Bloomberg’s Latest Fair Share Webinar Explores the Middle East’s Readiness for the New Age of Digital Banking

Press release
Published December 8th, 2021 - 07:19 GMT
Bloomberg’s Latest Fair Share Webinar Explores the Middle East’s Readiness for the New Age of Digital Banking
Bloomberg L.P. today gathered finance industry leaders from across the GCC to discuss the region’s readiness for the new age of digital banking.

Bloomberg L.P. today gathered finance industry leaders from across the GCC to discuss the region’s readiness for the new age of digital banking. The webinar, featuring the Central Bank of Bahrain, was the latest in the series of A Fair Share events, Bloomberg's initiative to advocate for gender diversity in the GCC finance industry.

The webinar explored the latest trends in FinTech and digital banking as well as the shift in the digital strategies of banks, the measures regulators are taking to build resilience, and how organizations can manage emerging risks in a rapidly changing market. 

The roster of speakers and panelists included inspiring GCC banking female leaders Shaikha Al Bahar, Deputy Group CEO, National Bank of Kuwait; Rola Abu Manneh, Chief Executive Officer, Standard Chartered Bank, UAE and A Fair Share Advisory Board member; and Dr. Yousif Almas, Group Chief Innovation Officer, Bank ABC.  Yasmeen Al Sharaf, Director of Fintech and Innovation, Central Bank of Bahrain and A Fair Share Advisory Board member delivered closing remarks.

Speaking about competition in the UAE banking sector shaping the new age of digital banking, Rola Abu Manneh said: “The banking sector in the UAE has witnessed increased competition but this is a healthy phenomenon as it encourages banks to challenge the status quo and move out of their comfort zone. Competition is a strong catalyst for financial institutions to adopt new technologies, innovate, enhance efficiency, and ultimately provide better services and products to the customer.”

She went on to say that: “Banks in the UAE are among the first to adopt new technologies worldwide, therefore they can differentiate themselves and stay ahead of the game by continuously listening to customers and clients to identify their evolving requirements.”

Recently, The National Bank of Kuwait launched the first digital bank in Kuwait, "Weyay" which is targeted at the needs of the Kuwaiti youth. Shaikha Al Bahar spoke of NBK’s digital transformation strategy explaining how in the pre-covid era digitalization was equally important but the pandemic accelerated this process. She also highlighted the importance of diversification saying: “Our diversification strategy helped us a lot during the crisis, diversification is at the core of our strategy and goes back to the eighties when we expanded in key markets across the world.”

On the measures regulators are taking to build resilience, Yasmeen Al Sharaf said: “The world is going through a digital transformation and the pandemic has accelerated the rise of a digital economy. We have started to witness a change in consumer behavior around the world and their demand for cashless payments and digital financial services. In this digital era, the biggest challenges we face as a regulator are the pace of technological advancements and developments as well as understanding the different emerging business models and their risk implications to develop the right regulatory frameworks to support them.”

She added: “With those emerging technologies, geographical borders between jurisdictions are starting to converge, financial institutions are starting to operate more across borders. It is very important for us as regulators to come together to try and close the gaps of regulations and try to harmonize them to safeguard the financial system.”

When asked about where the region stands in relation to digital banking compared to other markets, Dr. Yousif Almas said: “We are geographically in the middle between East Asia and Europe. The region is very keen to adopt new technologies, also the governments in Gulf countries encourage the adoption of new technologies. We see more similarities in technological advancements with Asia rather than Europe, however in terms of retail challenger banks it first started mainly in the UK and after a few years it started to appear in Middle East, and particularly in the GCC.

Looking ahead, Dr. Almas said: “We see more traction in retail banking in MENA and my prediction is that this digital disruption will scale in SME and corporate banking as well.”

He added that banks or any organization should not focus on one time cost cutting but rather focus on continued cost optimization process which should be done in parallel with the digital acceleration. These two pillars should work together. Besides technology, the main point of digital innovation is to listen to clients’ pain points and solving them on continuous basis or else an organization will become irrelevant. It is important to distinguish between digital transformation and digital optimization were that first is about introducing new business models utilizing digital innovation and technologies. It is also critical that ways of working are evolved to enable digital product management instead of traditional project management.

All panelists agreed that there has been a shift in talent demand in banks due to the digital transformation. Many banks position themselves as tech companies therefore, nurturing digital talent is seen as a critical capability for any bank.

Diversity and inclusion were a prominent topic during the webinar. Speakers stressed the importance of gender equality in the workplace and building an inclusive corporate environment. Banks have launched a series of initiatives to tackle inequality by promoting greater economic inclusion as well as services targeted at female customers and entrepreneurs.

'Are You Prepared for the New Age of Digital Banking?’ follows a series of discussions organized by Bloomberg L.P.’s A Fair Share initiative. The initiative advocates for gender equality in the financial industry, engaging with a wide variety of market participants and stakeholders, including government agencies and regulators, to help unlock a valuable pool of talent. A Fair Share is supported by an Advisory Board which is comprised of a number of leading executives from across the GCC. To date, close to 100 women across Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have benefited from sessions organized by the initiative

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