The recruitment challenges of a challenger bank


I totally understand what Ros says about the challenges faced when 'competing' with mainstream, more recognised and dare I say it; more established banks for potential staff. However, with every ...

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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


I totally understand what Ros says about the challenges faced when 'competing' with mainstream, more recognised and dare I say it; more established banks for potential staff. However, with every challenge a 'challenger' business experiences, there are also some incredible USPs which you are able to present to potential staff that these mainstream competitors are simply unable to offer. My experience as a longstanding recruiter within the customer contact arena is that the new wave of challenger businesses who have a fresher approach to how legacy organisations have historically done things are in a very strong position to break the mould of what is seen as 'the norm' and people are excited about the prospect of being a part of such exciting plans and projects.


Good example of turning a challenge into an opportunity, fueled by a shift in employee mindset where bigger is not always better. Having partnered new entrants and early challenger brands during the credit crunch it was refreshing to present individuals with an alternative option to the establishment; one that catered for their needs and wants - empowerment, action, speed of execution, exposure to the top table, all the things missing from the workplace in bigger institutions. Wind the clock forward to present day, it's interesting to note how many of the UK's banks are pitching themselves as 'challengers'. Consequently candidates are becoming somewhat skeptical, dare I say it even cynical at the mention of the word. Hence the organisation has to follow-through with the right practices, policies, procedures; only then will they stand out as true challengers - to wider work life, not just key competitors - in today's rather over-crowded me-too marketplace.

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