“MONETARY AND BANKING DEVELOPMENTS
IN THE KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA”
(A paper for the Symposium on the Saudi Economy
to be held during the Annual Meetings of the IMF and
World Bank in Dubai, the U.A.E. in September 2003)
H.E. Hamad Bin Saud Al-Sayari
Governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency.
First: Functions and Responsibilities of Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA).
1.1 Stability of Riyal Exchange Rate.
1.2 Supervision and Regulation of Commercial Banks.
1.3 Dissemination of Monetary and Banking Data.
Second: Monetary Developments.
2.1 Money Supply.
2.2 Development in the Riyal’s Exchange Rate.
2.3 Domestic Prices.
2.4 Objectives and instruments of SAMA’s Monetary Policy.
Third: Banking Developments
3.1 Bank Assets.
3.2 Bank Deposits.
3.3 Bank Claims on the Private Sector.
3.4 Bank Claims on the Government Sector.
3.5 Foreign Assets and Liabilities.
3.6 Capital and Reserves.
3.7 Investment Funds.
3.8 Banking Technology.
3.9 Banking Supervision.
Fourth: The Future Prospects.
MONETARY AND BANKING DEVELOPMENTS
IN THE KINGDOM
During the last quarter of the past century, the monetary and banking sector in the Kingdom and that in many other developed and developing countries witnessed tremendous developments. Such developments have been achieved due to rapid progress and changes in a number of areas, including communications, information technology, computer programs, strong competition for providing and diversifying financial and banking services, accelerated and large capital flows, trade liberalization, increased openness of markets and the adoption of international standards for supervision and transparency. The Saudi banking sector has responded positively to these changes. It has also taken advantage of the completion of the infrastructure of the Saudi economy, activation of the role of the private sector in the growth process and regulation of the shares and government securities market and spread of banking awareness among individuals and institutions. Currently, the banking and monetary sector is serving the domestic economy well with high efficiency through providing latest comprehensive services. This paper is an attempt to review most prominent developments of this sector over the years, in addition to its future prospects.
First: Functions and Responsibilities of Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA)
SAMA, the central bank of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, was established in 1952. SAMA’s functions as defined by its charter issued in 1952 and amended in 1957 include the following:
- Issuing and strengthening the Saudi currency and stabilizing its internal and external value;
- Dealing with the banking affairs of the government; and
- Regulating commercial banks.
Instruments used by SAMA to undertake these functions have developed in tandem with the development of the Saudi economy and the domestic financial market. The following is a brief review of developments of SAMA’s functions and responsibilities:
1.1 Stability of the Riyal Exchange Rate
Saudi Riyal has been effectively pegged to the American Dollar at Rls 3.75 per U.S. Dollar since 1986. Huge state revenues from oil and SAMA’s close monitoring of the exchange rate of Riyal have contributed to maintaining the stability of this rate. Exchange rate stability constitutes an intermediate target of the monetary policy of the Kingdom for achieving the ultimate goal of preserving domestic price stability.
SAMA uses a range of traditional and modern monetary instruments to achieve the ultimate goal of its monetary policy. These, include the statutory reserve requirement on bank deposits, liquidity ratio, deposit limits, prudent restrictions on advances and loans, Repos facilities on government development bonds, treasury bills and floating rate notes and foreign exchange swap transactions. The Kingdom’s monetary policy has succeeded remarkably in maintaining the stability of the Riyal’s exchange rate and domestic prices over a prolonged period of time. As mentioned earlier, Riyal’s parity with the U.S. dollar has remained unchanged since 1986, and the cost of living index has recorded an average rise of only 0.1% over the past 20 years.
1.2 Supervision and Regulation of Commercial Banks
SAMA acts as the regulatory and supervisory authority over commercial banks. Its broad supervisory powers are derived from its Charter enacted in 1957, and from the Banking Control Law enacted in 1966. These legislations have vested SAMA with wide powers to undertake actions deemed appropriate to maintain the soundness of commercial banks and ensure their financial solvency and, at the same time, make them mobilize and develop financial resources for meeting genuine credit needs of all the sectors of the economy.
