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In pursuit of data-driven channel innovation

At Mashreq Bank, multiple technologies supplement customer insights and drive sales through self-service channels that leads to data-driven channel innovation:

Mashreq Bank is UAE’s largest private sector bank and is a known innovator. It is present in 12 countries, including key financial capitals of the world – New York, London, Hong Kong and Mumbai. The bank set up its Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Bengaluru 12 years ago, which has built an inventory of digitized processes such as account opening, fund transfer, statement requests, cheque book requests and trade finance. Its RPA cum AI project enables 300 robots to perform 100,000 transactions every day.

Ellis Wang underscores Mashreq’s deep relationships with bigtechs, which have helped the bank to extend to its employees superior enterprise skilling program

Ellis Wang, Senior Executive Vice President, Group Head of Technology, Transformation & Information at the bank, has more than 26 years of diverse experience working at McKinsey, ICONIQ Motors, EJY365, Alibaba Group and Google. Wang speaks to Banking Frontiers on the various operational milestones achieved by the bank through digitization:


Mehul Dani: What are the market differentiators of your bank in terms of business growth and network expansion?

Ellis Wang: We have a history of being the first in the region – introducing the first ATM in the UAE, introducing the first debit cards in the region, etc – and these have been our key differentiator. Our vision is to redefine banking for all through an end-to-end digital journey, and has our customers always looking forward to experiencing something new from us.

Our long-term and sustained investments in robust digital frameworks and systems have demonstrated our capabilities during these times. Today, our digital offerings –  Mashreq Neo for individuals and Mashreq NEOBiz for SMEs – have seen phenomenal success, and in fact now source more new customers than traditional channels.

Through our expertise in global transaction banking and comprehensive regional knowledge, we deliver superior end-to-end digital solutions to corporate and global customers. We plan to upgrade this system to an advanced transaction banking platform that enables swift expansion of our corporate business at minimal costs and resources across the geographies we operate in.

How is the regulatory landscape in UAE different from other major markets, including India? Do you have mid-term plans to spread the wings to all those countries?

The regulatory landscape in the region and in specific the UAE, where the bank is headquartered, has widened its scope exponentially in the last decade. The UAE is one of the most forward looking and futuristic regulatory bodies today. We see policy standardization and rationalization by regulators across geographies. Take the example of cloud adoption. It is allowed by several regulators with some standard set of data and security policies in place. As a result, the pace of digitization in the banking sector has surged. There are also several initiatives such as fraud awareness and cyber security hackathons that are run by the regulator and benefit banks in the region.

Mashreq is periodically assessed by the regulator with a focus on compliance and risk, and the amount of digitization that is being done. In India, we work closely with the RBI for annual assessments to ensure we align with the regulatory landscape here. Similarly, in Egypt, we had the opportunity to collaborate with the regulator to share our feedback and suggestions on policies. We have also worked with HKMA to operationalize remote onboarding of customers to help manage the covid situation in Hong Kong.

Just recently, we expanded our India business from being a correspondent bank to now offer full scale wholesale banking and treasury services. A similar approach is also being taken in Hong Kong.

What is the percentage of Indian customers and NRIs in the total customer base of your bank? Which are the top 5 countries for Mashreq Bank?

Nearly 80% of the population in the UAE are expats, with a majority of them from the Indian sub-continent. Out of this, we have a sizeable percentage of NRIs as retail banking customers. Through our digital products, we have significantly increased our market share by onboarding new customers. Besides the UAE, we also have a strong presence in Egypt, the USA, the UK, Hong Kong and India. Mashreq also features in the top 10 biggest US dollar clearing banks in the US and that has been an added advantage.

How is the digital strategy implemented for customers so far post covid?

Our digitization journey began a few years ago, and covid has given us an opportunity to accelerate this journey. We, being the innovation leader in the region, continue to enhance our customer experience. We follow a 360-degree strategic approach that focuses on digitizing the customer journey to offer a superior omni channel experience. We also create digital products and services to improve launch-to-market rate, resulting in higher revenues and digital sales. Back-end digitization of operations reduces cost and creates agility-led business models. And lastly, we’re driving digital transformation across the organization to create futuristic mindsets and infrastructure, focused on growth and higher productivity.

Our focus through last year and in 2021 is to put together rail roads to become a full-fledged digital bank. This includes equipping our talent with expertise and skillsets around open banking capabilities, data, artificial intelligence and cloud computing.

