Image Credit: Shutterstock

The pandemic devastated health and economies worldwide but it also advanced enterprises’ digital transformation plans by a couple of years. The impact on small businesses was particularly acute. RAKBANK has leveraged the Finacle platform to come to the aid of its customers by not only easing the terms of their loans but also by helping them adopt digital technologies in their respective businesses.

We spoke to Sanjay Khanna, Chief Information Officer at RAKBANK to learn more about its initiatives, right from digitally onboarding small business customers to helping them adopt technological tools to offering them services on its SMEsouk platform. RAKBANK also talked about its own digitisation journey and the importance of technology partners as well as a wider fintech ecosystem.

What have been the notable shifts in expectations of the SME customer segment from their bank during the pandemic? If you were to reflect on your business strategies, how has RAKBANK been able to help its SME clients better navigate their challenges?

The pandemic directly impacted SMEs in the UAE in a negative way. This resulted in a shift in SME customer requirements and expectations from their banks. The initial requirements revolved around deferring loans and waiving any charges to basically manage the sudden impact the pandemic had on their business cash flows. However, with passing time SME customers realised that business needed to be conducted remotely and hence influenced the demand for the enhanced digitisation of their services.

We launched several solutions such as SME digital onboarding that offers our SME customers the ability to apply for a bank account online...

- Sanjay Khanna, Chief Information Officer at RAKBANK

Throughout this health crisis we have been working with our SME customers at every stage of their business life cycle and helping them to overcome the impact of the pandemic. The bank provided loan and credit-card deferrals to its customers and helped them restructure their loan payments - this was achieved with the support of the country’s regulators.

In light of the sudden digitisation requirements of all our customers, RAKBANK focused on changing its approach to support customers from navigating a crisis response to a longer-term, post-Covid-19 outlook. We launched several solutions such as SME digital onboarding that offers our SME customers the ability to apply for a bank account online, and enabled WFH (work from home) for our back office staff to process the applications during the pandemic.

What are your reflections on how your tech stack and business strategies have helped RAKBANK navigate through the pandemic with minimum impact on business growth? How critical are they in the realm of SME banking in specific? What has been the experience of the RAKBANK’s own Covid-19 journey?

It is evident that the pandemic has impacted everyone globally, but on the positive side, the pandemic has also provided an opportunity for organisations to enhance customer service through the adoption of new and better digital technologies. We had started the implementation of new digital technology solutions before the pandemic hit and it has helped us tremendously, especially when managing the post-pandemic situation efficiently and effectively.

The clear trend though was the pandemic’s impact on the small business segment. We knew as a national bank that we had to step up. Of course, that doesn’t only mean providing financial support but it also revolves around digital solutions and services. The bank is considered the leading SME bank in the country, and this is because SME needs, and requirements are placed at the core of our strategy. Our aim is to play an integral role in assisting SMEs during this health crisis by providing the right solutions and information digitally, which helps them run their operations efficiently and sustainably. At RAKBANK, we believe in supporting SMEs and services that are available on our SMEsouk platform further reinforce our objectives of continuously offering a wide range of services and solutions that help small businesses reach their full potential, especially during difficult times.

Before the pandemic, the bank set up a remote working infrastructure as part of our outsourcing strategy, and this exercise assisted in the bank’s instant implementation of the work from home (WFH) solution for our staff. There were little to no delays and impact on the work stream and operations of the bank. We took this as an opportunity to enhance our digital foundation through our WFH capability that led to the development of a new and enhanced customer service journey.

What do you see as the changing trends and biggest challenges in the SME banking space? What are your plans to win a larger share of SME and corporate banking customers in 2022 and beyond?

The latest trend seems to be around digital transformation of the small and medium enterprises. The challenges are credit risk, technology adoption, customer engagement and competition. We plan to help customers at various stages of their business life cycle and support them in the adoption of the required technological tools, digitisation of the lending process and share deeper insights to help them with data-based decisions. We are also automating our credit decision processes to fast track and reduce the backend processing time.

What do you see as the role of technology partners and fintechs in enabling you to drive your technology priorities in the SME and corporate banking space over the near to medium term? What are RAKBANK’s plans with regards to cloud technology?

Technology partners and fintechs are an essential part of our technology ecosystem. We believe in leveraging skills from our technology partners and collaborating with fintechs to offer best-in-class and innovative solutions to our customers. In line with this vision, we partnered with a fintech company called Versify Tech Solutions to offer accounting solutions to our SME customers. Accountable is a simple digital accounting platform that takes care of an SME’s accounting and taxation requirements. It gives users access to their business operations, accounting and taxation features in a single and easy-to-use cloud platform, which is closely integrated with customers’ RAKBANK business account.

We believe cloud computing is a fundamental infrastructure in the digital area and we are committed to further increasing our investments in the cloud computing space. We had started our cloud adoption journey around five years ago and now we have multiple business applications deployed on clouds - this includes SaaS, PaaS and IaaS deployments. The bank is working towards a multi-public cloud adoption strategy with a focus on cloud governance, data security and data residency compliance, continuous improvement and monitoring.

Being a progressive bank in the heart of the Middle East, where banks have ambitious transformation agendas, how do you see RAKBANK’s digital transformation journey evolving over the next two years? What specific transformations do you envisage in the SME and corporate banking space?

The digital world is moving fast, and customers are becoming more aware and demanding with regard to technological solutions. We, at RAKBANK, recognise the importance of digital transformation and we have an established digital strategy in place. All our personal and business banking services are offered through digital channels whereby projects are focused on digital transformations that are aligned with our digital strategy. We plan to leverage cloud, open API, data and analytics to shape up our digital strategy in due course, because a cloud is the key for agility and innovation. It accelerates the process of digital delivery and reduces the time needed to enter the market. We also acknowledge that the data acts as an asset instead of a commodity. Currently, data-based decisions play a key role in our business strategy planning.

Among the pioneer banks in digital transformation in the region, RAKBANK chose Infosys Finacle to establish its digital foundations and drive a world-class customer experience. The bank has adopted the Finacle Core Banking Platform for both retail and corporate lines of business, Finacle Liquidity Management and Wealth Management platforms, Finacle Digital Engagement Suite - Online Banking, Mobile Banking and Digital Engagement Hub, as part of its modernisation journey.

For more information, visit Infosys Finacle