DUBAI: Jordan-based Capital Bank is adding bilingual robots to its retail banking workforce.
The bank hired Saudi-based Proven Solution to work on its digital innovation, particularly in deploying its robot management system to Capital Bank’s retail business.
It is aimed at enhancing customer experience, the bank said in a statement, especially at a time when robotics software is gaining traction in the Middle East.
The Saudi technology company will deploy “Pepper,” a bilingual humanoid robot, who will be able to “assist customers by providing support and information related to banking services.”
“Our team has worked hard on this project, which goes beyond streamlining administrative tasks to increase the level of service quality for customers,” Zaid Al Mashari, Group CEO of Proven Arabia.
The bank has deployed four robots across its key branches in Jordan, which it said has already reduced waiting time of customers.
“Capital Bank has taken major leaps towards implementing its digital transformation strategy and continues to launch innovative financial solutions that aim to transform banking in Jordan,” its head of consumer banking Mohammed Othman said.
Saudi cement sector performance slumps amid soaring energy prices
Manufacturers in the Kingdom are investing in new infrastructure to enhance production efficiency
Updated 22 May 2022
Dayan Abou Tine
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s cement sector has recorded a weak performance as rising production costs coupled with low demand led to a fall in sales and production in the month of April which coincided with Ramadan.
According to data compiled by Al-Yamama Cement, sales of 17 Saudi cement factories fell by 39 percent to 3 million tons in April 2022 from 4.97 million tons in March.
This compared to a drop of 28 percent in April last year, which included three weeks of Ramadan, compared to 30 days this year.
City Cement, Qassim, Al Safwa, Najran and Al Yamama reported the highest drop month-on-month in April by 57 percent, 46 percent, 46 percent, and 45 percent respectively. A comparison in cement production and sales in Saudi firms between the first four months of 2022 and 2021 reveal an overall 14 percent negative growth in production and 12 percent negative growth in sales.
This compares to a rise by 10.9 percent and 13.5 percent in production and sales respectively in the first four months of 2021 versus the same period of 2020.
Al Yamama Cement is the only company that recorded a year-on-year growth in the first four months of 2022. Data shows a 49 percent increase in production to 2.4 million tons, and 54 percent surge in local sales to 2.4 million tons.
Safwa and Al Tabuk cement factories reported negative production growth during the same period but rose in sales by 1.3 percent and 13 percent respectively.
Al Yamama Cement had the highest share in the overall output and sales in the first four months of this year at 14 percent, followed by Saudi Cement and Southern Cement, both 11 percent.
In addition to the rising energy prices that represent about 30 to 40 percent of the total production cost, the Kingdom’s cement sector was hit by a slowdown in construction activities due to a labor shortage caused by a travel ban following the COVID-19 outbreak.
Clinker production by all Saudi companies in the first four months of 2022 increased by 8.5 percent to 18.8 million tons, with Najran Cement alone increasing its production by 98 percent, followed by Yanbu Cement by 60 percent.
Riyadh Cement and Al Jouf came last and reported a slower clinker production of 42 percent and 30 percent respectively.
Saudi cement factories sell almost all of the cement produced locally. The Saudi Cement Co., however, emerged as the top exporter by exporting 199,000 tons, which represents almost 60 percent of total cement exported by all the factories in the Kingdom.
In terms of clinker exports, Yanbu Cement, Saudi Cement and Arabian cement made up 75 percent or 1.9 million tons of the total in the first four months of 2022.
Cement in-stock in April 2022 increased by 7.3 percent year-on-year versus 8.9 percent in the previous month of March. This also compares to year-on-year decreases in April and March of 2021 of 11.8 percent and 15.1 percent respectively.
Qassim Cement and Northern Region cement had the highest rise in cement stocks in April 2022 by 69 percent and 51 percent respectively.
According to Al Jazira Capital analysts, the number of expatriate workers in the labor market had a net yearly decline of 66,000 workers in 2021. However, the latest data shows a quarterly net rise of 267,000 expats during the fourth quarter in 2021, the first quarterly rise since the same period in 2020.
A surge in construction activities due to The Red Sea Development Co., AMAALA and other development projects in Saudi Arabia such as NEOM and Qiddiya are also expected to drive the recovery of the local cement industry.
Cement manufacturers are investing in new infrastructure to enhance production efficiency and reduce power consumption. This shift also comes as Saudi Arabia joins more than 100 countries that have committed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060.
Post pandemic, Saudi music events industry finds its groove
The sector is set to become the biggest driver of the domestic entertainment business
Updated 22 May 2022
George Charles Darley
RIYADH: If the number of events held at the Riyadh Season entertainment festival is any measure of success, then Saudi Arabia’s live music industry is set to become the biggest driver of the domestic entertainment business.
