It is not just dollars that are scarce in the Saudi economy. Banks are also battling with a severe shortage of talent. Coupled with the highly inflationary environment, it means that staff churn is the inevitable outcome as rival banks bid up salaries to get the best people.
With only about 37,000 people working in the Saudi banking sector, most of whom are in the retail branches, the pool of talent for corporate banking is extremely small, with perhaps only a few hundred experienced investment bankers.
This also makes it easier for individuals to attract attention to themselves by working on major deals. Short-staffed rivals will be watching, knowing that when people move, contacts and relationships can follow.
Bankers in the kingdom say Samba has particularly suffered from staff losses over the past few months, but it is a much wider problem for the sector.
For Saudi nationals, moving between banks in the kingdom is easy; for expatriates, it is more difficult. Visa restrictions mean that current employees are unlikely to be given permission to work for a rival – unless they are moving to a bank in a different country.
These restrictions on the movement of expatriates will help to keep salaries down, which is important given the rising costs as the sector expands. However, with inflation eating into salaries more and more, pay will have to rise to stop bankers looking elsewhere in the Gulf. Pay has deteriorated further because most bankers in the kingdom are paid in dollars, meaning the real value of their salaries has fallen.
So far, the only evidence that this churn of people is starting to affect deal-flow in Saudi Arabia is anecdotal. But if the problem continues, it will start to have a real impact on the timing and success of deals.