What do you take away from this crisis at this point as a leader?
The crisis has emphasized that with challenges come opportunities. The lessons involve looking at the crisis and assessing the different dimensions and aspects it can have, and making sure negative or downsides can be controlled. The second thing is to be responsive; you have to think outside the box and be alert and nimble. You have to change and adapt. Finally, it is also about being inclusive and taking into consideration suggestions and ideas, making sure people understand what is going on, and keeping the channels of communication open with your team and your stakeholders. One key element I found to be extremely important during the crisis is the quality of your relationship with customers.
As a financial services company, how did you deal with the COVID-19 restrictions on an internal level?
In terms of management and the way we do things internally, the crisis has had limited impact. We are small and compact. We have slightly more than 35 employees, so in terms of messaging, organization, and keeping the connection and communication going, it is perhaps less challenging than for a large company stretched over many different places. Then, even though we are a small team, it is important to maintain a regular channel of communication. Third, we maintained the channels of communications with our stakeholders and customers. If I were to sum it up, the current crisis opened the doors to new challenges and hoops.
How has the crisis accelerated the efforts to move more of your business to a digital platform?
There are many initiatives and developments already in place in terms of digital processes, leading to home acquisitions and mortgages. However, there is still a point where the process goes back to traditional, paper-led processes and that is due to the nature of the mortgage process. We are looking at ways we can push for greater and more integrated digital offerings. Fundamentally, in terms of market evolution, digitalization makes sense.
How has COVID-19 impacted the housing market in Saudi Arabia?
The market is in fact supported by some key trends. Saudi Arabia has a significant population between the ages of 25 and 40. This is supporting growth in the market. In parallel, the mortgage market is truly nascent. There were 170,000-180.000 mortgages by the end of 2019 for a country of some 31 million inhabitants. So, if the activity has slowed down especially in April and May due to the current pandemic, the fundamentals are there to quickly get things back to normal. You will see the market catching up again.
What has been the knock-on effect with regards to the stimulus package, and what do you predict for the future?
The government has been keen to provide support to the financial sector in order to back up SMEs and private companies. It has played a great role in smoothening the impact of the current crisis. It is slightly early to judge the actual consequences of the pandemic. We saw a slowdown in the origination of loan mortgages in the numbers published in April. We have not seen the numbers for May and will see what it will be like in June. However, people are confined to their homes. There will naturally be a slowdown in the origination process similar to other segments of the market. We see at our level a blip in the numbers, though due to the support provided by SAMA and the government through the stimulus package, it remains limited. Third, and where we do not see much troubles at the moment thanks to the stimulus packages, is liquidity. Overall, we do not see a constant and negative trend in the market. Therefore, once the difficulties linked to the current crisis start to subside, the trend will resume. We are fairly optimistic for 2021. ✖