Shaikha Al-Bahar “Women in Kuwait have long been acknowledged as pioneers, but there is much progress to be made”

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Forbes Middle East unveils annual list of Most Powerful Businesswomen for 2023

KUWAIT CITY, Feb 11: Forbes Middle East has unveiled its annual list of the region’s Most Powerful Businesswomen – 2023. Ms. Shaikha Al- Bahar, Group Deputy CEO at National Bank of Kuwait topped the list of the most powerful businesswomen in Kuwait and ranked 4 in the Middle East for 2023, owing to her outstanding career in the banking industry and her leading role in promoting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In a recent interview with the magazine, Shaikha Al-Bahar talked about the fundamental pillars driving NBK’s growth and detailed some of the CSR efforts she manages, as well as offering a glimpse into her successful professional path.

Sustainable Growth
Commenting on NBK’s solid financial results in 2022 and her outlook on future performance, Al-Bahar said that NBK is optimistic that the positive trend will continue in its financials, driven by diversification and digitization, an improving operational environment, higher oil prices, and a lower cost of risk. When asked about future expansions, Al- Bahar responded that NBK is present in 13 countries and has no current plans to expand geographically, adding: “Currently, the focus is on our existing markets, but we are open to any opportunity, and inorganic growth is still on the table if an opportunity having synergy with our strategy arise”. Al-Bahar also talked about NBK’s digital transformation, saying that the Bank’s headquarters house a digital lab focused on conducting market research and scouting the global Fintech market for new ideas as well as developing its own product solutions. The Bank uses data analytics, RPA, and machine learning in its operations.

As for Kuwait Development Plan, Al-Bahar sees that “The focus was on Vision 2035, so the core of it is to have the government as regulator, policy-maker, and allow the private sector to handle operations. They are building bridges, establishing companies, creating jobs, but they have to go to the private sector to build more efficiency.”

Leading Initiatives
“We learned from experience that disruption is bound to happen, so we decided to lead the change. We started from scratch and built from the ground up. We delivered the digital bank in just 12 months. We will, of course, be eager to have this digital bank contributing to the bottom line,” Al-Bahar said. Al-Bahar also described Bankee education program saying that it gives the participants the culture of how to save rather than keep spending. On the asset and wealth management front, Al- Bahar said: “Most banks focus on pushing clients to spending, spending, spending, and banks keep lending, lending, lending, but our Smart Wealth is giving clients the opportunity to start saving. This is really a very ambitious plan for digital banking, and we are really happy with the outcomes.” “NBK has embedded its mobile banking options with its investment arm, Smart Wealth, which enables customers to also access investment services in-app, such as transferring funds and viewing their portfolios,” Al-Bahar added.

Al-Bahar highlighted that NBK established NBK RISE—a women-led leadership initiative designed by women for women to bring together corporate entities and female executives to elevate women in the workforce. Participant companies signed an NBK RISEPledge to increase women’s representation in leadership positions. “Female executives provide a greater degree of creative thinking, and companies with more female representation engage more with social causes. Companies with a greater proportion of female executives and board members have been shown to score higher at social responsibility, corporate governance, and transparency,” Al- Bahar confirmed. “I always take things very passionately. Women in Kuwait have long been acknowledged as pioneers, it’s not just recently, but there is much progress to be made. In my opinion, the two most glaring challenges are the proportion of women in leadership roles within the financial industry and closing the gender gap, mainly in wages,” Al-Bahar noted.

FORBES demonstrated the magnitude of Ms. Sheikha Al-Bahar’s hard work and sacrifices throughout her professional journey. As she was building her career, Al-Bahar worked very hard with full dedication and passion, 24/7 and getting herself outside her comfort zone. This helped her a lot in differentiating herself. Working for late hours. Working on one of Kuwait’s first BOT projects — she was in the office until 5 am to close the deal. Al-Bahar described working on that project, saying: “I went home, I got orange juice, I took a bath, and I went back to the office at 6:30 a.m.”
“I love to put myself under pressure; I am a workaholic,” Al-Bahar added. “I was very curious and eager to learn. I wasn’t going to settle for a routine job. I continued to ask questions, learn, and grow, never accepting any limitations to what I could do, and this opened the sky for me.” Describing her unique professional path, Al-Bahar said: “Each success story has its own unique twists and turns, but there are thematic necessities to success. Cultivating a positive attitude, honoring my values, and playing to my strengths have propelled my career.”
“Now I spend more time on strategy, building teams, succession planning and investing in people. This will give me time to deliver the Group’s strong aspiration of growth and not doing the nitty gritty; however meeting with groups and leaders to discuss the performance as per the plan,” Al-Bahar said, describing her main focus at this junction of her professional path. “A career in our field is not a smooth upward trajectory. I chose to have a different approach where I had to double the work to prove myself,” Al-Bahar added. “My dream is to be part of a non-profit organization to help the community, with a focus on education. This is really my dream. I want to be part of the change,” Al-Bahar concluded.

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