Organized by the General Entertainment Authority, Riyadh Season 2021 was held between Oct. 2021 and March 2022. It witnessed 7,500 diversified entertainment events, including concerts, exhibitions and theatrical shows, both Arab and international.
I’ve never in 30 years worked on a project with such scope. MDLBeast has a vision of excellence at a world- class level, backed up with the effort and determination required to achieve that.
Alex reardon, Creative director at Silent House
The festival featured Egyptian singers Mohamed Ramadan and Tamer Hosny, Bollywood actor Salman Khan and US rapper Pitbull, who attracted an audience of 750,000.
Other KSA-based music events include Riyadh’s annual SoundStorm, now literally the world’s largest Electronic Dance Music festival, in December 2021, and a succession of concerts alongside Jeddah’s recent Formula One races featuring American supergroup the Black Eyed Peas and R&B star Chris Brown, among others. In addition, Mariah Carey, Enrique Iglesias and One Republic have all performed in Saudi Arabia.
As a focal point of the Vision 2030 reform program, the Kingdom’s entertainment sector is seeing over $64 billion in investment, with the live music industry a key beneficiary.
According to Saudi Arabia’s Music Commission, a department of the Saudi Ministry of Culture, the Kingdom will create about 65,000 music-related jobs within the next eight years. Moreover, it is working toward enabling the music sector to contribute 1 percent to the Kingdom’s economy by 2030.
Calm after the storm
A prime mover of this burgeoning industry is Jeddah-based MDLBeast, the producer of SoundStorm and Formula One concerts. The company describes itself as “a global music and new media platform with music culture at its core and a home for creators and music lovers.”
One such creator is Michael ‘Curly’ Jobson, a legendary figure in the global live music business. In his youth a guitarist with UK indie band Echo & the Bunnymen, Jobson has been a music tour manager for decades and, in February 2020, was appointed MDLBeast’s Executive Director of Events.
• Riyadh Season 2021 was held between October 2021 and March 2022. It witnessed 7,500 diversified entertainment events, including concerts, exhibitions and theatrical shows, both Arab and international.
• The festival featured Egyptian singers Mohamed Ramadan and Tamer Hosny, Bollywood actor Salman Khan and US rapper Pitbull, who attracted an audience of 750,000.
• According to Saudi Arabia’s Music Commission, a department of the Ministry of Culture, the Kingdom will create about 65,000 music-related jobs within the next eight years. Moreover, it is working toward enabling the music sector to contribute 1 percent to the economy by 2030.
“We put on events of any kind — musical, corporate, sports — from the concept to the pitch through to the design, operations and bringing it to fruition,” Jobson told Arab News.
This approach relies upon a host of contractors to provide solutions from plumbing and drainage to laying of asphalt and electrical installations.
SoundStorm, for example, involved Saudi construction firm Al Arrab, Lebanese events services provider Fiesta and Riyadh-based architecture firm Key Design, among many other local and regional firms.
And from Los Angeles came Silent House, a production design firm that conceives and builds staging for global headliners such as Harry Styles, Rihanna and Bruno Mars and which handled the overall design of SoundStorm 2021.
“I’ve never in 30 years worked on a project with such scope,” Silent House creative director Alex Reardon told Arab News. “MDL Beast has a vision of excellence at a world-class level, backed up with the effort and determination required to achieve that.”
Jobson sees the Kingdom’s music events sector in historical terms with reference to its future and its past.
“2030 is the date presented for a particular level of growth in Saudi Arabia, but I’m seeing something a little bit different, which is tourism becoming the lifeblood of the Kingdom, and with tourism comes the demand for entertainment,” he said.
“The Red Sea coastline goes from the Egyptian border to the Yemen, which is akin to the Florida Keys to Canada. And think what happened in the last 300 years up that coastline!
“I’m not sure it’s any different here with the rising population and the increasing numbers of youth with an equally huge appetite for entertainment.
“We need to focus on making Saudi Arabia a regular touring destination – rather than a one-off stop – so that performers go from Athens to Alexandria to Jeddah to Riyadh and then onwards to Asia, Australia and California.”
Raising the bar
Saudi Arabia’s Assistant Minister for Tourism, Princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al-Saud, also sees music and tourism as two mutually supportive revenue streams for the Kingdom in its transition from dependence upon oil to a more diverse and creative economy.
“You are talking about 25 percent of the UK and US population traveling to attend at least one music festival a year,” Princess Haifa said at the XP Music Conference, held in Riyadh in December 2021.
“This tells you where the world is shifting. From hosting 101 concerts in Saudi Arabia in 2019, we are looking at increasing that number by 500 or 600 percent from 2022,” she added.
