· 2 min read · Features

The recruitment challenges of a challenger bank


While we are growing in brand awareness and scale, there’s still a lot of competition for talent

At Al Rayan Bank, the UK’s oldest and largest Islamic bank, we know we’re different. For example, our products do not involve interest and our ethical Sharia-compliant offering appeals to customers who want nothing to do with investing in tobacco, alcohol, gambling or other speculative activity.

We also know we appeal to customers regardless of their faith. We currently estimate that more than a quarter of the bank’s customers are not Muslim.

As a result of these points of difference and our innovative and highly-competitive products, the bank has grown in headcount – by 47% – to almost 300 people in the past two years.

But the financial services market is an incredibly competitive space, so while we are growing in brand awareness and scale there’s still a lot of competition for talent, especially in what is still regarded as a ‘niche’ sector.

Attracting talent to a challenger bank, less well-known than mainstream banks, means accessing the talent pool can be difficult. The bank’s operational headquarters is based in Birmingham so attracting recruits from London, where most banks are still based, can be an extra challenge.

Large mainstream banks in the local area also tend to soak up local talent. HSBC has just moved its UK headquarters nearby, for example. Other major financial services companies with significant operations in the area include Deutsche Bank, Lloyds and RBS.

The HR team has therefore been presented with a number of challenges and has progressed from being a purely operational team to positioning itself as a strategic partner to the business.

The balance of power today has shifted – candidates have options. It’s more about asking a candidate to consider you as their employer rather than the other way around. So we’ve learnt three things over the years when it comes to overcoming recruitment challenges:

1. Define your message as part of your recruitment strategy

Smaller organisations do have advantages that work in their favour when it comes to attracting new people. Defining a clear message was a good starting point for us. We always highlight to potential recruits that working in a smaller organisation offers unique advantages, including the breadth of their day-to-day activities, the opportunity for increased exposure in the business, as well as the opportunity for increased responsibility quickly.

2. We offer something that mainstream banks don’t

Highlighting our strong ethical values is also a key driver in our recruitment messaging, and this really is something that’s important to employees today when it comes to choosing which organisation they work for. It’s also something that larger organisations don’t have the time to focus on, whereas our CEO regularly takes time to have lunch with colleagues to discuss new developments at the bank and hear their thoughts on the company’s vision, for example.

3. As a smaller organisation culture matters

Promoting diversity and values is also a key part in our recruitment strategy, which has ultimately contributed to our growth. While we don’t have the legacy of the big banks, we’re not tainted by their history; our culture is young, fresh and dynamic, which I think is a selling point for potential recruits. Colleagues that have moved across from bigger banks note that the environment is innovative and we can get things done quickly.

There are a number of challenges when it comes to recruiting for a challenger bank. We’re competing with some big names and Islamic finance is still a growing sector, so we’ve had to address our strategy to ensure we’re doing all we can to gain access to the right skills. But there are certainly advantages that we can tap into as a smaller organisation. Our colleagues are involved in a wide variety of areas of the bank’s development, meaning that although we may be smaller, there’s plenty of room for them to grow.

Ros King is head of HR at Al Rayan Bank