Let's Talk Regionally: An Interview With Bank Audi

Rita Makhoul, May 29 2017

Following our article 'Banking on a Digital Future' in which we explored some of the technologies that will be transformative for the banking sector, we reached out to banks across the region to discover more about what to expect in the near future, in particular to our region.

Last week we published our interview with Laila Al-Qatami, Assistant General Manager for Corporate Communications at Gulf Bank of Kuwait. This week we spoke to Gebran Gebran, Head of Customer Experience and Fady Obeid, Assistant Chief Operating Officer at Bank Audi in Lebanon.

How are advancements in technology affecting the banking industry, and particularly in Lebanon? What has Bank Audi done to accommodate this change?

Technology has definitely been impacting the banking industry and our consumers. People are requesting seamless services that are hassle-free and effortless and are embracing mobile and digital channels more and more each year. At Bank Audi, we are constantly building our platform to anticipate those needs and be prepared for the demands. We started taking steps to upgrade our technology and provide our clients with new services very early on as we have always been on the forefront of technological advances,. Our approach is now geared towards creating a customer-centric business model with a seamless and integrated touchpoints, all built on an advanced infrastructure. 

Towards the end of 2011, we embarked on a large-scale mission by introducing our smart branch, NOVO, built around the innovative concept of Video banking, which was unique at the time. It is through such initiatives, that we have shown our commitment to embracing technology, even at early stages when there isn’t a high-level of adoption, and influence the market standards and internal culture towards more innovation

However, if we take a look at smart ATMs  and ITMs (interactive teller machines with Live Video Teller), we have witnessed a surge in adoption across different age brackets and various segments. ATMs are getting smarter and our customers are taking advantage of the advanced capabilities by utilizing these machines for doing transactions, depositing/withdrawing cash and cheques, paying utility bills, and more.  The advanced ATMs and ITMs provide our clients to conduct basic banking transactions at their own convenience effortlessly.

What are the top 3 trends in banking that will shape the industry for consumers in the next 5 years?

As time and technology progresses, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machines Learning, chat bots, and video are top  trends we are anticipating in the banking sector in the near future as primary resources to complete various banking tasks.

We recently introduced an AI robot in one of our NOVO branches. Currently, the robot only serves an entertainment function for customers who are waiting and provides some general information about our products and services. However, it will evolve to become much smarter and be a real component of banking services.

We also have introduced video support for customers at our NOVO branches and ITM. They can ask to open an account or apply for a loan through a machine and have someone support and advise them through video.

As for Machine Learning and Algorithms, we are engaged with several initiatives regarding models that can predict accurately customer behavior and suggest solutions and actions. Moving them into becoming self-learning is a frontier to be crossed once systems are deployed and efficient.

In your opinion, what are the top challenges traditional banks face in their move to become a ‘digital bank’?

The first challenge any traditional bank faces is the ‘legacy infrastructure’ in comparison to agile rivals who are unhindered by such an infrastructure and are typically better positioned to innovate. We are more fortunate at Bank Audi where the requirement to transform was acknowledged early on enabling us to be game changers in a competitive landscape.

Another challenge is the success factor. We’re talking about a very low success rate of several technologies. If you look at fintech and startups there’s a 1 to 10 ratio of success to failure. So traditional banks have to accept failures and keep trying. They should constantly introduce new technologies, some which remain for years, and others which will fail for either being introduced too early, or a better-improved version is later introduced.

Blockchain, artificial intelligence/machine learning, computing, big data, virtual reality, facial/voice recognition, cloud, and more are receiving a lot of attention because they could potentially open up a new paradigm in financial services. What tech will be transformative for the banking sector, and which do you believe are hyped or will have limited impact?

To be honest, we really can’t be certain which tech will be transformative and which is simply a trend. You never really know especially considering the proliferation of technology today. There has been times when a certain tech was introduced and was all the hype, then it died down to only resurface a few years later, as was the case with bitcoin.

Bitcoin was all the rave a few years ago but the timing could have not been right. Today, blockchain is being adopted dramatically faster than expected. Blockchain works as an electronic transaction processing and record-keeping system that allows all parties, without the need of a third-party verification, to track information through a secure network. This could ultimately impact transfers amongst banks themselves. If however, the present infrastructure evolves and allows for instant transfer and reconciliation, then the features of blockchain might become redundant.Let’s consider that we all do adopt blockchain, but then the Regulator, due to Compliance requirements, introduces some checks and balances for the Straight Through Processing that removes or slows the instant aspect.. This could affect blockchain deployment.

In short, we really cannot predict hype versus long impactful technology as technology is constantly evolving and regulators are progressing to meet the present needs.

How has the shift to digital banking changed the branch including staffing, services, customer interaction, etc.?

Since the inception of banking, the branch has always been at the center of the banking experience. With today’s technology and customer expectations, the branch has become one touch point among many in a customer-centric landscape. As previously mentioned, customer behavior is changing with customers migrating to online and mobile channels, advanced ATMs, hence, more self-service points, to conduct the majority of their bank transactions.  We have addressed those changes by constantly evolving our mobile and online platforms and morphing them into becoming truly Omni Channel including the ATM and Contact Center as well.

As automated and assisted self-services capabilities of the banks increases, the branch will often serve as a showroom for complex product sales offering value added services and as a venue for expert advice. These value added services require human interaction with a trust component. Teams are being trained differently to shift to more of an advisory role offering high levels of client interaction and expertise to enrich customer relationships.

Although the branch is shifting, the human component of the branch will never be deducted. Customers still appreciate the human element and support they receive. 

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