Saudi banking mega merger reflects Kingdom’s reform agenda

Olaya District Street with Modern Buildings In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock)
Updated 05 October 2018
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Saudi banking mega merger reflects Kingdom’s reform agenda

  • Prominent Saudi businesswoman Lubna Al-Olayan will become the first woman to chair a publicly traded company in the Kingdom
  • Both the merger and the appointment of Al-Olayan are significant in the context of Saudi Vision 2030

LONDON: Saudi British Bank (SABB) and Alawwal bank have agreed to merge to create the third biggest lender in the Kingdom in the latest move toward banking industry consolidation.
Prominent Saudi businesswoman Lubna Al-Olayan will become the first woman to chair a publicly traded company in the Kingdom when she is appointed to the role at the enlarged lender that will have SR268 billion ($71 billion) in assets.
Both the merger and the appointment of Al-Olayan are significant in the context of Saudi Vision 2030, the country’s social and economic reform blueprint that has a major focus on developing the financial services sector as well boosting the representation of women on boards.
The proposed merger, which is still subject to shareholder and regulatory approval, coincides with a number of financial sector reforms in Saudi Arabia.
“Our bank will supply entrepreneurs with the financial tools needed to grow and create jobs and we will have enhanced capacity to underwrite large-scale transactions to support infrastructure and privatization projects,” said SABB Chairman Khaled Olayan.
No involuntary staff redundancies are expected as a result of the merger, the pair said in a statement on Thursday. Neither will there be any immediate change for customers as both banks will remain independent until the merger has completed.
Banks throughout the Gulf are mulling merger deals as the industry reacts to both changing economic realities and the advance of digital banking that is replacing many of the roles that previously required staff.
“When banks merge the key savings are on employee costs given the service oriented nature of this sector,” Mazen Alsudairi head of research at Al Rajhi Bank, told Arab News.
“So, as per the merger announcement and our calculations, around SR450 million to SR650 million are the savings expected in the future for the combined entity.”
Alawwal shares closed almost 3 percent higher on Thursday following the announcement while SABB closed about 1.1 percent lower.
SABB shareholders will own about 73 percent of the enlarged lender with Alawwal shareholders holding 27 percent.
SABB Managing Director David Dew will be the managing director of the combined entity.
The proposed merger comes as the Saudi banking sector emerges from four tough years as a low oil price, reduced government spending and payment delays took their toll on the banking sector, encouraging lenders to look at how they could cut costs.
“Given the current economic scenario, we don’t see any meaningful improvement in asset quality compared to the last quarter and thus expect provisions to be in the similar range as seen in the first couple of quarters,” Al Rajhi said in its sector report released last month.
The appointment of Al-Olayan to chair the enlarged bank follows other high profile moves by women to senior roles in the country’s financial services sector, including Sarah Al-Suhaimi who heads the Tadawul stock exchange.


Samsung announces folding phone with 5G — at nearly $2,000

Updated 21 February 2019
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Samsung announces folding phone with 5G — at nearly $2,000

  • The device looks similar to a conventional smartphone, but then opens like a book to reveal a display the size of a small tablet
  • Samsung is also making improvements to its flagship Galaxy S devices and plans to offer a 4G version of its folding phone
SAN FRANCISCO/LONDON: Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. on Wednesday unveiled a nearly $2,000 folding smartphone in a bid to top the technology of Apple Inc. and Chinese rivals and reignite consumer interest amid slumping sales.
The Galaxy Fold will go on sale on April 26 and take advantage of new and faster 5G mobile networks. The device looks similar to a conventional smartphone, but then opens like a book to reveal a display the size of a small tablet at 7.3 inches (18.5 cm).
The device “answers skeptics who said that everything that could be done has been done,” DJ Koh, chief executive of Samsung Electronics, said at an event in San Francisco. “We are here to prove them wrong.”
Samsung remains the world’s largest smartphone maker with nearly a fifth of global unit sales but underperformed a slumping market last year. Chinese rival Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. — whose Mate series of phones also command premium prices — gained market share. Other Chinese makers like Xiaomi Corp. have also been increasing prices, leaving Samsung to defend its turf against upstart rivals in addition to its longtime foe Apple.
With the foldable phone, Samsung is going on the offense on two fronts in the smartphone race: It is offering an eye-catching new feature with the big, bending screen and the first 5G connection in a premium phone, a feature analysts do not expect Apple to match until 2020.
Samsung is also making improvements to its flagship Galaxy S devices and plans to offer a 4G version of its folding phone.
It also challenges the notion of what a phone can cost, debuting at nearly twice the price of current top-of-the-line models from Apple and Samsung itself.
Patrick Moorhead, founder of Moor Insights & Strategy, said the new folding device could help Samsung stay at the top and lure consumers to upgrade devices that have looked largely the same over the past five years.
“Samsung and Apple go back and forth” to lead the premium smartphone market, Moorhead said. “I think this is Samsung’s chance to take back the innovation crown.”
And even though the $1,980 starting price is steep, some dedicated Samsung fans said they would pay it. Navneet Kumar Singh, a Samsung enthusiast from India who traveled to San Francisco to watch the launch, is ready to place his order.
“The prices of the flagship models have been a little aggressive in India,” he said, “But in the end, if you invest the money you’re getting a different experience.”
Samsung also introduced several accessories to compete against Apple, including a pair of wireless headphones called Galaxy Buds. The headphones include wireless charging, a feature that Apple has promised to put into is competing AirPods but has not yet released.
Samsung also said that its new Galaxy phones will be able to wirelessly charge its headphones and new smartwatches by setting the accessories on the back of the phone.

10 times faster
Along with the folding phone, Samsung also added new cameras and a 5G version to its Galaxy series of phones.
Verizon Communications Inc. will be the first carrier to offer service for Samsung’s 5G phones. The networks are expected to be 10 times faster than current ones, improving viewing of live news and sports events.
With the 5G versions of its flagships, the Korean electronics maker looks to have beaten Chinese rivals in the 5G race, although the device will operate only on the small number of networks launching later this year. Apple is not expected to release a 5G smartphone until late 2020.
The new networks are not available in many places yet but will roll out this year and next. Consumers who want to hold on to their phones for several years before upgrading may be tempted to buy a 5G phone now so that it will be able to take advantage of those networks later, said Bob O’Donnell of TECHnalysis Research. That could sway some Apple buyers over to Samsung and other Android makers with 5G devices.
“People are going to be thinking about, am going to be able to use this a year from now? Two years from now? Three years?” he said.
Rival smartphone makers are expected to announce 5G models at next week’s Mobile World Congress, the industry’s top annual event, in Spain. Samsung said its 5G handset would be available in the early summer.
The Galaxy 10 series needs to appeal to consumers who are reluctant to upgrade for only incremental technological improvements in performance.
All of the Galaxy series of rigid phones except the 5G will be available from March 8, with the S10+ priced from $1,000, the S10 priced from $900 and the smaller S10e from $750.
The mainline S10 compares with $999 for Apple’s iPhone XS and $858 for Huawei’s premium Mate 20 Pro.