While American bankers face layoffs, their Middle Eastern peers are laughing all the way to…well, the bank.

Demand for skilled bankers in the Gulf region has outpaced supply, according to a recent report by the consulting firm Accenture.

Aside from new regulation, a skills shortage was cited as the biggest challenge facing the Gulf Cooperation Council banking industry, according to Accenture. The survey, released on Nov. 29, found that 89% of respondents thought that attracting and retaining talent will be the most important strategy their banks will use to increase shareholder value.

Now the region's banks are looking to hire or transfer bankers for high-end, skilled positions — with the paychecks to match.

Gulf region banks "are revamping compensation models as they are looking at how to be more attractive to employees," says Amr Elsaadani, the managing director of Accenture's banking practice in the Middle East. "They believe now is the time to align better compensation to performance."

This trend marks a sharp contrast with American banks, which are shedding thousands of banking jobs. On Tuesday, Citigroup Inc. became the latest big company to announce cuts. Chief executive Vikram Pandit said that his company would eliminate 4,500 positions in the coming months.

Accenture surveyed 47 executives of local and global banks with retail and corporate businesses in six Gulf Cooperation Council countries: Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Banks in the Gulf region are looking to increase their return on equity to 20% from 16% by 2015, Elsaadani told American Banker in an interview. This increase will be driven by new demand for retail banking from women, people below the age of 30 and small businesses, he says.

"The governments are … diversifying their economies away from oil and gas and pushing entrepreneurs to grow small and medium businesses," Elsaadani says. "This requires the banks to understand the markets and how to provide loans to companies that have little or limited credit history or limited collateral."

The region's banks are targeting new customers who are educated and have average incomes ranging from $50,000 to $60,000. These customers will be looking for high-end services and banks that use up-to-date technology, Elsaadani says.

He adds that companies are trying to hire or transfer bankers for high-end, skilled positions, including department and group heads and up to the vice president level. Banks are expected to recruit expatriates from the U.S. and other countries, in addition to hiring locally in order to comply with regulations.

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