Clearly, this exponential growth cannot happen without nurturing local talent and expertise. Jobson believes that knowledge transfer and a permanent ecosystem of niche companies — as opposed to the temporary hiring of foreign contractors and equipment — is the only way forward for the Kingdom.
“The western music industry started as a modern business model in the 1950s with recording, publishing and venue management. With that came PA systems, lighting designers, set designers and sound engineers,” said Jobson.
“All of this is a brand-new thing in Saudi Arabia. It’s only a couple of years since the very forward-thinking crown prince has opened it up to us.”
Reardon is optimistic regarding the advent of a fully-fledged music events industry in Saudi Arabia.
“I think the base level commitment to excellence will not change,” he said. “There’s been a huge learning curve for those of us coming from our side of the planet and those in the Kingdom.
“We’re learning from each other and about each other in a very collaborative way, which means that the seedbed for growth is very fertile.
“We can bring our decades of experience and work very well with people in the Kingdom to create successes in live entertainment that would be almost impossible in Western Europe and North America.”
WOLF offers women the opportunity to create and explore things that were previously unattainable for them
Updated 22 May 2022
DUBAI: The World Online Festival is a platform that aims to put a party in your living room. Its interactive app allows users to enter its virtual music festivals whenever they choose to take in singers, poets, comedians, musicians and DJs. Users can become more involved by producing an event, or simply hang out as a fan.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, WOLF CEO Gary Knight said that the platform offers women the opportunity to create and explore things that were previously unattainable for them. Its events also offer after-show gatherings where users can send texts, images, and audio messages.
Knight added that WOLF originally started life as Palringo, a messaging platform in the Gulf Cooperation Council region that was founded more than ten years ago.
• The business also runs a WOLFStars program where producers and performers put together their own gigs and can compete against each other to win competitions and cash rewards.
• Users can become a producer or festival owner, which allows them to create their own room, put on their own artists and promote them to fans, says the CEO.
• Gary Knight says this program has 70 percent female performers and 58 percent female audience members.
The WOLF boss said: “The service developed from let’s bring people together, to let’s bring people together through performance and entertainment. We wanted to provide a unique experience between the users performing and the crowd, to make sure everyone is part of this thing.”
The business also runs a WOLFStars program where producers and performers put together their own gigs and can compete against each other to win competitions and cash rewards.
He added users can become a producer or festival owner, which allows them to create their own room, put on their own artists and promote them to fans.
Knight said this program has 70 percent female performers and 58 percent female audience members.
He added the app is proud to “provide a safe and secure environment where women can go to perform and be a full part of the whole ecosystem.”
The service developed from let’s bring people together, to let’s bring people together through performance and entertainment. We wanted to provide a unique experience between the users performing and the crowd, to make sure everyone is part of this thing.
Gary Knight, WOLF CEO
Knight said the program allows performers to learn directly from their performances, because they can log into a virtual event every day, rather than attending a live music festival once or twice a year.
Knight pointed out that because it is not easy to go to music festivals in the Middle East, people are more likely to attend online festivals because they are more accessible.
WOLF’s chat rooms feature two-dimensional stages, which bring chat and interaction alongside entertainment.
The app head said ultimately the goal of the firm is to create a metaverse with a more three-dimensional environment.
Knight said the business is also working on giving users the option of recording, editing, and sharing clips of performances. He said that toward the end of this year, the company will launch WOLF VR, which will allow users to look around chat rooms using virtual reality headsets.
He added: “By the end of the year, you’ll be able to put your headset on and be on stage and perform.”
Knight pointed out that after launching Palringo on the app store in 2008, he and his team saw a significant growth of the service in the Middle East and North Africa. That gave them the idea to do more in the region.
He launched WOLF two years ago and since then he says the app has reached 2.7 million users.
Knight added that maintaining the firm’s existing community after rebranding was a challenge.
“There was always a threat when you change something quite dramatically and rebrand and relaunch that it might not be something that fits your unique audience,” he added.
WOLF’s business model revolves around rewards, gifts, and reputation credits. The platform also has a store where users can buy games and charms to take into rooms. It also sells premium group accounts, with extra features such as free charms and ways to boost your group’s reputation.
“If you do well, or you do things well in the app, then you can get rewarded and gifted by other users,” he added.
The app boss said the firm has doubled its revenue over the last two years and will continue to do so this year.
Knight added that further investment is likely to come from backers in the region, and the company is currently in discussions about raising further finance.
