News-heavy year required flexibility in cash management solutions.

Author: Gilly Wright

A challenging year for treasurers and their banks in the Middle East saw oil-price fluctuations, tight liquidity and ther macroeconomic hurdles put businesses under severe stress. With the exception of the UAE, all economies in the region experienced deteriorating working-capital performances as businesses turned to working capital and cash management to improve their liquidity.

At the same time, innovation has eased the lives of treasurers throughout the Middle East. This includes new payment systems improving cash-management efficiency and the launch and upgrading of such platforms as mashreqMATRIX, the region’s integrated corporate online banking portal.

Innovation can differentiate a company and nurture customer loyalty. But ultimately, it is strong relationships that are the key to servicing corporate clients in the Middle East.

“Modern, digitized, market-specific propositions are important,” says Jacek Kurantowicz, head of cash management at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB). “But if I do a great presentation on which I cannot deliver, or if I make a promise and don’t keep it, or if I implement something but don’t service it properly, then I’m not going to be successful in the long term.”

Kurantowicz says ADCB is “really good at service,” due in part to diligent focus, monitoring and feedback on these points.

“I’m measured as a manager by my reports, by net performers, by my employees, by my customers, and by mystery shoppers calling and emailing me,” he explains. “Every parameter is measured with a fast feedback loop to check how I acted, what the outcome was, how I presented myself and that I delivered what was promised.”

While user experience has been on top of the agenda on the retail-banking side, Kurantowicz says it has only recently shown up on the transaction-banking side.

“We have self-service and automation in so many different areas of our private lives, from booking vacations to paying bills. Here in the Middle East, government automation is a big thing, where we, as individuals, can do so many things online,” he says. “Not delivering the same on the corporate level is now understood by many banks here, and the gap is being filled by technology.”

Yet it does little good in this sector to succumb to the pressure to rush to market with the next new thing.

“Corporate banking is more conservative,” Kurantowicz cautions. “Treasurers do not want fancy widgets and flying icons all over. They want a better user experience.”

To help meet user-experience expectations of corporate customers, banks across the Middle East are ensuring that digital-transformation initiatives offer end-to-end experience—allowing customers to open new accounts, make payments, conduct trade transactions and submit know-your-customer documents via their smartphones and tablets. Other cash-management propositions being rolled out in the region include virtual accounts, payment gateways and greater use of data and artificial intelligence as enablers. Last August, Bahrain’s Bank ABC became the first Middle East and North Africa (MENA)–based lender to join the R3 distributed-ledger consortium. Meanwhile, the former National Bank of Abu Dhabi—now First Abu Dhabi Bank since merging with First Gulf Bank—uses Ripple’s cryptocurrency solution to provide real-time cross-border payments to its customers in the Middle East. To help keep pace with digital innovations, banks are partnering with fintechs and setting up their own innovation labs.

The one thing that MENA banks are not likely to do in the race to find digital cash-management solutions is lose sight of what corporate treasurers want from their bank.



Middle East

Best Overall Bank for Cash Management


Best Bank for Liquidity Management

First Abu Dhabi Bank

Best Bank for Payments and Collections

Samba Financial Group

Best Provider of Short-Term Investments/Money Market Funds

Banque Misr

Best Bank for Working Capital Optimization

Standard Chartered