SAMA has played a prominent role in developing commercial banks, expanding and streamlining the scope of their banking operations and services. Currently, there are 11 banks operating in the Kingdom, including the Gulf International Bank which has established a branch in the Kingdom. Saudi banks are considered among the largest banks in the Middle East region in terms of their assets and capital adequacy. They have reached such a high level position, thanks to the best international supervisory standards and practices adopted by SAMA in different areas, such as credit risk management, methods of calculating loan and liquidity ratios, defining the powers and responsibilities of the members of the boards in banks, and adoption of accounting standards as well as other sound practices.
SAMA, in cooperation with commercial banks, has introduced advanced and comprehensive electronic payment systems. These include the Automated Check Clearing Houses, the Saudi Payments Network (SPAN), Points of Sale (POS) terminals, the Saudi Arabian Riyal Interbank Express (SARIE), and the Electronic Share Information System (ESIS) which has been replaced by a more comprehensive and modern system, called (TADAWUL), enabling investors to invest from the comfort of their home or office via internet.
1.3 Dissemination of Monetary and Banking Data
Over the preceding years, SAMA has spared no effort to develop and improve its data in terms of their comprehensiveness, regularity and transparency, in keeping with latest prescribed requirements of international data dissemination. Currently, SAMA is issuing two statistical bulletins, namely:
A- The Monthly Statistical Bulletin, which SAMA has been issuing since 1998. This bulletin is published in Arabic and English and provides statistical information, with a time lag of less than one month. It is also displayed on SAMA’s web-site promptly after publication. The bulletin covers a comprehensive range of data on money and banking, stock exchange and cost of living.
B- The Quarterly Statistical Bulletin started to be issued in English in the 1970s under the title “Money and Banking Statistics”. Since 1998, it is being published in both Arabic and English under its new title and has witnessed substantial improvement in its coverage and presentation. Like the monthly bulletin, its time lag is less than one month and, immediately after publication, it is displayed on SAMA’s web-site. It contains a wide range of monetary, banking and financial data.
The Annual Report of SAMA, besides providing detailed review of both at home and abroad, contains a statistical section which covers a broader range of statistical information pertaining to money and banking, capital market, price situation, GDP, oil market, foreign trade and balance of payments and social sectors like education, health etc. SAMA attempts to provide the longest possible time series of data, some of which cover four decades. SAMA also displays these data on its web-site.
Second: Monetary Developments
SAMA seeks to maintain monetary stability through ensuring a fair balance between domestic liquidity and availability of goods and services in the economy. This an essential prerequisite for sustained economic growth, avoidance of inflationary pressures and adverse effects on the exchange rate of the Riyal. SAMA’s performance in this regard has been reassuringly good as is evident from maintenance of domestic price and exchange rate stability over an extended period of time.
2.1 Money supply
Money Supply (M3) in the Kingdom, consisting of currency outside banks and bank deposits, witnessed high growth rates in the 1970s. Its average annual growth at that time stood at 40 percent, as a result of huge oil revenues which contributed to a sharp rise in government expenditures on the infrastructure projects of the economy. This high annual rate, however, declined to 7.4 percent in the 1980s and further to 5.3 percent in the 1990s. The fall in the growth rate was mainly attributable to a decline in government expenditures.
Table – 1
Money Supply (M3) and its Components
Money Supply (M3)
Average annual growth
Average annual growth
Ratio to (M3)
Currency outside banks
Average annual growth
Ratio to (M3)
* The annual average for the period.
** End of the period.
The above table shows a rise in the share of bank deposits in total money supply from the annual average of 67.0 percent during the 1970s to 82.1 percent during the 1990s. In contrast, the share of currency outside banks fell from the annual average of 33.0 percent during the 1970s to 17.9 percent in the 1990s. This indicates how fast the community has become bank minded with individuals and institutions using modern payment systems, such as cheques and ATM cards.
In spite of international and regional events, which occurred after the events of September 11, 2001, the monetary situation in the Kingdom maintained its stability. Money Supply (M3) grew by 5.0 percent during 2001, 15.2 percent in 2002, and 2.4 percent in the first quarter of 2003 (Table 1 in the statistical appendix). One of the major factors that contributed to the growth of money supply during 2002 was a decline in capital outflows as a result of the availability of investment opportunities in the domestic economy with returns exceeding those offered abroad.
