How to Attract the Right Talent: The Case of Emiratisation at a Bank

February 15, 2024

Mohamed Al Zarooni

Senior Vice President, Country HR Officer at CITI

In this episode, Mohamed Al Zarooni, the Senior Vice President and Country HR Officer at CITI Bank talks about the best case practices of recruitment. Zarooni, spoke about a case study on the challenges of balancing recruitment targets between departments and the ongoing efforts to attract national talent into the private sector.

Al Zarooni talks about the challenges of meeting recruitment targets, especially in niche talent markets, and the importance of maintaining engagement and communication with employees to ensure long-term retention.

He highlights the role of universities, career fairs, and networking events in sourcing talent and the importance of providing opportunities for career progression and mobility within the company.

Interview Transcription 

Omnia: Hello, Today with me Mohammed Zarooni who is the Senior Vice President and Country Office at Citibank. It is great to have you here, Muhammad. We will be talk about recruimtnt and helping employees succeed in their roles.

But first, I would like to start by asking you what makes a talent recruitment campaign susccessful, in your own opinion?

Zarooni: Are you speakig about nationals or in general?

Omnia: In general, and then speak about nationals.

Zarooni: Yeah, so you know, we do many things. We do our sourcing, we do our planning. We do our networking with all the future talent that we see fit for future roles that are coming up. So a lot of discussions, especially at a senior level. On the junior levels, we do our career fairs, we have our analyst programs that we bring top talent in who can, you know, progress in the future into senior roles. And then wemake sure that you know, we hit our targets based on the quality of talent that comes in through all these avenues.

Omnia: Right. But there is no magic formula to know that these talents are going to stay for this long at this time and this role.

Zarooni: Good question. We do our best based on our EVP: Employee Value Proposation. We have Citi as a global brand. We have excellent mobility opportunities where we move our staff around short-term assignments outside the country, internally inside the country.

Citi is known for constantly progressing. We move our top talent from one role to the other, so we keep them constantly swicthed on. So there are ways to keep the talent happy. Citi has a very good reputation for people staying for a long time.

How to hire more Emiratis?

Omnia: What about nationals? How do you make sure that you get national talent into a private bank?

Zarooni: So with nationals and the private sector, it is a very hot topic at the moment. You know, we are regulated by the central bank. We have to meet a certain quota and it is a very challenging market. There are 58-59 banks going for the same target. So it can be quite a talent war on Emiratis, as we call it.

So we have our strategy, which I am sure is mimicked by others, and will follow the same again. We make sure we are visable in all universities to pipeline graduated that come in and take future positions. We go to career fairs, not just the ones in Dubai, but the ones in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and all across the country.

The teams also meets individuals ar a more senior level to network, gauge their interests, to understand their ambitions to join Citi and why they want to join Citi in the future. So its a lot mix of things that get us to where we want to be. And again, Citi is a global brand.

It’s a great stepping stome for those who want to come, learn and also progress.

Omnia: I just want to understand a little more the trajectory of your employees. So you recruit them. You recruit through networking or fairs etc. They come into the roles and then how do you make sure they grow within their roles? How do you make sure that in ten years, you don’t lose this talent and they are still around?

Zarooni: In the Emiratisation strategy, I have developed three pillars: Hiring is one, in which we spoke about retention and development. The second and third ones sort of come to retention. We have several programs such as the metor and mentor program competition that we constantly engage our nationals with.

We ensure that nationals have the flexibility to move within the platform. So for example in the rotation program where we have a national sitting within risk in private banking, lets say they have an opportunity within the private bank to move to marketing for six months, where they develop the knowledge and then go back to the department. So that is one example of a retention scheme that we have. Others are a constant engagement setting up meetings with seniors. We have developed programs such as meeting CEO every month in different departments. So there is a face-to-face interaction and they get that closeness to the business at all times. So there are several programs that we work to try and retain them.

Sometimes it is not enough when it comes to other people coaching them. But, you know, we do the best we can to retain them by being engaged. I would say engagement and communication are the key.

Emiratisation and KPIs

Omnia: How do you measure the success of these schemes that you have?

Zarooni: We look at progress based on performance: how they perform is our number one indicator. Where are they after two, or three years. Say we have a national that is working very well, what are the business doing to promote and further progress their development plans? We monitor developmnet plans where the pathway is. So we do a lot of monitoring and handholding with the business to ensure top talent is catered for and measure. It is quite hard to be honest, because at any time they can be taken by companies. But it is all about mental stability and ambition to grow in a global brand. So we reiterate that fact.

Omnia: How do you make sure that you are hitting the targets in such a very niche talent market?

Zarooni: I mean, it is not a numbers game. It is more quality hires and how do we keep them. So we do have a mandate and we have so far, of course, successfully met the targets year on year. But it gets much more challenging as the years go by with the different environment the banks are goin through. Sof if you are going to restructor less headcount, we have to come with constantly different strategies to hire and keep them.

So replacement hires, you know, for example, any vaccancies that we have will go to nationals depending on the roles you have to bring.

Omnia: I want to ask as the banks are going more into digital banking: does that change the structure of employees within them?

Zarooni: No it is fine. There are some streamlining, but overall we have a quick team to handle the structure and how the future is going towards digitilisation.

As you know with a global bank like Citi, which has about less than 300,000 employees, it is pretty difficult to take as it has to go at its own pace. So the digital plan takes time to convert into how the business will look like. But there is constant change that is happening because of the digital space.

Omnia: Does that change how you deal with where you hire your people?

Zarooni: So we do analyse rules that are fit for a certain nationality. For example, with nationals we look where can we find the supply because talent is scarce in the market. So you will not have a supply of talent per se, in a customer facing role. But many who sell products or maybe in a tech room or in a high-end technology.

So yes, we do understand how to open up, where to open up the rules for whether it is for everyone or nationals specifically.

Omnia: There are a lot of finance graduates all over the world. But still, there is a huge gap. I want to understand why eventhough there are a lot of graduates in the finance world, bank are still struggling to find the right talent?

Zarooni: I guess it is the technical aspect of it. It depends on which bank you are looking at. So Citi bank, there are a lot of complexity. So you have to maneuver more on the stakeholder side, on the technical side and the structure here is very unique in how the reporting lines work.

So it depends. It depends. I think I mean in term of finance, I haven’t hit across a stumbling block over there. I work in a very lean structure with the most effective employees.

Omnia: Just to wrap up this interview, is there any case study that you think was difficult and you were able to overcome?

Zarooni: Emiratisation.

Omnia: Can you tell me a specific case in it, not a specific human, but an issue that you were like, we were able to do it!

Zarooni: I mean, this is constantly changing. I mean, I would lok at the whole topic as a case study because it is constantly trying to figure our ways on how to get nationals in the private sector and what rules, as you pointed out.

So if we do find, you know, what the talent is, which we are trying to analyse, is there more talent? How do we distribute the targets amongst different businesses? We make it all equal. Thats a case study. Do we give all departments an equal target or do we give more to where the supply is? But then if other departments have less of a target, they might be easier on the other one.

So it is a case study on its own how to balance the roles for nationals or non-nationals in general. So that is an interesting study where we have had some success stories and some work in progress.