Beyond Banking

The financial world can be too complicated for some, but not for Amira Ismail, the Head of Acquiring Bahrain and Oman Operations and Leads at Arab Financial Services. She loves what she does and tells us why this field is full of excitement while also talking about her commitment to community services.

“The ability to adapt and be agile in the face of changing circumstances is an important lesson for all of us. ”

– Amira Ismail

OHLALA – Tell us about your career path. How did it start, and how did you get to where you are today?
Amira Ismail – For the past 25 years, I have worked in the banking and payments industry sectors. Early in my career, I was put on par with other top managers at my previous organisation and eventually worked my way up to a senior position with one of the country’s largest banks. Working and being a mother at the same time has had many ups and downs for me, as it has for many other women. However, I have emerged as a resilient woman in a male-dominated industry. My commitment to fostering a financially inclusive community has led me to develop customer-centric solutions that address real-world problems. I’ve pivoted my career focus to developing payment solutions that benefit our communities. And strategies that reflect on innovative solutions that empower both businesses and consumers. After establishing my ideals and personal vision, I achieved the career I desired. Three key takeaways have shaped my career: discover your purpose, set goals, and cultivate compassion at work.

OHLALA – What have been the most significant accomplishments and challenges you faced during this period?
Amira – The Covid-19 crisis has reshaped the entire economic environment as well as our interpersonal relationships. However, as with any disruptive event, each significant shift has resulted in new ways of engaging and doing business. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was apprehensive about attending video calls; however, this quickly became the norm, and I believe this is going to continue even in a post-pandemic era. The pandemic taught us many valuable lessons, allowing us to pause and reflect on what we have accomplished and what we can do more for our society. However, my most significant accomplishment thus far has been my ability to reinvent myself in the face of today’s dynamic challenges. And the capacity to serve the community despite the enormous challenges we all collectively face. The ability to adapt and be agile in the face of changing circumstances is an important lesson for all of us.

OHLALA – What were your aspirations when you first started working? Do you feel that you have achieved more than you expected?
Amira – Every day has been an enlightening experience. In my view, small daily steps are incremental steps towards a bigger goal. My aspiration stemmed from my desire to make a long-term contribution to the community. And I was fortunate to have a job that allowed me to further my professional development while also fulfilling my personal desire to empower businesses and people. I believe there is no end to creating a difference. I wanted to see more women emerge as leaders in their respective fields – empowering women will be my ongoing mission.

OHLALA – One of the main aspects of your career and a skill you must have mastered is to know how to deal with and understand people’s expectations. What do you think are the key elements to successfully do that?
Amira – There are numerous elements that have evolved around understanding people’s expectations. Sometimes you have to meet people where they are, not where you are. I believe we must learn the importance of cultivating compassion at work and in life in general. For me, empathy entails putting yourself in the shoes of another person, recognising their needs, and doing everything you can to help alleviate their situation. I used to listen with the intent to reply rather than to understand. But, in the end, it didn’t help me understand other people’s perspectives. I’ve come to recognise that being compassionate will help us build successful teams, and having successful teams will help us make better companies.

OHLALA – You have been working in the financial sector for a while. What do you like the most about it?
Amira – I enjoy working in the financial sector because it is a rapidly growing and dynamic industry. There are so many new products that were unfathomable just 10 years ago. And it has become ingrained in our daily lives. Unknown technology has now become the norm. Previously, cash reigned supreme, but much has changed in the dynamics of making payments even more seamless. I do not believe that currency notes are going to become depleted entirely because there are still sectors of the economy that operate with cash. I think that the FinTech sector will play a significant role in bringing about yet another technological revolution. I have witnessed how Bahrain was at the forefront of such a meaningful financial landscape transformation. And I wanted to do more to help the country’s innovation grow and succeed.

OHLALA – What is something that you are passionate about that not many people know? Any hobbies or special skills?
Amira – Community services are my passion, and engaging enables me to acquire life skills and knowledge as well as provide a service to those who need it the most. Create special bonds with those being served and increase social awareness and responsibility to help others change their lives to better lives. It is our duty to HELP and payback to our community. I served as President of the Rotary Club of Salmaniya for two years, where I had the chance to execute different community projects for the unprivileged people. These projects left a positive impact on others and positive memories for me.


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