2.2 Developments in the Riyal’s Exchange Rate
SAMA seeks to maintain the stability of the Riyal’s exchange rate, which is a prerequisite for achieving sustainable economic growth. It serves as the monetary policy’s intermediate target to achieve the ultimate objective of domestic price stability. As mentioned earlier, Riyal has remained fixed to the American Dollar, which is the intervention currency, at Rls 3.75 per U.S. Dollar, since 1986. Fluctuations in the exchange rate of the Riyal against other major currencies have remained within manageable limits.
Table – 2
Developments in the Exchange Rate of Riyal
Riyal exchange rate against the Dollar
Nominal effective exchange rate of Riyal (1995=1000)
Real effective exchange rate of Riyal
Notwithstanding some regional crises such as the first and second Gulf crises, the Saudi Riyal has maintained its stability and overcame transient pressures with ease. This has been due to the unwavering confidence of the society and the private sector in the Riyal and the fact that the domestic economy has become more attractive and secure to investors.
2.3 Domestic Prices
Price stability has been the hallmark of the Saudi economy over a prolonged period of time, with the cost of living recording an average rise of only 0.1% per annum over the last 20 years. Over the past six years, the change in the cost of living has been persistently negative, ranging between –0.2 to – 0.8%.
Table – 3
Average Annual Change in the General Cost of Living Index
Change in %
Judicious monetary management and prudent fiscal policies together with adequate availability of goods and services have been contributing factors.
2.4 Developments of the objectives and instruments of SAMA’s monetary policy
Like most countries, the monetary policy in the Kingdom aims at maintaining the stability of domestic prices and the exchange rate of the Riyal. SAMA is the sole authority responsible for formulating and implementing the monetary policy through its discretionary power of choosing instruments deemed appropriate to control the growth of domestic liquidity so as to be in harmony with the growth in the supply of goods and services in the economy to maintain price stability. It also monitors the Riyal’s market and takes corrective actions to ensure the stability of its internal and external value.
Since its establishment until the end of the 1980s, SAMA used traditional monetary instruments, such as the statutory reserve requirement to achieve the objectives of the monetary policy. These instruments were not used frequently, and, since 1980 until now, these have remained stable at 7 percent for demand deposits and 2 percent for time and savings deposits. With the emergence of the government securities market to finance budgetary deficits, new instruments have become available to SAMA. These are Repo facility on government development bonds, floating rate notes and treasury bills. Reverse Repo has also been introduced for use by banks in case of a surplus in liquidity. SAMA also uses foreign exchange swaps and placement of some public financial institutions’ deposits with banks to meet liquidity requirements.
During 2002, SAMA conducted an accommodative monetary policy which reflected the decline in international interest rates, the fall in global economic growth and uncertainty in the region. SAMA reduced Repo and Reserve Repo rates by 25 basis points to 2.5 percent and 2 percent respectively at mid March, 2002. These were further reduced in November, 2002 by 50 basis points to 2.0 percent and 1.5 percent respectively. The daily average value of Repo and Reserve Repo agreements entered by SAMA with commercial banks stood at Rls 1.8 billion and Rls 3.2 billion respectively during 2002, as against daily averages of Rls 1 billion and Rls 2.5 billion respectively in the preceding year. The value of Riyal denominated deposits placed with banks by SAMA increased from Rls 3.6 billion in 2001 to Rls 4.6 billion in 2002. SAMA did not enter into any foreign exchange Swaps during 2002 as there was no pressure on the Riyal to strain the liquidity position of banks.
