The personalisation is what RAKBANK has been focussed on, and that process will continue awhile. There’s no stopping that. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Personalize the experience – even when it comes to digital banking services. Anything less will not help with retaining customers beyond a point.

So says Raheel Ahmed, CEO of RAKBANK, at a time when all banks – new and incoming – have digital on their minds. “A clear frictional digital interface and where possible a personalised one,” he adds, to good effect. “Consumers have moved well beyond being content receiving a generalised digital channel for their banking needs.

“The personalisation is what RAKBANK has been focussed on, and that process will continue awhile. There’s no stopping that.

“Any customer interface we feel can be digitalised, we will do that.”

Ahmed makes these points at a time when banking chiefs have been talking about digital led transformations and value additions. So much of banking services – involving individuals and business clients alike – have migrated in full to the app or the portal. As for many UAE customers, they will find it difficult to dredge up a detail of when they made their last visit to a bank branch. Or took money from the ATM.

RAKBANK built up quite a momentum in the first nine-months of 2022, with SME lending remaining a core focus.

The app/portal has become the interface in consumer-bank interactions. To a point where banks in the UAE are starting to reach out to the very young via digital ways to prepare them to handle money matters. And by extension become the banks’ clients in the future too.

RAKBANK, one of the most aggressive retail-focussed banks in the UAE, had in the first nine months of 2022 saw digital transactions go through ‘record growth’ of more than 15 per cent year-on-year. Its ‘digitally-active’ consumers were higher by 7 per cent during this period.

While announcing the 9-month results, the CEO had said that RAKBANK’s ‘digital transformation is starting to yield early results’.

The neo-banks are here!

RAKBANK - and other legacy banks – will be out to protect their turfs come 2023. This year has seen the UAE’s first set of digital-only (or neo-banks) make an entry, and next year will see some heavy action in the win-over-the-consumer battles between them and legacy players. Some of the digital-only banks are focussing purely on the corporate space, especially lending to SMEs.

This, incidentally, is where RAKBANK has gained some serious traction this year.

“During the early pandemic phase, we had provided debt to SMEs to help them through difficulties,” the CEO said. “That helped win their trust and many have stayed on with us. In these nine months, we offered financing for 3,800 of small and mid-sized business, and we see this category as being an essential part of our banking services.

I don’t see a situation where that changes, even with the global macroeconomic challenges that the banking sector has been facing alongside the increasing interest rates.

- Raheel Ahmed of RAKBANK

“The UAE’s own macro fundamentals remain strong, and as for us, we see the momentum continue to build on both sides of our balance-sheet.”

Ease up on lending?

Higher interest bearing loans and advances have benefited the UAE banking sector through the first nine months. But with each successive rate hike, can that appetite last among clients, especially those needing mortgages?

Ahmed believes that RAKBANK’s client mix should help cushion the impact. “I think we have good mortgage product, and I can see that our disbursals on apartment sales and offplan buys have increased for the first time in many years.

"What we have done - and continue to do - is focus on 3-4 core areas. Of course, we will be more prudent on the lending side, and look at services where we can clearly add value. That's exactly where we are heading."

And with lots of boost from the digital side of things...