Bank staff swayed by Samba rhythm

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Tucked away in a corner of Mayfair, the sole London branch of the Saudi American Bank hardly has a high-street presence, but it has recently attained a status that puts it on a par with some of the big clearing banks.

The spur to seeking the Investors in People award came through the bank - known as Samba - deciding to launch a management development initiative. Having been originally set up as an Arab arm of the mighty US organisation Citibank, the 63-strong UK organisation was already firmly committed to training and development. But Mary Loftus, then a member of the personnel department, convinced the board that it would be more powerful if a drive to attain Investors in People status coincided with it.

In the end, two of the three units of the London branch of the bank went through the process. And Ms Loftus, who has since become head of personnel in London, says the work carried out in conjunction with Investors in People consultant Elen Lane has created significant benefits for the bank.

Ms Loftus - who this week made a presentation on the initiative at a finance seminar held by etc limited, the consultancy through which Ms Lane works - particularly points to the improved communication within the organisation and additional emphasis on business goals for staff as well as management.

With these gains clearly recognised in the organisation, she is optimistic that the unit that did not go through the process - the investment bank - will follow suit shortly.

Her experiences come as a report from NatWest Bank and the Government- backed Investors in People organisation suggests that many small businesses are seeing their growth held up by preparing business plans that have "significant gaps when it comes to people issues".

Sir Brian Wolfson, chairman of Investors in People UK, pointed out that a survey by the British Chamber of Commerce identified serious skill shortages among small businesses in particular. "A major part of the problem here is that staff are not being developed in their job or included in the business's bigger picture, and, when this is the case, they will look elsewhere for organisations that will plan their development and involvement seriously."

Still 30 per cent owned by Citibank, Samba is a large Saudi retail bank with its headquarters in the capital, Riyadh. Operations like that in London exist solely to serve Saudi nationals away from home on business or holiday, and accordingly have limited markets. But Ms Loftus stresses that this lack of size does not prevent the bank from being - in the Citibank fashion - highly regulated and extremely professional.

Though the management back in Saudia Arabia is apparently highly impressed by the branch's achievement in receiving accreditation last December, Ms Loftus admits that many London employees were cynical about the scheme at the outset.

However, she claims that, when they saw how demanding a standard it was, they quickly became enthusiastic for the programme to succeed. "They ceased to see it as some kind of initiative. They saw it as a change," she says, adding that this sort of programme will not work if it is seen as a bolt- on initiative. "It has to be embedded to succeed."