Jordanians can bank on the web, but branches are a thing of the past - banker
Consumers want easy, convenient and high-value services at lower costs
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Bank branches are becoming an alien concept to young consumers who have grown up in a different world, a banking expert told The Jordan Times on Thursday.
Raheel Ahmad, regional head of consumer banking — Middle East, Pakistan and Africa at Standard Chartered, said in an interview that multi-channel banking (Internet, social media, cellular phone) is emerging quite fast to satisfy those under 24 years old who account for 50-60 per cent of consumers.
He said that banks in general, and Standard Chartered in particular, are investing a lot in various digitisation outlets to cater to the new generation who is demanding better services and products in terms of innovation, quality, consistency, affordability and speed.
“Consumers want easy, convenient and high-value services at lower costs,” Ahmad said when asked about challenges banks face now and in the near future.
“Operating branches entails higher spending,” he reinforced.
The senior Standard Chartered executive stressed that it is important for banks to know what customer expectations and perspectives are if they wish to attract business, especially knowing that consumers “are not necessarily enthusiastic to deal with financial institutions”.
Ahmad underlined the benefits consumers stand to gain from intensified competition from banks, which are striving to offer improved services and products at lower costs, to make it cheaper for customers and thus attract their patronage.
The expert was optimistic about the economic situation in the region and the world at large, stressing that Standard Chartered capitalises on the shift in trade “from stumbling Europe and struggling United States” to Asia.
“As the emerging markets bank, we are clearly seeing small- and medium-sized enterprises in the Middle East and Africa shift their trade and dealings to Asian countries,” he said describing trade corridors or cross-border commerce as a bright spot in the Standard Chartered operations; the bank enjoys an extensive network in a wide geographical area.
Besides international banking and the focus on small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), Ahmed mentioned wealth management and prudent lending to individuals as other sources of income to the retail division, whose revenue represents 25-30 per cent of the overall earnings.
The definition of retail banking differs from one corporation to another, he said, adding that for Standard Chartered, this division includes individuals, SMEs and private wealth management.
Retail is not all about lending, as most people usually perceive it to be, however.
“In the retail activities, the balance is tilted towards attracting deposits more than extending credit,” said Ahmad in the interview that was also attended by Ahmad Abu Eideh, Chief executive officer of Standard Chartered in Jordan, and Razan Hindawi, head of corporate affairs Jordan.
In this context, the senior executive noted that foreign banks enjoy the trust of local people in terms of liquidity.
Safety and security also weigh heavily for clients who believe they may need to transfer their deposits abroad in case of local restrictions.
Ahmad acknowledged that all banks, whether foreign or local, function under the authority of central banks, which regulate the monetary and financial environment.
He said that besides ensuring healthy and sound financial positions in each country, central banks are moving towards adopting more regulations aimed at protecting consumers, requiring clear and transparent transactions from commercial banks, as well as declared pricing and fees.
More important are the credit bureaux that guide banks’ lending decisions, helping them avoid getting involved in dubious deals or bad credits.
Ahmad declined to recommend the kind of investment ideal now, when yields are minimal but there is a very risky global instability.
Abu Eideh, however, said deposits in dinars are a safe investment that carries 5 per cent interest on fixed-deposit accounts.
Among top international banks, Standard Chartered Jordan was the first bank in the Kingdom as it opened its doors under the name of Ottoman Bank in 1925.
Currently, the bank has six branches in Amman, Irbid and Aqaba employing 250 staff, nearly half of which are women.
The bank in Jordan has won the EMEA Finance awards as Best Foreign Bank for two consecutive years (2011 and 2012).
‘GOAL’ is the bank’s global programme which uses sport and life skills to transform the lives of adolescent girls. The programme was launched in Jordan on January 2011.
Now the programme has reached more than 4,000 girls in different rural areas in Jordan. The programme is executed in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Right to Play.
Within the bank’s global ‘Seeing Is Believing’ initiative, Standard Chartered Jordan launched the Diabetic Retinopathy Programme in northern Jordan: The project aims to reduce the proportion of people visually impaired or blinded by Diabetic retinopathy in the Northern region of Jordan (Irbid) by at least 30% in four years.
The programme is executed in cooperation with the Jordanian Ministry of Health and the Prevention of Blindness Union.
The bank signed an agreement with King Hussein Cancer Centre to provide financial support for three years to benefit the Foundation’s ‘Stars’ Programme. This will support the completion of a new state-of-the-art centre, complementing the existing centre and absorbing the increase in demand for cancer care in the region.
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