How MENA’s financial services sector is empowering women
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How MENA’s financial services sector is empowering women

How MENA’s financial services sector is empowering women

MENA countries have made significant progress in empowering women economically, politically, and socially, and considers women to be key partners in sustainable growth

Kudakwashe Muzoriwa
Meet women in MENA financial services sector

The UAE is ranked as the leading gender-equal country in the Middle East region, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2023 report, an achievement that comes from the fundamental belief that women and men are equal partners in society.

The country has made significant progress in empowering women economically, politically, and socially, and considers women to be key partners in sustainable development.

It has notably increased women’s participation in the financial services sector through new government-led initiatives and policies, such as a mandate for publicly listed companies to include at least one woman on their boards.

More women have joined the highest levels of the banking and financial services industry leadership in the UAE, among other MENA countries, but progress has been slow. Though the percentage remains low compared to other markets, meet the trailblazers making history: 

Hana Al Rostamani

Designation: Group CEO

Company: First Abu Dhabi Bank

Hana Al Rostamani has been at the helm of First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB), the UAE’s biggest bank by assets, since 2021. With more than 25 years of experience in banking and financial services, Al Rostamani is the first female CEO in FAB’s history.

She oversees the banking group’s global footprint, which spans 20 markets across five continents.

The bank’s net profit in the three months to March 31 rose by 6 per cent year-on-year to Dhs4.2bn, Dhs8bn in total income and Dhs1.24tn in assets, up 18 per cent and 4 per cent, respectively.

“FAB continues to deliver robust performance, reflected in double-digit growth in revenue year-on-year, supported by strong business momentum. We remain focused on accelerating our growth strategy, building efficiencies and delivering sustained shareholder value,” Al Rostamani said in the bank’s Q1 earnings report in May.

The bank facilitated Dhs26bn ($7bn) in sustainable finance in Q1 2024 and has availed Dhs150bn in green finance to date or around 30 per cent of its Dhs500bn target by 2030. In October 2021, FAB became the first UAE and Middle East bank to join the Net-Zero Banking Alliance.

Al Rostamani is also chair of the Global Council on Sustainable Development Goals and a board member of Buna and the Institute of International Finance.

Rola Abu Manneh

Designation: CEO, UAE, Middle East and Pakistan at Standard Chartered

Company: Standard Chartered

Abu Manneh was appointed CEO of Standard Chartered in the UAE, Middle East, and Pakistan in April 2024. Prior to this, she held the position of CEO of Standard Chartered in the UAE, becoming the first Emirati woman to head a bank in the country. She is credited for transforming Standard Chartered Group’s business in the UAE into one of the biggest five markets for the banking group.

In November 2022, Standard Chartered UAE unveiled an Islamic Sustainable Account, which is used to fund sustainable projects.

Over the years, Abu Manneh has championed women’s empowerment and female entrepreneurship through different initiatives such as the Women in Tech accelerator programme. Under the Women in Tech programme, Standard Chartered UAE has accelerated four cohorts, comprising more than 20 startups, who have collectively raised $5m.

Standard Chartered UAE posted a pretax profit of $125m in the January-March quarter while its income came in at $237m.

Abu Manneh is a member of the board of directors of the Dubai International Chamber and prior to joining Standard Chartered UAE, she was senior managing director and head of the corporate and investment banking division for the Abu Dhabi region at FAB.

Maryam Buti Al Suwaidi

Designation: CEO

Company: Securities and Commodities Authority

Al Suwaidi was appointed CEO of the Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA) by a federal decree in October 2021, becoming the first woman to occupy the position in the history of the authority.

Under her leadership, the UAE securities regulator said in April that it had extended the exemption of companies listing green and sustainability-linked bonds and sukuk from paying registration fees.

The SCA assumed the tasks of regulating, supervising and controlling virtual assets and related services in February as the country. The authority also partnered with the Abu Dhabi IPO Fund in March 2023 to increase the number of initial public offerings in the country and boost the depth of domestic capital markets while promoting financial stability.

