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Mashreq has walked hand-in-hand with the UAE’s history that has spanned 50. How has the bank evolved as a financial organisation partnering the country and its people in its progress?

As the country’s oldest bank, Mashreq has deep roots as well as a proud legacy in the UAE. We first opened our doors in 1967, a few years before the official formation of the country. Since that time, we have grown from strength to strength alongside the nation, playing a pivotal role in supporting its economic development.

We have helped to finance several buildings and projects across Dubai’s skyline, many of which are now iconic landmarks. Our services have also supported thousands of SMEs and corporates, who make up a crucial part of the national economy.

We also empower customers with a host of personal banking solutions to manage their day-to-day responsibilities, as well as achieve their financial ambitions.

Today, we stand as one of the largest financial institutions in the region, with offices extending across the region to dynamic markets such as Egypt and Qatar, to serving in some of the world’s leading financial centres in Europe, Asia, Africa and the US. This transformation is testament to the bank’s forward-looking strategy over the decades, as well as the valued support from the UAE government, regulators, our strategic partners, and most of all our customers.

As the banking sector emerges from the pandemic, how do you foresee the changing landscape for financial institutions in the UAE?

As the banking sector recovers worldwide, we foresee a more favourable environment for financial institutions in the UAE. There are several signs of a market recovery taking hold following the pandemic, with increased business activity, sales volumes and tourism boosted by major events such as the Expo 2020. The UAE will host COP28 in two years, which will also attract inward investment that will be favourable for the banking sector.

Additionally, if interest rates remain low, capital expenditures by corporates and government-related entities will also receive a boost, which means we may see an uptick in lending. We are seeing a huge acceleration towards automation and digitisation in UAE, as banks look to leverage the latest technologies to serve customers better. Technologies such as machine learning, big data and open banking are set to become essential building blocks for smarter digital services and create a more personalised experience.

At Mashreq, we are continuing to invest in these areas. Ultimately, we believe that the future of banking will be about creating innovative customer experiences rather than just products.

Covid-19 accelerated the shift towards digital channels. For Mashreq, the future of retail banking is digital only. What we can we expect to see on the digital front in the coming years?

The emergence of disruptive technologies, as well as strong competition from fintechs have created an environment where new entrants are continuously launching innovative offerings. In this evolving landscape, we strongly believe that understanding our customers’ changing requirements is critical to adapting to their needs.

Over the past few years, we’ve invested heavily in digital innovation, particularly data analytics, AI, and the use of robotics to automate processes, and we continue to launch new products that leverage these technologies. More recently, we have been moving towards an open banking enabled marketplace, which will provide us with capabilities for seamless integration with our partners and the ecosystem.

Under the open-banking system, the access and development of application programming interfaces (APIs) will ensure that customers receive more relevant products as well as better services.

For example, we recently became the first bank in the region to have an active API platform for business banking with available APIs. The platform enables developers to browse and view selected API products for consumption and usage in their own apps, thus significantly improving the customer experience. This is especially important as companies develop new and innovative digital journeys for their customers.

We also recently leveraged biometric verification technologies to simplify the customer experience. Mashreq Neo recently became the first digital bank in the UAE to use facial recognition for bank account openings, in collaboration with the UAE Ministry of Interior.

What about banking for high-value transactions or advisory types of services that still need human interactions?

While technology has helped to automate a great deal of high-value transactions and back-end processes, there are still various forms of complex services that will require human interaction for the foreseeable future. Banks are therefore likely to continue offering advisory services, because people and businesses still value face-to-face interactions when they are making important decisions.

However, there is no doubt that technology still has a bigger role to play in delivering a better customer experience. The banks that leverage technology the best in the future will be those that succeed in delivering a more personalised experience — one that is conversational and is able to identify customer needs as they need it.

Tech firms have been disrupting financial services. How is Mashreq managing expectations on tech and relationships with customers?

The demand for physical banking services at branches is significantly less than it used to be, and banks have had to adapt to a new model that provides customers with access to a rich set of digital tools. Given this transformation, it is our belief that banks must adopt a new mindset, which puts customers at the centre of all decisions.

Our focus at Mashreq has been to operate more like a technology company than a traditional bank. We will continue to collaborate with fintechs and partners to deliver more innovative experiences and improve efficiencies. We also continue to invest in several areas such as robotics, AI, and machine learning to improve the level of service we provide to customers. Banks must continue building their internal capabilities as well as strategically hire new roles to remain relevant. This means hiring a new breed of specialists in digital marketing and sales, data scientists, developers, and engineers — areas that we are analysing for the near future.

Will a bank like Mashreq be known not only as legacy bank, but as financial technology company on the cutting edge of digital innovation?

As technology increasingly converges with finance, this will most certainly be the case. We see the future of banking organised around customer journeys and not specific products or functions. Therefore, for banks to be successful in the future, it is vital to adopt a new mindset, strategy and re-engineer operations to adapt to the current wave of disruption. For example, at Mashreq, central to our overall strategy is cultural change. We have moved away from organisational silos to instead adopting a more collaborative culture where internal stakeholders from retail, corporate and investment banking work closely together around customers’ digital experiences.

Internally, we have introduced several initiatives to empower our employees, including launching a diversity and inclusion policy to ensure diverse representation at all levels — as well as Emiratisation programmes, which are geared to create the next generation of national leaders at the bank.