Third: Banking Developments
Over the last quarter of the century commercial banks in the Kingdom have made great strides. They have undertaken necessary steps to be prepared for domestic, regional and international competition so as to be able to deal with the needs of globalization, markets openness and capital flows, as well as to provide services across borders. They have introduced the latest sophisticated banking technology, in which they invested and trained their employees to deal with it. They have also computerized all operations and transactions and internal accounting systems in accordance with their demands. They have sought to have their banking transactions accomplished for their customers with efficiency and within an appropriate time. They, in cooperation with SAMA, have focused on expanding, developing and streamlining their banking services according to the requirements of the current era and on the basis of the global banking model with attention being paid to retail and wholesale services, credit cards and project financing in addition to meeting customer needs for modern banking services, including the provision of services through the Internet and telephone banking and the development of electronic payments and automated clearing systems. To create bigger entities, a number of banking units have been merged to form financial entities with strong financial positions capable of competing and spending on development. Banks have raised the level of investment in training and upgrading the efficiency of banking human resources, especially in the areas of policy drawing and decisions making so as to be able to raise the level of performance and determine and prevent risks. With the guidance of SAMA, banks have adopted the best international standards and practices issued by international organizations such as the Basel Committee’s Core Principles for Effective Banking Supervision, capital adequacy, credit concentrations, internal auditing systems, risk management, formation of assets and liabilities, and adoption of international accounting standards. Banks have also enhanced their financial positions and supported their capital equity base and reserves. They also have introduced various investment instruments and managed a number of investment funds.
3.1 Bank Assets
Total assets of commercial banks in the Kingdom have risen sharply over the last three decades, from Rls 3 billion in 1970 to Rls 523 billion at the end of the first quarter of 2003.
The fastest increase was recorded in the 1970s, when total assets grew by an annual average of 43 percent, from Rls 3.8 billion in 1971 to Rls 93.6 billion in 1980. During the 1980s, total assets continued to grow, but at lower pace than that in the 1970s. They rose from Rls 117.7 billion in 1981 to Rls 232.1 billion in 1990, an average growth of 9.8 percent per annum. In the 1990s, assets grew by an average annual of 7.0 percent to Rls 453.3 billion at the end of 2000. They continued to grow by an average of 4.2 percent in 2001, 7.6 percent in 2002, and 2.8 percent during the first quarter of 2003 to reach Rls 522.6 billion.
At the end of 2002, total assets of banks constituted 73 percent of total GDP compared to 54 percent in 1990, 17 percent in 1980, and 13 percent in 1970 (Table 2.A in the statistical appendix).
3.2 Bank Deposits
Bank deposits witnessed continued growth over the years. They recorded an average annual growth of 44.4 percent in the 1970s due to huge government spending on development projects. This rate declined to 8.1 percent in the 1980s and further to 6.4 percent in the 1990s. Since 1970 to the first quarter of 2003, bank deposits have risen phenomenally from Rls 2 billion to Rls 334 billion. Their ratio to GDP has gone up from 8.4 percent in 1970 to 47 percent in 2002, indicating the sharply enhanced role of commercial banks in the Saudi economy.
3.3 Bank Claims on the Private Sector.
Commercial banks have played a crucial role in financing projects of the private sector and meeting its credit needs. The annual growth rate of their claims averaged 40.4 percent in the 1970s. This average declined to 5.3 percent in the 1980s but increased to 10.4 percent in the 1990s. Thus, bank claims on the private sector increased from Rls 1.7 billion in 1970 to Rls 172.2 billion in 2000.
In 2002, bank claims on the private sector went up by 10.0 percent to Rls 206 billion compared to a rise of 8.6 percent in the preceding year. At the end of 2002, these claims constituted 62.7 percent of total bank deposits. (Table 3 in the statistical appendix).
3.4 Bank Claims on the Government Sector
Before 1990, bank financing to the government sector was limited to offering credit facilities to public institutions in the form of loans, which stood at Rls 7 billion in 1990. Following the issuance of government development bonds and treasury bills, banks have expanded their investments in government securities from Rls 13 billion in 1990 to Rls 144.4 billion at the end of the first quarter of 2003 (a tenfold rise since 1990).
In 2002, bank claims on the government sector (loans to public institutions and investments in government securities) rose by 11.9 percent to Rls 150.6 billion compared to a rise of 8.0 percent in the preceding year, constituting 45.9 percent of total bank deposits. Of these claims, loans to public institutions amounted to Rls 12 billion, and investments in government securities stood at Rls 138.7 billion. In the first quarter of 2003, these claims increased by 12.4 percent to Rls 169.3 billion (Table 4 in the statistical appendix).