Al Suwaidi was accredited as an assessor expert in evaluating anti-money laundering and terrorism financing systems by the Financial Action Task Force in September 2019, the first Emirati woman to receive this recognition.

Raja Al Mazrouei

Designation: MD and CEO

Company: Etihad Credit Insurance

With a career spanning nearly two decades, Al Mazrouei joined Etihad Credit Insurance (ECI) as a board member in January 2022 and became the export credit agency’s managing director and CEO in November 2022 and January 2023, respectively.

Al Mazrouei has been instrumental in driving ECI’s transformational strategy while enhancing its operational efficiencies. Under her stewardship, the agency continues to support the UAE’s economic diversification agenda and empower SMEs in both local and international markets.

She also sits on the boards of several companies including the Harvard Business School MENA Advisory Board, Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government,  Zand Digital Bank, Al Masraf Arab Bank, Al Ansari Financial Services and Ittihad International Investment. Previously, Al Mazrouei was executive vice president of DIFC FinTech Hive.

Dr Saeeda Jaffar

Designation: Group country manager and SVP GCC

Company: Visa

Dr Jaffar joined global digital payments company Visa in 2021 from Alvarez & Marsal ME, the world’s leading turnaround and restructuring firm, where she was the managing director. Under Dr Jaffar’s guidance, Visa introduced the Visa Installment Solution in the GCC region – in partnership with local issuers and acquirers – to cater to the growing demand for instalment payment options.

Visa launched She’s Next, its global advocacy program that aims to support women-owned small businesses through funding, training, and mentorship, for the first time in the Gulf region in 2022. Since 2020, the global payments has invested more than $3m in over 250 grants and coaching for women SMB owners through the She’s Next grant programme globally, including in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Morocco.

With more than two decades of experience in the financial services sector, she previously held leadership positions in the Middle East for both Bain & Company and McKinsey & Company.

Dr Jaffar holds a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering from Boston University, and a Master of Science and a Doctorate in Chemical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

May El Gammal

Designation: Group chief marketing  and communications officer

Company: EFG Holding

El Gammal is an accomplished executive serving as the group chief marketing and communications officer at EFG Holding. She has extensive holistic experience in the financial industry and an unbridled passion for driving impact, she has established herself as a progressive marketing and communications leader.

Having joined the banking group in 2010, El Gammal witnessed and actively participated in the company’s evolution from a regional investment bank to a global financial services corporation with a presence across four continents, while shaping how the firm projects itself to its respective audience across its footprint.

El Gammal was pivotal in shaping EFG Holding’s growth strategy and executing successful marketing and communications campaigns.

Throughout her tenure, she has overseen the management of the entire brand portfolio, including the launch and management of renowned super brands such as Valu, MENA’s leading universal financial technology powerhouse, a brand she created and grew from its inception; Bedaya, EFG Holding’s mortgage finance brand; EFG Corp-Solutions, the leasing and factoring brand, and EFG Hermes One the group’s leading securities trading platform.

Furthermore, she is actively involved in driving the marketing and communications activities of the commercial bank arm of EFG Holding, aiBANK, one of Egypt’s fastest-growing banks.

With a proven track record, El Gammal combines her expertise in marketing and communications with a deep understanding of the financial industry, enabling her to deliver impactful strategies that contribute to the continuous growth and success of EFG Holding as a listed company on the Egyptian Exchange with more than 40 years of rich history in creating impact.

El Gammal has more than two decades of experience. She possesses extensive expertise in developing compelling public relations strategies, orchestrating successful flagship conferences and events, driving growth marketing initiatives, and spearheading brand creation and management.

Notably, El Gammal played a pivotal role in establishing the sustainability practice at EFG Holding in 2014, underscoring her commitment to responsible marketing and sustainable development as vice chairman of the board of the EFG Foundation for Social Impact. She has actively championed sustainable marketing initiatives for over a decade to create meaningful impact, transform lives, and foster positive change in economies, societies, and the environment.

Read: These 4 Emirati women lead UAE’s powerful financial institutions 

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