2016 has been an eventful year for both, UAE and KSA residents. Regulatory changes and economic slowdown were some of the most heavily discussed topics in both countries. And personal finances of residents were not immune to these changes either.

To better understand user demand for personal finance products in the UAE and KSA, and the key drivers behind this, the Souqalmal.com team analyzed search-trends on our website over the course of 2016. We also went one step further and supplemented our in-house research with social media trends and statistics, in collaboration with Crowd Analyzer, an established social media monitoring platform.

Demand slows down, but personal loans are still the ‘Most Popular’ product category

Visits to Souqalmal.com’s UAE personal loan pages grew by 72 percent year-on-year in 2016, significantly lower than the 125 percent jump recorded in 2015. Regardless, personal loans still retain the largest share (40 percent) of visits among all banking product categories.

According to recently released data by the UAE Central Bank, loans to UAE residents amounted to nearly AED 350 billion* at the end of December 2016, registering a 5 percent year-on-year increase. This is just half of the 10 percent increase recorded over 2015.

The popularity of personal finance products in KSA is even more overwhelming, as they make up more than half (54 percent) of the total searches across all banking product categories on Souqalmal.com’s website.

Credit cards and bank accounts feature next on the popularity radar

In the UAE, credit cards made up about 30 percent of all visits on Souqalmal.com in 2016. There has also been a noticeable shift in demand towards credit cards offering loyalty reward programs like air miles and cashback, with annual fees diminishing in importance as a deciding factor.

And according to a 2016 Euromonitor report, demand for credit cards is only expected to grow. The number of credit cards in circulation in the UAE has gone up by over 50 percent since 2010 and is expected to reach about 8 million in 2020.

For KSA residents, accounts were the second-most popular product followed by credit cards. This was also confirmed by a whopping 220 percent year-on-year jump in visits received on Souqalmal.com’s KSA accounts category pages in 2016. Deposit and saving accounts were revealed to be the most popular variants. Easing liquidity conditions in KSA since Q3-2016, and an increase in customer deposits at banks also signals towards rising demand for profit-earning accounts.

Special mention – Home loans soar in popularity in 2016

Home loans deserve special mention, since visits garnered by home loan products have grown by almost 90 percent in both the UAE and KSA in 2016. And there’s a solid explanation behind this spike in demand. There has been a noticeable increase in new mortgage as well as refinancing transactions in the UAE. With asking prices and premiums coming down, more end-users are now able to get good deals on residential property purchases.

As for KSA, there have been some regulatory changes to the real estate market in a move to stimulate further development to address the shortage of middle-income housing. In 2016, the KSA real estate market has witnessed the implementation of the subsidized mortgage product as well as the White Land Tax.

Twitter trends – Loans rule the roost, followed by credit cards in UAE and home finance in KSA

Statistics from Crowd Analyzer show that over the last two months of 2016, ‘Loans’ and ‘Finance’ were the most talked-about banking topics on Twitter, among UAE and KSA residents, garnering the highest number of mentions, comments and retweets.

This was followed by ‘Credit cards’ in the UAE, which boasts the highest engagement rate among all banking products. On the other hand, ‘Home loans’ were the second-most mentioned and retweeted product among Twitter users in KSA.

Diving deeper into the broad themes that emerged in this analysis, Crowd Analyzer found that financial literacy, awareness about personal debt levels, and cyber security were the most discussed topics among UAE Twitter users.

In KSA, interest rates & bank fees, financial education, reduced home finance down payment, and the financial cost of owning a house emerged as the top themes on Twitter.

* Excluding lending to High Net-worth Individuals