MANA ALKHAMSAN

Saudi Arabia 2021 | FINANCE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mana Alkhamsan, Director General of Financial Academy, about dealing with the pandemic fallout, training programs, and Vision 2030.

How has Financial Academy reacted to the pandemic?

There is no doubt that COVID-19 took the world by surprise and changed the way businesses operate today. The Financial Academy is no exception. We had to suddenly alter some of our operations. Prior to the pandemic, all of our programs relied on personal attendance of participants (face-to-face). We changed that afterwards to online platforms. It was challenging, to say the least, particularly to our exams since we have specific criteria for them. We had to postpone the dates for our professional certificate examination until we were allowed to return to office. When we returned, we introduced procedures for social distancing between examinees as a precautionary health measures. For example, before COVID-19, each of our exam halls had a capacity of 40 examinees, that number has now been reduced by half.

Tell us about the Financial Academy?

The Financial Academy is dated back to 1965 when it began as the "Institute of Banking Training", a training department affiliated to the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA). At the time of its establishment, it aimed at implementing best practices to sharpen technical and administrative skills of banking sector professionals at that time. The institute's operations continued to evolve year after year, and in 1989 its scope was broaden to cover financing in addition to banking under the name on "Institute of Banking" (IoB). With the expansion of the scope of work and the need of the insurance sector for qualified professionals, IoB was rebranded into the Institute of Finance (IoF) in 2014. In 2019, and with the cooperation of SAMA and the Capital Market Authority (CMA), the Financial Academy was established to cover all the financial sub-sectors: (banking, capital market, insurance and financing). The following year we became independent, as per the resolution of the Saudi Council of Ministers. We support our country's 2030 vision by developing the skills of locals who can work in the financial sector, enhancing the sustainability of financial resources and financial discipline, increasing the efficiency of innovative services and solutions, and developing competencies of human cadres in the academy.

What are the top priorities on the agenda?

We updated our strategy to focus on developing local talent and content that reflects the needs of Saudi's markets. Previously, our aim was to increase partnerships with international schools. The new strategy aims at developing more local Saudi content with special focus on education materials, content of training materials, and case studies. Our intention is to collaborate as much as possible with independent practitioners to deliver training and prepare study materials and examination questions. We have also changed some of our KPIs. However, our mission has not changed as we continue to set standards for ongoing professional training and qualifying trainers in the financial sector, conduct exams, as well as host regional and international events that enhance the development of best practices of the financial sector. We also will continue to host, organize, and participate in workshops, seminars and conferences related to the financial sector.

How does Financial Academy select the independent experts who assist in formulating your training programs and exams?

We have two types of collaborations in the Academy: local and international. We collaborate with international parties in areas that local experts do not cover. To better prepare future generations, and since TASI is now among the top ten markets in the world with foreigners having direct access to the market, we believe it is imperative to reflect the expertise of international experts in the academy's training sessions. At the same time, we will have international speakers for some of our workshops wherever needed. We are currently in the final phase of a study that should provide us with a model for choosing the types of experts we want to collaborate with at the Financial Academy. We also have established a new department for online learning to promote online programs. Now that normality has returned after the authorities lifted curfews, we will still need online programs, but not to the extent we see now. People like to have face-to-face interaction. We cannot accurately measure people's needs for online programs because at the moment they are obliged to attend online courses. In the future, when we offer both normal and online courses, we believe the percentage will be 70% for attendance in classrooms and 30% for online programs.

What does Financial Academy hope to achieve over the coming year?

We expect the Financial Academy to become the first choice for training for any person who wishes to gain knowledge in financial sector in Saudi Arabia. Currently, we are developing our digital infrastructure to convert our training programs and study materials to a digital platform. Each of our professional certificate programs has its own study materials and we aim to convert these materials to electronic versions by the end of this year. Due to the shortage of local content, our first priority is to develop more local material, because in the past we collaborated only with international schools. We are now developing our own local content. The next step would be to evaluate which materials need to be converted into electronic versions. The Financial Academy signed a MoU recently with the Saudi Electronic University, among its many MoUs signed with government entities. Our collaboration with the Saudi Electronic University assists us in converting our materials into digital content.

Do the course offerings need to change in some way?

The Financial Academy's training programs cover all areas and needs of the financial sector, not just regulatory topics. We also cover any new aspect in financial markets. We have the framework, competencies, and mechanisms to cover the entire sector and this allows us to predict the needs of the financial market in the next three to four years. In our aim to achieve efficiency, we ensured to develop our framework working closely with experts and consultation groups. Furthermore, representatives from various entities of the financial sector have participated in our workshops to identify the needs and competencies required by the sector over the next few years. Our programs should fill the gaps in terms of what the sector needs. In addition, in October 2020, we set up four “Trainathon” workshops with segments of the financial sector to identify their specific needs and challenges, and the capabilities required for Saudis to get jobs in the financial sector. We work as a partner with the financial sector and we support the Saudi Vision 2030 by communicating effectively with specialists in the financial sector to identify the industry's current and future needs.

Vision 2030 has an ambitious reform agenda, including many KPIs around the finance sector. How does Financial Academy fit into this broader agenda of reform and growth for the Kingdom's financial sector?

The Financial Academy is one of the initiatives of the Financial Sector Development Program of (Saudi Vision 2030). Its main goal is developing and enhancing the capabilities of human cadres in the sub-sectors of the financial sector: banking, financing, insurance and capital market. To develop the sector, you need to develop the people. You must have experts, knowledge, and training. In collaboration with regulators SAMA and CMA, the Financial Academy has set up standards and qualifications required to work in the financial sector to ensure the efficiency of people working at each level in the sector. This will help organize the financial sector and establish competencies for each job so that regulators can be certain that the people applying for jobs in the sector have the right knowledge for the job. The success of our nation's vision relies on the success of its people, and the Financial Academy plays a vital role in setting the standards for ongoing professional training and qualifying trainers in the financial sector.