Financial institutions that are setting a course of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic will need to invest in a ‘smart transformation’ that will see them form partnerships that allow them to improve their efficiency and create new products that cater to the needs of an increasingly digital population, experts at the Digibank 2021 forum said.
Presented by Khaleej Times, the second edition of the event brings together several industry experts to highlight new technological innovations as well as opportunities in the industry as it overcomes the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking in a panel session on Tuesday morning, Wissam Fattouh, secretary general, Union of Arab Banks, noted that the Covid-19 pandemic had “impacted every aspect of our lives.”
“We have yet to see its impact on efforts to reopen businesses, and our capacity to deal with any upcoming waves,” he said. “One thing is for certain: our global economies were not resilient enough to tackle the challenges of the pandemic. The global value chain will continue to suffer until the adoption of a new approach – an approach that leverages the power of technology and forces global participation between public and private entities.”
This collaboration, he noted, had been long delayed and was now an imperative for economies around the world. “We can only achieve this through efficiency, transparency, and governance. Digital development is one of the most important pillars of the future of the financial sector, as customers are increasingly moving towards electronic applications and smart solutions that make banking solutions faster, cheaper, and more transparent.”
Digital finance, he added, also plays a big role in reducing poverty and combatting unemployment. “Digital financial services can provide low-income families with access to affordable financial tools and services. This can help improve their economic opportunities, particularly for families that are living in extreme poverty. Structural changes can lead to an improvement in the standard of living.”
Ahmed Mohamed Al Naqbi, CEO of Emirates Development Bank, also noted that financial institutions have to change. “Post-Covid-19, digitisation, and banking has become a norm. People’s expectations of what they can do from the comfort of their home and outside the office have gone up. For banks, the expectations are going to be very simple – you need to be on-demand, on service 24/7. The level of service also has to be perfect, because not only are we competing as banks against each other, but we are also competing against FinTechs that have come into the market today.”
Various barriers that were present before, he noted, have gone down and industries have opened up. “More and more players are entering the market, and this has all changed the banking environment that we are used to in the UAE. Banks need to have a sense of purpose that is built into their model as they move forward. We have seen this being done very successfully by various companies; customers know what they do and what they stand for.”
From a strategic perspective, he said that smart banks will actually partner with FinTechs because they understand that they are not there to do everything by themselves anymore. “The days of doing everything in-house are long gone. There are people out there that are much more nimble, cost-effective, and better at customer service. Partnering with them is the way forward in my opinion.”
Olivier Crespin, chief executive officer at Zand, agreed and described the pace of change as “tremendous”
“In fact, we all got a crash course on digitalisation over the last two years; anywhere you needed to go, you needed at least two apps and a QR code that showed your health status,” he said. “This has been a fantastic acceleration and, moving forward, what is going to drive us is going to be different from what we needed before, for convenience and safety reasons.”
Like Al Naqbi, he pointed out that the expectations of people have shifted. “Everybody wants immediacy and no one wants to go and stand in line at a bank. They want access to information immediately, and on the spot, and they want a transaction to take minutes, not days.”
Banks are becoming a facilitation agent for financial activity, he added. “There are some statistics that say that 70 per cent of any human activity starts and ends with a financial transaction. When you think about this, you see how embedded financial solutions are in our daily lives. Banks should be part of an increasingly digital ecosystem. There has to be greater connectivity and opportunities to leverage the latest technology.”
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