Dubai banking boss on language of money, 29 years as expat

Estimated read time 6 min read

Salimar Salomabao is the Senior AVP and General Manager of Philippine National Bank – Middle East. JONATHAN YBERA/EXPAT MEDIA

Dubai banking boss decrypts the language of money

Salimar Salomabao knows the language of money. After all, he is the Senior Assistant Vice President and General Manager of Philippine National Bank (PNB) – Middle East.

“A lot of expats have no savings. Many think they can just put it off until they are closer to retirement. We encourage them to start saving and not to wait,” Salimar tells Expat Media.

The Dubai-based top banking executive has seen it all after working in Saudi Arabia where he spent more than two decades before moving to the UAE in 2017 to manage the Middle East office of PNB.

He cites the pandemic as an eye-opener for everyone, particularly expats. “A lot of companies closed and many people lost their job. They didn’t have savings to fall back on. This is why we always say saving money is really important,” he shares.

His personal advocacy is providing financial literacy to expats, particularly Filipinos. They come to the PNB Dubai office at Reef Mall to open bank accounts, invest, or avail of banking services, such as applying for loans for home improvement projects in their country.

The biggest loan he helped someone get? “It was for P26 million (Dh1.7 million) for a housing loan in the Philippines facilitated by PNB Dubai,” he shares.

Wealth management juggernaut

With nearly three decades of experience in the banking industry, Salimar has developed specialized skills to become a wealth management juggernaut, which is why he was headhunted for top banking jobs in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. His work with PNB Middle East helped reignite the bank at home and abroad.

He is one of the highest paid banking executives, which he considers a bonus in this job that he has always loved. “It was my dream to work in a bank,” he says. “I love looking at numbers,” he adds.

Salimar graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Science in Accountancy and worked for Philippine Savings Bank before he was offered a job in one of the top local banks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1995.

Salimar stood out among the newbies with his customer service and astute marketing skills, which is why he quickly rose through the ranks from teller to one of the top banking executives. He also picked up Arabic and is able to speak the language like a native.

Life in Saudi Arabia and UAE

As a new expat, Salimar says he had to navigate through the language barrier. “At that time, it was difficult to communicate with locals since most of them spoke only in Arabic,” he says. He picked up the language by conversing with colleagues and clients, and befriending both locals and expats through his volunteer work. A native of Tamparan, Lanao Del Sur in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, a predominantly Muslim area in the Philippines, Salimar was able to quickly ease into the culture and adopt the local language.

“I am now very fluent in Arabic. Every time I speak Arabic on the phone, they don’t realize I’m a Filipino. Once they find out, they are amazed that I speak Arabic and say I sound just like a local,” he says, “It was an advantage during my time in Saudi Arabia because I was able to promote our banking services to the community and on a corporate level.”

Salimar recalls that his life in Saudi Arabia was initially reclusive. “It was work and home like clockwork. There was a mall, but we rarely went there. There was no cinema. No bars. During weekends, we would just go to the Filipino market to buy something and then go home,” he says.

He longed for his family but knew that sacrifices had to be made so he can provide his wife and their two children with a good, if not lavish, life back home. He immersed himself in his work and community service to help expats like himself cope with life away from their family.

When he was elected as president for one of the community groups, he made it a point to create events that would bring people together. They launched weekly basketball tournaments, as well as volleyball and tennis activities that people can join every Friday. He also organized financial literacy sessions to help expats get wise with their money.

After his stint in Saudi Arabia, Salimar was expecting to settle back in the Philippines to spend more time with his family, but before he could pack his bags and fly home, he was offered a job in Dubai that he couldn’t refuse at PNB Middle East. “It wasn’t just the big salary, but also the opportunity to serve the Filipino community here,” he said. Salimar remains active in the community by participating in outreach programs and organizing financial literacy sessions.

Salimar Salomabao is the Senior AVP and General Manager of Philippine National Bank - Middle East.

‘Save but also spend’

“I usually tell people to put away some money for the future, but don’t forget to spend on yourself. For bank clients, I say put 20 percent of your income in the bank and spend the rest,” Salimar advices.

While he encourages saving money, he is candid about his money mindset being the polar opposite of his hard-edged financial advice.

So how does this top banker handle his money? “Personally, I am a spender. I save just enough for my family’s security but the rest I spend because I believe life is short. We need to enjoy life,” he says.

At 51, Salimar has learned to reward himself for his hard work. He splurges on shopping, particularly during sale season. “There’s always a sale at the mall. So we buy and buy!” Although he is too modest to point it out, he is clearly able to afford a shopping spree with his big paycheck and other perks.

Having toiled for nearly three decades, Salimar has certainly earned the right to enjoy a leisurely life while serving in the job he loves. “I don’t regret spending 29 years as an expat because I learned a lot from the experiences I encountered in these years,” he says. ICA/Expat Media

A condensed version of this story is also published in the Expat Media Special Edition magazine

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