Retail Banking Transformation in the Middle East

By Sonny Zulu, Managing Director, Head - Retail Banking @ Standard Chartered Bank (UAE).


One can’t talk about any industry nowadays without mentioning the impact of this unprecedented time of our lives. I do believe that this pandemic has offered a number of opportunities, from fast tracking the technology to supporting the wellbeing, safety and security of our staff and customers. This is especially true for online banking where digital adoption has been phenomenal for our customers. At Standard Chartered, we implemented preventive measures across all our touch points and activated additional channels for client interactions, which included addressing their needs while working from home and introducing secured voice instructions, That we did so is a testament to the agility of our staff – those in, branches, customer service, call centres, IT and dozens of other teams who put all else aside to make sure we were there for those who rely on us.

The biggest challenge for digital banking today is adapting to the rapidly changing customer requirements in today’s fast and competitive environment. Clients are expecting to have seamless experiences wherever they are, regardless of the platform they are using. For example, they don’t necessarily go to the bank directly to get a mortgage while they are searching for their dream home on a listing website, or they may not come to the bank to apply for a credit card while they are shopping on an e-commerce website. Clients are looking to get end-to-end digital experiences not through a single functional capability, but holistically to satisfy their needs and as banks, it is quite challenging to complete the entire journey requirements in time, from a technology, investment and process standpoint.

In my view, mobile is the most impactful channel for customer engagement as the time spent on mobile devices is increasing daily. The current pandemic has also helped people to get used to the various e-commerce experiences and this has helped the banks attract a “late adopter” customer base, who were hesitating to use digital channels previously. We have seen a lot of new digital banking clients, who used the mobile apps for the first time during this period.

The most important successful criteria is the mindset shift for a successful digital transformation across various stakeholder levels. Although technology investment and transformation is key, financial institutions should consider implementation holistically: across business, finance, operations and all other supporting units as part of the transformation for it to be successful. In my view, a lag in equally transforming the supporting functions towards a more digital approach will be unsustainable and could lead to a requirement to go through another transformation phase again in a few years’ time.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have the biggest impact on the banking industry together with the Cloud Based platforms in the near future. While AI will be shaping the data structure and outcomes in the decision making processes and creating better customer experiences, cloud technologies will significantly reduce the cost of transformation efforts and help to improve scalability to move forward and enable new services through digital. Both technologies will enable banks to work as a platform to create an ecosystem for customers with the right 3rd party partners, hence they are equally important for the future of banking industry.

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