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Sanat Rao, Chief Business Officer and Global Head – Infosys Finacle, Miguel Rio Tinto, Group Chief Information Officer, Emirates NBD, Olivier Crespin, Co-Founder and CEO of Zand Bank with Gulf News moderator Lachlan Kitchen, Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: New technologies are set to help banks meet the expectations of customers, as the industry sees a massive shift to online and digital channels, according to participants in a Gulf News webinar held yesterday.

The webinar, “Winning the Digital-only Battle for Banks”, was organised in association with Infosys Finacle on August 24.

Miguel Rio Tinto, Group Chief Information Officer at Emirates NBD, said that customers are now increasingly choosing to interact with the bank via digital channels such as the app rather than visit a branch in person.

“In a very short space of time, the Covid-19 crisis has generated a profound transformation in the way people buy and consume generally, and this includes financial services and banking,” he said.

Emirates NBD, the largest bank in Dubai, is recognised as a heavyweight in the digital banking space. But the trend towards preferring digital options is seen across all its customers, including Emirates NBD, notes Rio Tinto.

Sanat Rao, Chief Business Officer and Global Head – Infosys Finacle, says that with the pandemic accelerating existing digitalisation trends, within the financial services sector it was those organisations which were furthest along their own digitisation pathway that were best able to adjust to the new situation.

But digitisation is a double-edged sword for the incumbent banks, as it is enabling a slew of new competition, both in the form of fintechs and even new banks.

That includes Zand Bank, which is set to launch in the fourth quarter of this year, before ramping up its operations in Q1 2022, Olivier Crespin, Zand CEO and Co-founder, told webinar listeners.

With around 50 banks already operating in the UAE, Crespin admits that one key question for the digital bank is how it will be able to differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace.

But Crespin believes that the bank will be able to benefit from the strong digitisation agenda taking place in the UAE, and be able to interact with digital economy players, including e-commerce companies such as Namshi and Noon, better than legacy banks.

“We are launching an all new bank with no mindset legacy, no process legacy and no technology legacy,” explained Crespin. “We are talking the same language as these companies, we can connect with them seamlessly.”

Customer acquisition

There’s little doubt that acquiring new customers at low cost is one of the biggest challenges for any business. For new banks and fintechs, that can be the difference between long-term growth and failure.

Customer acquisition is a “million dollar question” for banks, said Rio Tinto. Asked about developments in this space, he noted that since January last year there has been massive growth in the use of social media, with increased interactions between consumers and products and brands on these networks, including commenting and providing feedback.

“Being there in this value chain of social interaction is extremely important. It’s a massive acquisition opportunity for the banks as well,” said Rio Tinto. “Data will be paramount, and banks will further position themselves as primary custodians of customer data.”

Crespin said that while Zand is yet to launch into the market, so far it has been well received. The bank is looking to communicate the idea of simplicity to customers, inspire ‘wow’ factor, and convince clients they are able to better understand their needs thanks to their analytics platform. “When they’re on-board, it’s all about generating engagement and fulfilling the commitment we are making,” said Crespin.

What is the future?

Looking to the future of banking, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and smart use of data were the top technologies identified by the participants as expected to make an impact.

Nevertheless, with increased competition, including from non-banking players, some of which are major threats – banks, it may not be enough just to deploy more money to improve their existing offerings, but rather make “a more fundamental change in terms of business model innovation,” believes Rao. “We’re going to see a sharpened focus towards this question.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean a bank should exit traditional business lines, but rather identify areas where they can excel, while also adapting a business models such as working an ecosystem of partners, he believes.

When it comes to artificial intelligence, Rao noted banks aren’t looking simply to deploy technology for the sake of technology, but looking at how they can leverage the data they have in a way that makes a difference to their own business.

“In this respect, AI and all these offshoots of AI around operations, analytics and insights, ultimately lead to better customer service. This is certainly one area where we’re going to see a lot of interest.”