a company on the exchange should depend solely on that company itself, its business outlook, trading situation and so on. But what we have witnessed is that with all the speculation going on, there is a gap. Factors are affecting the company that are not related to the underlying trading of that company.

BI-ME: You mentioned Islamic banking, is Total Solutions making a focus on this sector?

JDV: We will put more attention to Islamic financing, just as this is a trend around the world. Two to three years ago we introduced a training session on Islamic banking and finance, and we try to adjust our training calendar to show the trends that we see in the region. The level of attendance and interest in these courses has been continuously growing.

BI-ME: You are one of the few companies around the world offering this kind of technical banking training and of course this is very important to the development of Dubai and the other regional financial centres. What is the skill level of the attendees that you address and what is the secret of success in these trainings?

JDV: Here in the Middle East we are receiving people from the entire GCC region and Africa, including to a small extent some from the wider Middle East and North Africa, and a small number of European delegates. With the open courses there is always a difference in the skill level and it is the role of the course director to take care of this.

I would say the reason our trainings are so successful is that we understand two things very well. Our trainers have a strong background in the industry, not just in textbooks. They also have a strong academic background and they have a strong antenna to see the social differences, and how to get the best from the classes.

Our classes are done very interactively. For example with our derivatives classes we have a simulated live trading session, where we can connect up to 40 partipants to trade against eachother and against the market. This is a fantastic tool. This year compared to last year, we have many more classes, which is a sign of our success and we are working with the blue chip names of Dubai’s financial sector.

We have other projects, not all of which I can mention, but we intend to go further with the trading simulation software and we have the sole Middle East region licence for this unique software from the Netherlands. In Dubai we have the DIFX now open up for derivatives trading and we will have a course on advanced derivatives trading at the end of the season.

For more detailed information or to download the full event brochures and booking forms, log on to the Total Solutions website at www.ts.eu

 

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