Customer service must become the lynchpin of banking. This was the consensus among the room of more than 100 delegates representing the region's retail banking sector at the GCC Cards Summit in Bahrain).
Opening speaker, Hilmy Cader said that it is time to forge true customer relationships. He said that marketers have given voice and little action to customer relationship management (CRM) for far too long and that its power must now be realised.
"Banks are sitting on tons of live, accurate data and know exactly who their customer is. Now they must read this data with care and consideration, and deliver accordingly. New card products, services around relationships can be made and retained by listening, watching and most importantly by action."
He also warned that new channels of distribution are changing the competitive landscape for cards.
"The dividing line between banks and telcos particularly is fast fading. No longer does one need a 'pin striped suit' to be in the card space. Indeed, telcos and even traditional retailers all have access to real-time customer data and they are showing nimbleness to market. On the other hand, the banking sector is rather slow to the trot."
The Summit's keynote speaker, internationally-acclaimed evolution biologist, futurist and business consultant Dr Elisabet Sahtouris suggested that the cards sector should be looking to forge collaboration, not increased competition.
"It is human nature to pull together in times of crisis, indeed to self-organise collaborative solutions. This cycle provides a wonderful opportunity for the (world's) financial markets to do just that.
"The cards sector should identify a cards solution that greases a well-serviced economy instead of fleecing the man on the street with huge interest rates and hidden charges of the back of extended credit."
She suggested that profit should not be made on money and encouraged the room to give serious consideration to the fundamentals of Sharia'a, and the science of Islam.
"History shows that currency was introduced as facilitator of an economy. It was not conceived as a commodity for resale and profit making."
Turning to post-crisis, Dr Sahtouris said: "Actually, the current capital system is still young and in need of maturity. Indeed, it is in metamorphosis, and there are challenges. I would like to see the sector embrace co-existence of friendly competition and cooperation.
Echoing the theme of Customer Service and delivery in summit, Robert Ainey from Bahrain Association of Banks said region is under-banked in the area of customer service.
Speaking in a panel on Demand Drivers, Ainey affirmed that more focus and investment is required on customer service.
Citing an abstract of Frederick Reichheld's book The Loyalty Effect, Ainey stressed that the only way to grow is through customer retention.
"If a bank increase customer retention by just five per cent, it will result in an 85 per cent aggregate increase in the net present value of an institution's branch deposits!"
To further emphasise this point, according to a Gartner survey several years ago but still available on their website, financial services spends $280 on average to find a new customer, yet the average spent to keep a customers is only $57.
Satish Dave, Senior Director Financial service of TNS presented highlights of the exclusive market research on cards in the region.
Customer satisfaction is not isolated behaviour but is linked to employee satisfaction as well as quality of internal-department service in banks, according to Dave.
Bassam Chour, Managing Director of Chouradvisor shared his expertise on successful loyalty and retention strategies.
Customer loyalty programmes are not an option but a given according to Chour.
"Banks need to identify how to create successful programs that address customers, a dynamic segment of individuals. The programmes need to evolve to meet changes in market," Chour concluded.
More than 150 regional and international players attended the first day of summit. The summit ends on November 3 (Wednesday) at the Mövenpick Hotel Bahrain.