World Economic Forum to return in-person as it aims to shed light on ‘History at a Turning Point’
This year’s meeting will bring together about 2,500 leaders and experts from around the world, including more than 50 heads of state and government, more than 1,250 leaders from the private sector and nearly 100 Global Innovators and Technology Pioneers
Updated 22 May 2022
LONDON: The World Economic Forum has announced that the theme of its annual meeting for 2022 will be ‘History at a Turning Point: Government Policies and Business Strategies’ in its return to an in-person conference since the pandemic forced it to go virtual since 2020.
“The Annual Meeting is the first summit that brings global leaders together in this new situation characterized by an emerging multipolar world as a result of the pandemic and war,” said Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s founder and executive chairman.
This year’s meeting — which is happening in the spring rather than its usual January slot — returns after a two-year hiatus and will bring together about 2,500 leaders and experts from around the world, including more than 50 heads of state and government, more than 1,250 leaders from the private sector and nearly 100 Global Innovators and Technology Pioneers.
“The fact that nearly 2,500 leaders from politics, business, civil society and media come together in person demonstrates the need for a trusted, informal and action-oriented global platform to confront the issues in a crisis-driven world,” Schwab said.
Civil society will be represented by more than 200 leaders from NGOs, social entrepreneurs, academia, labour organizations, faith-based and religious groups, and at least 400 media leaders and reporting press. The Annual Meeting will also bring together younger generations, with 100 members of the Forum’s Global Shaper and Young Global Leader communities participating.
Against a backdrop of the global pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and geo-economic challenges, the meeting convenes at a strategic point where public figures and global leaders will meet in person to reconnect, exchange insights, gain fresh perspectives and advance solutions.
Topics that will be discussed at the annual meeting range from COVID-19 and climate change to education, technology and energy governance.
These include the Reskilling Revolution, an initiative to provide 1 billion people with better education, skills and jobs by 2030; an initiative on universal environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics and disclosures to measure stakeholder capitalism; and the One Trillion Trees initiative, 1t.org, to protect our trees and forests and restore the planet’s ecosystems.
The programme will have six thematic pillars, including fostering global and regional cooperation; securing the economic recovery and shaping a new era of growth; building healthy and equitable societies; safeguarding climate, food and nature; driving industry transformation, and finally; harnessing the power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Dual impact from oil and non-oil sectors ‘to propel Saudi GDP growth by 10 percent’
Capital Economics says it will be the highest annual growth rate in over a decade, if this happens
Updated 21 May 2022
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product is expected to grow by 10 percent this year, driven by increased activities in the oil and non-oil sectors, according to a recent note from Capital Economics.
The London-based independent research firm said it will be the highest annual growth rate in over a decade, if this happens.
Capital Economics expects the Kingdom to achieve the projected 10-percent growth due to a significant increase in oil output combined with an expected loosening of fiscal policy that is set to encourage growth in the non-oil sector.
This projection follows the flash estimate for the first quarter GDP released earlier this month which showed the economy grew 2.2 percent since the last quarter of 2021, and 9.6 percent year-on-year — the highest growth rate in 11 years.
In regards to performance on a quarter-on-quarter basis, the growth is attributed to a 2.9 percent rise in oil GDP due to increased output on the back of the OPEC+ deal and a 2.5 percent growth in non-oil activities.
The increase in energy prices, which has been the largest since the 1973 oil crisis, together with the war in Ukraine — which altered the global patterns on trade, production and consumption — have contributed to this record GDP growth.
The projection by London-based Capital Economicsfollows the flash estimate for the first quarter GDP released earlier this month which showed the economy grew 2.2 percent since the last quarter of 2021, and 9.6 percent year-on-year — the highest growth rate in 11 years.
Though Saudi Arabia still hasn’t met its OPEC+ quota, it is one of the few members raising produc- tion significantly. With other member countries struggling to meet their quotas and an expected decline in Russian output, Capital Economics predicts the Kingdom will increase oil production faster than anticipated under the current OPEC+ agreement.
According to the World Bank, energy prices are expected to rise more than 50 percent in 2022, before easing in 2023 and 2024.
As oil prices remain elevated, policymakers are expected to relax fiscal policy to stimulate non-oil activities, with a reduction in the value-added tax a possibility, the note from Capital Economics pointed out.
The Kingdom’s non-oil sector has also expanded at the fastest rate in over four years, according to the Saudi Arabia PMI survey.
This has been due to new business and activity that boosted sharply as client demand recov- ered after COVID-19.
The increase in business also came in line with Vision 2030, a reform plan that aims to diversify the country’s economic resources.
The 10 percent figure projected by Capital Economics is much higher than recent projections from the IMF, which predicted the Saudi economy to grow by 7.6 percent in 2022, as mentioned in its World Economic Outlook released in April 2022.
Return of the leopard is at the heart of plans to conserve and regenerate Saudi Arabia’s landscapes and wildlife