More than ever, power lies in the hands of the customer. Digitally savvy consumers are driving banking evolution, forcing banks to operate like technology companies in an age of neobanks and AI-based solutions. Ellis Wang, Head of Technology, Transformation, and Information at Mashreq Bank explains why it’s ‘do-or-die’ for legacy banks.
Ellis Wang’s arrival at Mashreq Bank - the United Arab Emirates’ oldest private bank and leading digital innovator - could not have been better timed. Joining in March 2020 as COVID-19 caused global shutdowns, Wang knew the bank’s forward-thinking digital strategy was more vital than ever.
The good news for Wang was that the Mashreq digital transformation was already well on its way before he joined, providing him with the ability to hit the ground running. The prevailing dynamics of a fast-changing global economy and shift towards cashless societies necessitated a paradigm change well before the pandemic arrived.
“Mashreq already understood that rapidly changing customer behaviour and expectations were transforming banking. Coupled with changing regulations and the emergence of challenger neobanks, the pressure was on for brick-and-mortar banks to turn to technology to offer solutions; not only to cut costs but also to increase efficiencies and give customers what they want.”
With power shifting to the customer – spoilt for choice when searching for banking solutions – Mashreq played to its strengths as an early adopter of technologies to disrupt its own operations. The bank was the first to launch a digital-only SME bank account in the UAE and the first in the region to enable customers to complete the Know Your Customer (KYC) updates digitally.
“Our entire retail and SME offerings have evolved in response to the changing needs of our customers, who embrace self-service technologies and digital banking with ease, while demanding more personalized and tailored solutions in terms of advisory and non-transactional services.”
Solutions for digital demand
Those highly personalized services are thanks in part to the introduction of analytics and AI-based platforms. Big data, public clouds, robotic process automation (RPA), neo-banking, APIs and blockchain enables banks to better understand and serve customers.
Big data, for example, is integral to enhancing the customer experience. Using real-time customer feedback, Mashreq gets a more detailed picture of customer needs and market gaps, enabling the bank to develop market-ready solutions faster to better respond to evolving customer demand and improve overall service. “Our goal is to serve customers and linking business to technology identifies new ways for us to be customer centric,” said Wang. “Part of that journey involves upskilling our workforce so that everybody within the organization is equipped with the tools to respond in real-time to what our customers need.
This means redesigning certain jobs to reflect new realities so that we can continue to redefine and develop the evolving financial sector.” Successfully transitioning 97% of staff to work from home during the pandemic, Mashreq found enhanced productivity among those employees. As a result, the bank introduced more flexible WFH operations. “We believe more banks will embrace this model and it will become an industry standard,” said Wang.
Our goal is to serve customers and linking business to technology identifies new ways for us to be customer centric", Ellis Wang.
Go-to banking solutions
It isn’t only jobs that have been redesigned by Mashreq - many customers turned to the bank during the pandemic for its first-to-market digital solutions, such as Mashreq Matrix, which redefines the bank’s global transaction and cash management banking services.
The real-time nature of the platform enables corporate customers to not only conduct banking transactions seamlessly and quickly, but to plan cash forecasting and manage their working capital requirements - all completely digitally. And, according to Wang, safely.
“Right across the digital banking experience, customers demand not only ease and immediacy but security. That’s why blockchain now also features as part of the Mashreq digital ecosystem. Our first-in-the-Middle East, blockchain-based KYC platform was launched in March 2020, through a strategic agreement with Dubai International Financial Centre and norbloc.”
Customers are the business
Mashreq’s blockchain data-sharing platform, called Know Your Customer (KYC), was a regional first – a true milestone for a bank to be able to roll out blockchain on a region-first level in banking. The new platform ensure a faster, more reliable, and more secure onboarding and digital data exchange process.
Elsewhere, the bank has collaborated with industry peers on the formation of Klip - a first-of-its-kind initiative in the UAE that provides customers with a seamless, secure payments platform aligned with the UAE’s goal of transitioning to a cashless society. This places banks like Mashreq in an important social dynamic too, as they work with multiple stakeholders to enable the transition to a fairer, more open and way of handling money.
“Our customers are the only reason for us to be – now and in the future,” says Wang. “That is why all of us in financial institutions have a duty to step up and play our part in widening access to the full gamut of banking services and democratizing finance.”