JEDDAH/RIYADH: Saturday was not a usual day for some 50,000 employees of the estimated 1,200 branches of the 12 banks in Saudi Arabia.
They started work at 9.30 in the morning, half an hour late from the usual timing. But they did not take their five-hour break. Rather they continued their work without any recess till 4.30 in the afternoon.
Welcome to the new banking hours.
In line with a Royal decree, banks all over the Kingdom switched to a straight shift to be in tandem with the stock trading hours.
Up till now banks worked from 08:00-12:00 and 17:00-20:00 Saturday to Wednesday, and 08:00-12:00 on Thursday.
While bank employees welcomed the shift, customers expressed mixed reaction.
"We were not able to lead a normal social life. Almost all the day was spent at work. But now we have a plenty of time like any other private company employee," said Rasha Alharby, customer service representative of a bank in Jeddah.
Hazem, an Arab National Bank employee in Riyadh, agreed. "Saudis are family oriented and the single shift will allow bank employees to spend more time with their family," he said.
"Bank employees always preferred to work in the main branch even if it was far off from their home, because it followed one shift. But now employees are asking to be transferred to the branches near their homes," said Rami Al-Katheri, an NCB official in Jeddah.
Syed A. Ziauddin, vice-president of Hollandi Bank in Riyadh, said the head offices of all 12 banks in the Kingdom were operating in one shift for the past seven years, so the single shift will encourage the young Saudis to join the banking sector.
But many customers found the shift inconvenient.
"I work in a private company and I finish work late in the evening. Now with this change I have no time to visit the bank," Alaa J. Al lail, a lubricant company emplyee, told The Saudi Gazette.
But teachers and government employees feel the change is suitable for them and for the bank employees, because it decreases the bank rush hour.
"Usually banks were crowded in the evening when offices close. But now there won't be long rush hours," said Nawaf Abdulaziz, a computer teacher in Tabuk.
Eyad Al-Shaer, a Saudi sales manager of a company, said single shift is better than the earlier two shifts.
"A number of young Saudis were discouraged to join banks because of two shifts. I am sure the single shift will encourage them to joining banks," he said.
A committee formed by a Royal order, consisting of the Minister of Finance, SAMA governor and the president of the CMA, had recommended to the Council of Ministers to iron out official banking hours differences, proposing a 9:30 A.M.-4:30 P.M. straight shift.
Meeting of GCC ministers of finance, held last July in Abu Dhabi, put forth a recommendation of narrowing banking and financial institutions' official work hours to ensure greater harmony and better control.
The change in banking hours follows the recent change in the trading hours of the Saudi stock market.
Effective October 28, 2006, trading hours changed from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday through Wednesday.
According to Dr Ali Al-Tawati, an economist at King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, the change in the banking hours is good for customers who already got used to the recent change in the Saudi stock market trading hours.
"Online banking allows customers to do financial transactions from their PCs at home via the Internet that is why there was no need for two shifts in the bank working hours," he said.
In preparation of the Dec. 2 banking hour shift, all employees were trained to make sure that the work continues without hitches, said Muhammad Al Marry, an NCB public relations officer.