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Banking: A legacy of serving the community

At the heart of banking is customer service, which in the UAE can be highly demanding

Gulf News

As we start the New Year and set new resolutions and goals, I thought I would share some personal thoughts on what we as an industry should be doing to help fulfil our customers’ needs, aspirations and ambitions.

In my opinion, banks cannot be too far from the everyday experiences of their customers, and especially the events that define their lives. From helping them buy their first car, facilitating the purchase of their home and providing the means for a quality education to supporting them to scale up their business, and even expanding their wealth to help quality of life post retirement, banks have a huge responsibility to the people they serve.

This ties back to the now increasing focus on responsible business — just as governments and large corporations have a moral obligation to invest in solutions that address the needs of society and its people, banks too, as a key pillar of any economy, have an important part to play in this respect.

One area of intervention could be awareness; by educating customers on the benefits of saving and how to avoid debt, or highlighting the potential of technology to make lives easier, or simply providing financial guidance for important milestones in their lives.

Other socially responsible acts such as donating funds to those in need or promoting health and wellness can also be beneficial to the community. This people-focused philosophy is our legacy to the next generation and if we are to make meaningful contributions to society, we must depend on the best operational practices.

Customers First

It is safe to say, banking in the UAE presents its unique challenges. We have more than 50 banks, serving a relatively small population of more than nine million, but one that is a melting pot of different nationalities and cultures.

At the heart of banking is customer service, which in the UAE can be highly demanding, mainly because of the broad range of expectations across the multicultural customer base. There’s no doubt that the successful ones in this area are the ones that differentiate through better service. I am a firm believer in doing something right the first time, not only saving the efforts of the bank, but also the customer’s time. Banks have to invest more in automation and technology to simplify processes and to increase ease of access to services across various channels and touch-points.

Levels of Support

When I started my career as a banker in Australia, some of my simple day-to-day tasks such as the batching (the stamping of cheques received) helped me understand business processes from end-to-end. Although I did not realise it then, the exposure was invaluable. Having a view of the bigger picture, by understanding how each singular system, process and person ties back to the bank’s mission is important.

Much as we try, it may be impossible to avoid a certain strain in the relationship between customers and banks, just like in any other relationship. Customers may not always see the volume of effort that the organisation invests to make their experience as seamless and risk-free as possible.

To use a football metaphor — it is a pleasure to watch Messi or Neymar play, but behind the glamour and excitement lie months of meticulous work, planning and strategising. It is this back-stage planning — corporate governance in banking parlance — that is absolutely vital in safeguarding the interest of all stakeholders.

Proactive control functions such as our Risk, Compliance, Finance and Audit empower front-end staff to better cater to the needs of our customers.

Empowering Employees

Finally, there is no substitute to motivated, empowered staff who internalise the organisation’s mission and are passionate about being involved in their communities.

A dynamic and empathetic environment that encourages interaction through quality circles as well as online boards — are ahead in producing innovative, customer-friendly and scalable solutions. Every employee, from office administration to the chief financial officer, should feel part of the conversation, and be able to propose ideas that enhance processes.

When all is said and done, banking should be about serving the needs of the community — even as we build our profitability and help a nation’s economic growth, especially at a time when UAE is diversifying into non-oil sectors. We must build a service architecture that amplifies strong values and a good corporate culture, which resonates across generations.

— John Iossifidis, CEO, Noor Bank. Views expressed in the column are the writer’s own and do not reflect those of the publication.