Case Study: Dubai Islamic Bank

How the world’s largest Islamic bank got its processes right – so it could tackle the big issues

The economic slowdown of 2015, triggered by an initial slump in oil prices, caused ripples of panic across financial institutions throughout the Middle East. But not everyone was suffering: while its rivals floundered, Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB) was reporting annual profit growth of 37 per cent, and continued to actively hire.

Cornel Fourie, Dubai Islamic Bank head of human resources, is in no doubt why DIB rode out the financial wobble so proficiently – it’s down to sustaining leadership and maintaining performance by investing in people. “Success attracts success,” he says. “We were ranked among MENA’s top 20 ‘most in demand employers’ 2015 by LinkedIn. It means people want to work for us and love our brand. During those difficult times, our net profit increased, a clear indication that the economic slowdown hasn’t had any impact on our potential to grow.”

What did change, according to Fourie, is that the organisation became more focused on recruiting in the right areas: “We don’t just recruit because we can. We recruit in the places where we want to grow.”

DIB’s people strategy is clearly bearing fruit. But it isn’t all about the big ideas, Fourie is quick to point out. The building blocks of strong HR are excellent processes, and DIB’s are robust enough to qualify for the ISO 9001:2008 quality management system standard, which was awarded in October 2015. Few banks in the world have attained such a certification for the excellence of their processes, with the award normally handed out in the manufacturing industry. “We are the first Islamic bank to achieve this certification in the Middle East,” says Fourie. “Quality is very important to us – we’re in the people business. Our clients, who are inevitably our staff, are looking for consistency, professionalism and simplification. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) gave us a framework to ensure that we follow standardised processes.”

Achieving the certification was a process in itself. DIB’s HR team first carried out a gap analysis to find out how it sat against the benchmark set by the ISO. It then identified ‘ISO champions’ within the bank to communicate with the organisation’s 4,300-plus employees.

The processes affect everything from reward to recruitment practices. And with world-class processes, HR has been focusing on key opportunities, such as managing talent. As the world’s oldest Islamic financial institution and the UAE’s largest Islamic bank by assets, DIB has 41 years of enviable experience in an industry that has been hampered by a shortage of skills.

Having worked with both conventional and Islamic banks across the region, Fourie, a South African expatriate, knows that Islamic banking skills are hard to come by. DIB, he says, would rather hire extremely capable bankers with the correct values and teach them the specifics of Islamic banking. L&D activities are crucial to the bank’s employee retention strategy. “One of the challenges that come up as you grow and become more international is to retain your key talent,” he says. “At junior level, we’ve created a high-potential (HIPO) programme. Last year we had 40 staff go through it, and in 2016 we’ll do it again.”

Under the programme, DIB enrols high-potential employees in leadership training with business schools in Canada and India over the course of a year. Between modules, they’re encouraged to practise their new skills back in the business. When senior opportunities emerge, HIPO employees can be considered. “This has worked well in terms of retaining our people,” says Fourie. “As long as there is hope of getting promoted and you know the organisation cares about you and your career, it’s pretty clear people would want to stay a lot longer.”

When it comes to Emiratisation initiatives, DIB is recognised for its work placement courses for Emirati graduates. About 60 per cent of last year’s HIPO participants were Emiratis, says Fourie. “I’m proud to say that we have a high percentage of Emiratis in vice president and senior vice president positions.”

Data is the next string to HR’s bow. DIB’s analytics offer reliable information on internal mobility and retention – but, to be maximised, such figures must be analysed, says Fourie. If people are consistently resigning from a certain area, for example, HR begins picking up a trend: “It alerts us that maybe there is poor management, long working hours or a lack of motivation. So we use data as an initial point to guide us to a trend, then carry out further analysis to see what we need to do from an HR perspective.

“In the people business, it’s not just about talking numbers. We have to make sense of the data so that we can then act accordingly.” It’s all taken HR to a place, adds Fourie, where it can advise the business, rather than the other way round: “It’s a consultancy-advisory mindset. HR practitioners need to ensure they’re part of decision-making and that they’re adding value – so that when the business says we’ve achieved growth in our net profitability, we’re not only thanking our salespeople, we’re thanking HR.”