3.5 Foreign Assets and Liabilities
Foreign assets of commercial banks witnessed tremendous growth in the 1970s and 1980s, recording average annual growth rates of 61.0 percent and 12.2 percent respectively. This growth was due to banks’ huge financial resources as a result of large government spending as well as low investment opportunities at that time in the domestic market. They constituted a high proportion of total assets during the preceding decades. Their annual average ratio stood at 24 percent in the 1970s and 49 percent in the 1980s. However, the ratio declined to 19 percent in 2002, reflecting banks’ preference for local investment, characterized by higher return and lower risks.
In 2002, foreign assets recorded a decline of 3.9 percent to Rls 95.5 billion compared to a fall of 1.8 percent in 2001. But, they increased by 0.8 percent in the first quarter of 2003 (Table 5 in the statistical appendix).
Foreign liabilities have been witnessing a continued rise since the 1970s. They rose from Rls 148 million in 1970 to Rls 8.5 billion in 1980, then to Rls 30.2 billion in 1990 and to Rls 43.2 billion in the first quarter of 2003. However, their ratio to total liabilities has remained stable at about 9-14 percent over the period.
In 2002, foreign liabilities fell by 27.9 percent to Rsl 43 billion compared to a decline of 7.5 percent in the preceding year. In contrast, they rose by 0.5 percent in the first quarter of 2003.
3.6 Capital and Reserves
In its capacity as a supervisory authority of commercial banks, SAMA has been keen to enhance the capital base and reserves of banks. The average annual growth rate of capital and reserves stood at 38.0 percent in the 1970s, 24 percent in the 1980s, and 11 percent in the 1990s. Thus, banks’ capital and reserves rose from Rls 185 million in 1970 to Rls 4.8 billion in 1980, and further to Rls 17.4 billion in 1990 and to Rls 43.5 billion in 2000 (Table 2.B in the statistical appendix).
In 2002, banks’ capital and reserves increased by 8.0 percent to Rls 47.3 billion compared to a growth of 0.6 percent in the preceding year. The ratio of capital and reserves to total deposits stood at 9.3 percent. The ratio of capital to risk-weighted assets (Basel Standard), stood at 21.3 percent at the end of 2002, as compared with the internationally prescribed ratio of 8 percent. In the first quarter of 2003, capital and reserves increased by 4.1 percent.
3.7 Investment Funds
Commercial banks’ activity in the management of investment funds has continued to develop since 1979 when the National Commercial Bank established the first investment fund, due to increased demand for such funds, especially by small investors. Investment funds are subject to the Regulation of Investment Funds issued under the Minister of Finance and National Economy’s resolution of 1413, and the relevant circular issued by the Governor of SAMA in the same year. The number of investors in these funds have increased from 33 thousand in 1992 to 161 thousand in the first quarter of 2003. The number of funds have gone up from 52 to 151 over then same period. Total assets of these funds increased from Rls 12.4 billion to Rls 50.2 billion, of which Rls 34.0 billion were invested domestically (Table 6 in the statistical appendix).
3.8 Banking Technology
SAMA, in cooperation with the commercial banks, has introduced the latest banking technology systems applied in different banking operations. It established the Automated Cheque Clearing System (ACH) in 1986 and Saudi Payments Network (SPAN) and Points of Sale (POS) in 1990. SPAN was linked to international networks such as Visa and Master-Card in 1994. SAMA also established Saudi Arabian Interbank Express System (SARIE) in 1997. Banks are now providing banking services by using latest technologies, such as telephone banking and the internet.
Total cash withdrawals through Saudi Payments Network (SPAN) rose from Rls 13 billion in 1993 to Rls 177.8 billion in 2002. The value of sale transactions through points of sale terminals increased from Rls 4.1 billion in 1997 to Rls 14.7 billion in 2002. Payment transactions through (SARIE) went up from Rls 5,246 billion in 1998 to Rls 7,304 billion in 2002 (Tables 7, 8 and 9 in the statistical appendix).
