Top Mideast Banker Pay Slashed Up to a Quarter Amid Slowdown

(Bloomberg) -- Salaries for top banking and finance professionals in the Middle East have been slashed by as much as a quarter over the past year as an economic slowdown hits corporate pay in most industries, according to recruiter Michael Page.

Pay for senior bankers fell between 20 percent and 25 percent, while salaries for middle-management positions dropped 5 percent to 10 percent, according to the recruitment consultant’s annual salary survey. Bonuses have also been cut, with the average payout now equaling one or two months’ salary, compared with three to four a few years ago.

“Before 2014 there was a lot of pressure on salaries and talented candidates were in high demand,” said Leith Ramsay, managing director at Page Group. “Now you have the best talent in the region and outside, and even if the salaries are 10 to 15 percent lower compared to those in the heyday, it’s still tax free.”

Finance executives have also had other benefits such as school fees -- which form a significant part of overall pay packages -- either cut or removed entirely. Expatriates working in the Gulf region aren’t always entitled to free places at public schools.

A slump in oil prices has hit local economies across the Middle East and forced many lenders to cut jobs. Banks in the region are also exploring mergers to stay competitive.

A plan to merge Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank PJSC, Union National Bank PJSC and privately-held Al Hilal Bank could result in thousands of jobs being cut, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg in December. Standard Chartered Plc is also cutting jobs in Dubai as part of a global plan to curb expenses, people said last month, while the collapse of private-equity firm Abraaj, which once employed about 350 people, has added to the number of jobseekers.

Despite this, Dubai, home to the Middle East’s biggest financial center, plans to triple the size of its banking district, adding an area almost the size of London’s Canary Wharf, even as it faces slower growth and rising competition from neighboring financial hubs.

“To attract and retain top talent in the region, businesses in the Middle East had to compete with cities like Hong Kong and Singapore,” Ramsay said. “Since the last few years, this is no longer the case.”

While banking salaries have been hit hardest, other industries are also suffering. According to the survey:

  • Oil and gas industry salaries have remained flat or dropped slightly. Lower oil prices have led to a slowdown in new energy projects leading to a glut of workers, depressing salaries.
  • Construction industry salaries have also fallen slightly due to a slowdown in spending on infrastructure projects.
  • Accounting jobs are increasingly moving out of the Middle East and to countries like Philippines, India and Malaysia.
  • Salaries in the retail industry have either remained flat or fallen.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.