To support our endeavor further, Mashreq India has been at the heart of building industry leading and award-winning digital solutions for banking services in cash and digital to newer avenues in blockchain and open banking.

Tell us about your data center, networking hardware, size of IT team and training provided to upgrade the skill set of staff members.

Our role as pioneers makes it imperative for us to provide our talent with brighter opportunities to upskill, build aspirational careers that enable them to act as bold ambassadors for one of the most advanced global, digital-first banks. We consistently work towards creating an open, transparent, and thriving environment that is full of growth opportunities. This helps us manage risks, identify and create innovative opportunities for our customers.

We believe the future of our digital transformation journey will also need re-evaluating skills to deliver the best banking experience. To ensure this, we host a variety of training and development programs for our talent, and encourage excellence, drive innovation, and promote forward-thinking practices. Our deep relationships with the bigtechs such as Microsoft and IBM have helped us extend to our employees superior enterprise skilling program, covering multiple emerging technologies such as data and analytics, AI and machine learning and cloud to our floor, giving our staff an opportunity to get certified.

Simultaneously, we are running a digital HR transformation program that enables us to onboard the right skills, provide the workforce the right upskilling opportunities and help staff move horizontally or vertically in the organization.

Our data storage is shared between the cloud and on-premises infrastructure. We run 2 datacenters on-premise and 2 Azure regions in the UAE. The networking for our on-premises data center is powered by Cisco and several other technologies. In the future, we hope to be fully cloud-first.

How have you gained by deploying analytics to increase business? How is technology put to use for CRM and CX?

Our customer experience rests on in-depth knowledge and understanding our customer needs, concerns, and challenges to develop strong and trusted relationships. We provide customized, targeted products and services and catering to constantly evolving consumer demands. This approach is at the core of our digital transformation efforts. Our customer journeys inherently capture feedback. The results are then collated and analyzed to gather customer insights. As the first step, we can derive various perspectives of customer behavior, product suitability and transaction trends that help us identify revenue opportunities and drive digital sales. We call this data-driven operation.

We have also identified technology innovations in voice and conversational banking, AI/ML, and payments. These supplement customer insights and drive sales through self-service channels that leads us to the third step – data-driven channel innovation.

None of the above will be effective unless we integrate our customer journey back to a customer relationship management channel. Doing so helps us notify our customers in real-time on the next step after completing their journey. An example of such channel innovation is when a customer who has trouble in completing his/her journey through the Mashreq app will be proactively sent a notification on what can be done to help them progress through the journey whilst they are still in the app, either through an automated message or through a contact center agent who can help assist the customer complete the journey.

How is your bank associated with fintechs and startups? Please name top 3 such entities. How many of these fintechs and startups serve the BFSIs in particular?

Creating a future-ready financial services industry needs a thriving ecosystem built on collaboration and partnerships. We believe ‘democratic innovation’ will shape the future of banking worldwide. Globally, Mashreq has established deep partnerships with several bigtechs and fintechs. We work with tech giants like Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and with startups to adopt and embrace various emerging technologies such as robotics, AI, ML, advanced analytics, cloud computing and mobility. We also actively contribute to and participate in key cohorts/forums such as the Hub71 by the Abu Dhabi Government, FintechHive by DIFC, that help us identify the right partners and build our way together.

In India, Mashreq has incubated 7 startups in areas such as analytics, robotics and ML. Fragma Data Systems, Fil-Flan Technologies, Virtusa and Patterns are a few of the startups we are engaged with in the market. Through some of these partnerships, we have been able to be the first to introduce breakthrough innovations either in the region or globally even.

Our partnership also extends to fintechs in US. For instance, we have partnered with Semantify, to create a robust semantic search capability to stitch both structured and unstructured data on the fly which can give our customers self-service capabilities through our digital channels. Our instant remittance channel is also powered by a fintech for quick money transfers.

In the post covid scenario, what are your targets and plans for IT, digital initiatives, for tech led business growth the next FY?

Mashreq continues to build on its reputation as one of the most progressive banks. Our digitization journey began way before covid hit. The pandemic only acted as an opportunity for us to accelerate this journey of innovation, increase investments and speed up processes. We are already reaping the fruits of some superlative digital initiatives that were executed over the last year and the first quarter of this year. Our focus in 2020 was on creating strategic customer journeys, that gave us a positive uptick on customer experience and digital sales.

As we continue on this journey into 2021, we are focusing on open banking, data driven operations, AI/ML and cloud, to not only improve cost efficiency but also provide superior digital experiences for our customers.

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