3.9 Banking Supervision
SAMA’s main objectives as set out in its charter, enacted in 1957, include supervision of commercial banks. The Banking Control Law was issued in 1966 under a royal decree. Since then the banking system has been characterized by a high degree of stability and efficiency in serving the domestic economy, with no Saudi bank ever going bankrupt.
SAMA supervises commercial banks in accordance with the latest internationally applied standards and practices, such as the Basel Committee’s Core Principles of Effective Banking Supervision, International Accounting Standards (IAS), the best practices of disclosure, and recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The most salient legislative and regulatory developments of the banking sector during the period 2001-2002 are as follows:
1- In 2001, SAMA instructed commercial banks to apply the International Accounting Standard No. (39).
2- In 2001, SAMA urged commercial banks to apply a number of disclosure items stated in the results of the Basel Committee’s survey on the best practices of disclosure.
3- In 2001, SAMA conducted a survey on credit risks of existing financial derivatives contracts, based on using market-oriented negotiable assets pricing methodology.
4- In 2001, SAMA approved the distribution of semiannual profits by some banks.
5- In 2002, SAMA joined the Islamic Financial Board (IFSB), which was established in the same year.
6- SAMA conducted a survey on commissions charged by banks for credit facilities extended to their customers, particularly those for personal loans, to ensure that current commissions are reasonable. A survey on commissions charged for personal loans in other GCC countries was made to compare them with those currently applied in the Kingdom..
7- On 9.7.2002, a draft circular was prepared on credit classification and provisioning. This aims at the development and unification of accounting treatment to register loans in general and non-performing loans in particular and determine methods of their classification and necessary provisions for covering the risks emanating from them. Work is in progress on the finalization of this circular.
8- Work is underway on the preparation of a draft circular on the selection of efficient employees for working in the banking sector, especially members of senior management and bank managers, in accordance with “fit and proper” principle.
9- On 5.6.2002 SAMA issued a circular on procedural rules for opening accounts with commercial banks operating in the Kingdom and the general rules how to operate them. These rules will come into force during 2003. The circular incorporates the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and Basel Committee’s principle of “Know your Customer”.
10- Accounting standards issued by SAMA to banks were reviewed and updated to keep pace with recent developments in international standards and requirements.
Fourth: The Future Prospects
Over the past decades, commercial banks in the Kingdom have made tremendous progress and their performance compares well with that in neighboring and developed countries. However, domestic, regional, and international developments in coming years would require them to continue their growth and development to be able to compete among themselves as well as with international banks. Among developments at the domestic level are: a decline in government contribution to economic activity and the expansion in the private sector’s role in such activity which requires modern banking services and adequate financing; an increase in the population, particularly in the youth category; privatization of some public institutions; and the issue of the Capital Market law. The expected monetary integration among the GCC countries and allowing national banks of the GCC member countries to open branches in the GCC countries are among the changes at the regional level. Changes at the international level are represented in the emergence of regional conglomerates, globalization, bank mergers, expansion in the areas of communications and computer technologies and rapid capital flows.
To this end, commercial banks in the Kingdom, under the supervision of SAMA, will have to continue their efforts for meeting the requirements of the coming period through continued adoption of the best international standards and practices concerning supervision, regulation, accounting and transparency in data dissemination. Banks will also need to maintain their high solvency through continued enhancement of their financial positions and investment in the areas and instruments of lower risks. Although domestic banks, under their current position, can compete following the Kingdom’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), they will need to make special preparation for that purpose through intensifying their training programmes for their employees, adopting the latest available technology and diversifying their products and services.
Banks have already made a good deal of progress in these directions, but they are expected to exert further efforts, especially with the increase of banking awareness among customers and their exposure to advanced banking services via ATMs, telephone banking and the internet. The recent GCC decision to allow Gulf banks to open branches in the countries of the region has enhanced the motive to prepare for foreign competition, which is expected to rise in coming years.
The recently enacted Capital Market Law will have an impact on the Saudi banking system. Beside providing a legal and regulatory framework for all capital market related activities, it will promote establishment of other financial institutions. This will tend to impinge on banks’ intermediation role between savers and investors, their raison d'etre and their mainstay. Saudi banks will have to make special efforts to preserve their position in the overall financial system of the country.