Embrace change or stagnate, leaders told at Top CEO in Bahrain

Jassim Al-Seddiqi says that advances in technology may lead to the demise in the need for high-street banks. (Supplied)
Updated 11 April 2019
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Embrace change or stagnate, leaders told at Top CEO in Bahrain

  • Jassim Al-Seddiqi: Jobs will go. But this doesn’t have to be negative. Companies need to diversify, reskill people and create new types of jobs
  • Much of Thursday’s conference touched on the need for diversification, and how companies must change the way they operate

BAHRAIN: Ask Jassim Al-Seddiqi, CEO of Abu Dhabi Financial Group, what banking will look like in five years and he will admit — he doesn’t know.

This is not a question of asking him to predict the future and him not knowing, but more a recognition that technology has moved so fast that it is no longer clear.

Some say that with the digital transformation moving quicker now than ever before it is impossible to say what the future holds.

Speaking at the Top CEO conference in Bahrain, Al-Seddiqi said that advances in technology might have led to the demise in the need for high-street banks, admitting that he used his mobile phone to make simple transactions.

People shop differently, he added, and companies are striving to become the first to launch self-driving cars.

But with increasing automation, Al-Seddiqi said: “Jobs will go. But this doesn’t have to be negative. Companies need to diversify, reskill people and create new types of jobs.”

The companies that did this, he said, would move forward, expand and strengthen, the ones that did not, would likely fail, or at least not enjoy the same levels of growth.

Much of Thursday’s conference touched on the need for diversification, and how companies must change the way they operate.

“Change” was the word of the day — change and acceptance to try new approaches.

And while technology was included, many delegates were showing that it will take more than a fancy app or a driverless car to save the world’s economy.

The world, conference attendees agreed, needed to become more inclusive and that meant a greater involvement of women in high-placed, decision-making positions.

Nasser Al-Nasser, group CEO at Saudi Telecom Co. (STC), said that in his company “the opportunity for women in employment is gaining pace at all levels.”

He added that what was available to men, was also now available to women.

“Opportunities for specialized training and sending people abroad is the same for women as it is for men,” said Al-Nasser, who was speaking on a panel moderated by Arab News business columnist Frank Kane.

The conference also saw the launch of the Diversity Council MENA by Tine Willumsen, CEO and founder of The Above & Beyond Group.

“At the moment, in China and the US, 25 to 26 percent of the households have a female breadwinner. And it is estimated already that by 2025 about half of the households in America will have a woman as the main breadwinner,” Willumsen told Arab News on the sidelines of the Bahrain business leaders’ get-together.

She said the Gulf Arab region still had “some way to go” but noted that the rulers in the region were “absolutely focused” on the issue.

Nevertheless, she said only 20-25 percent of women were represented in the workforce in the region, compared to Scandinavia where that figure stood at 70 percent — one of the world’s highest.

Push the number of women in work in Saudi Arabia to 30-40 percent and “imagine what that would do for the household income,” she added.

In Scandinavia, Willumsen said the number of senior positions held by women was still low, at little over 20 percent, but in the Gulf, she said that figure was in single digits.

She acknowledged that there were still challenges in the region with regard to women, but she said the same challenges existed around the world.

Willumsen said companies that had men and women at the top making decisions were already proven to perform better, and that it was essential for there to be a “gender diverse” board of decision-makers if business was going to succeed.

The diversity begins, she said, with education. Girls and young women were coming out of schools and colleges better qualified than their male counterparts, and better education meant greater opportunities, higher salaries and increased spending power, she added.

In short, Willumsen said, combine the thoughts of men and women and then society can only benefit, but only when the number of women in management better represented the number of women in the workplace.

Companies that failed to embrace this change, she said, would not see the same progress.


India suspends Kashmir border trade with Pakistan

Updated 19 April 2019
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India suspends Kashmir border trade with Pakistan

  • Kashmir has been on edge since a February suicide attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitaries
  • India said it had reports that trade on the border was being “misused by Pakistan-based elements for funnelling illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency”

NEW DELHI: India has suspended trade across its disputed Kashmir border with Pakistan, alleging that weapons and drugs are being smuggled across the route, as tensions simmer between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
Kashmir has been on edge since a February suicide attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitaries and brought the two countries to the brink of war with cross-border air strikes.
On Thursday, India’s government, which is in the middle of a tough national election, said it had reports that trade on the border was being “misused by Pakistan-based elements for funnelling illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency.”
It also said many of those trading across the Line of Control, which divides Kashmir into zones under Indian and Pakistani control, had links to militant organizations.
The home ministry said trade would be suspended until a stricter inspection mechanism is in place.
The cross-border trade is based on a barter system, with traders exchanging goods including chillies, cumin, mango and dried fruit.
It began in 2008 as a way to improve strained relations between New Delhi and Islamabad, who have fought two of their three wars over the disputed region.
The Indian Express newspaper said Friday that 35 trucks carrying fruit traveling from the Indian side of the border had been stopped after the government order.
Trade on the border has been suspended before, including in 2015, when India accused a Pakistani driver of drug trafficking.
The latest move comes after India withdrew “Most Favoured Nation Status” — covering trade links — from Pakistan after the February attack, which was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed Islamist group.
Islamabad has denied any involvement in the attack.
India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made national security a key plank of his re-election campaign, pointing to the recent flare-up of violence as he battles the center-left opposition Congress party.
He is seeking a second term from the country’s 900 million voters in the mammoth election which kicked off on April 11 and runs till May 19. The results will be out on May 23.