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3 Ways UAE Retail Banks Can Accelerate Their Digital Journey

The current global health crisis has raised the question of just how important face-to-face relationships are for retail banks. The crisis has also highlighted the importance of digital transformation for the future of banking across the Middle East.

In competitive markets like those in the United Arab Emirates, the industry is looking to reduce branch footprint and move toward self-service offerings. Consumers in the UAE have been moving online and are increasingly using digital payments. These changes are likely to continue. A survey in June from Dubai Police, Dubai Economy and Visa shows 71 percent of respondents are using digital payments over cash in stores. The majority is using contactless cards (54 percent) and mobile wallets (46 percent). Sixty-eight percent of respondents surveyed in the UAE have decreased shopping in store since the pandemic’s outbreak and 49 percent have increased online shopping. All this comes as retail banks say they want to improve their customer experience.

Here are three ways retail banks in the UAE can improve customer experience and accelerate their journey towards becoming digital.

1. Be part of the ecosystem

Most UAE banks are on a digital transformation journey already. Some of the biggest banks are using customer data to develop personalized promotions and services. They have created banking apps by looking at data through machine learning technology. Increasingly, banks are also using customer behavior trends to adapt services and promotions. This means that all banks are going to be a part of a broader ecosystem of partners as they work with restaurants, retailers and beauty shops to promote deals.

Banks should be able to offer products within this ecosystem. For example, a bank can leverage customer data to integrate an automotive journey or an education journey. When a student is looking at college education options online, a bank should be offering an instant view of financing options for education. Technology such as application programming interfaces (APIs) can solve for this experience. But, more importantly, banks and their partners must envision the right journey and build a business case around it.

Consumers in the UAE are spending less money across all industries since the global health crisis forced many venues to close. But other consumer categories, such as online grocery shopping, staycations and home entertainment have grown. Banks must adapt their digital transformation agendas with new customer journeys.

2. Improve the journey

Old ways of working won’t address changing customer expectations. More recently, the global health crisis has affected banks’ ability to service customers since many services are not available digitally. While many UAE banks were already looking to complete their digital transformation programs, the transition to digital that started before the pandemic is now accelerating and making digital the preferred choice for consumers. The UAE’s first full-service digital bank Mashreq Neo saw customer acquisition grow by 50 percent during COVID-19. Banks must accommodate the increase in digital banking and can start by improving digital transformations.

Covid Stat

In order to do this, banks need to focus on and adopt what Publicis Sapient calls Jump, a key component of its transformation portfolio known as Evolve, Jump, Attack. Jump involves building a new shell into which the existing business can migrate. Established banks are under pressure to become more disruptive than before. Large-scale technology and engineering evolutions have not always resulted in the expected benefits. In addition, new financial technology companies are competing with established players. This burgeoning competition, both nimble and agile, can meet customer needs more quickly.

To compete, traditional banks must replicate those key qualities that are enabling the success of newcomers: cloud nativity, fintech-friendly architectures, customer-led cultures, efficiency enabled by straight-through processing and careful targeting of high-value digital-natives.

Evolve Jump Attack illustration

3. Change the mindset

Engineering and cloud transformation are about using technology to respond to current challenges and capitalize on future opportunities. By adopting an engineering mindset, UAE banks can get a head start when figuring out their cloud strategy. Many UAE banks are working on their plans to migrate to the cloud. Emirates NBD has implemented a multi-platform cloud strategy as the foundation for its AED 1 billion digital transformation program. First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) has recently welcomed AWS Outpost’s launch in the UAE and plans to use it. Mashreq Bank is moving to Azure, as are other banks.

A crucial aspect for all banks is deciding on the steps of their cloud strategy. Do they move to a single cloud or multi cloud platform? Do they move to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution or get regulatory approvals for the shift to cloud? Regulatory approvals, especially around data residency and security concerns, are especially important, as is obtaining the investment needed for banks to simplify their architecture and applications to be able to move them to the cloud.

The Publicis Sapient cloud proposition guides each decision point along the way. It can help clients decide on a multi-cloud framework, decide what workload moves to which cloud and ensure that the client has an exit option from a cloud. The proposition also guides regulatory approval approach that would satisfy the Central Bank and gives banks permission to use cloud.


Our cloud and regulatory capabilities are:

Regulatory Capabilities illustration

By adopting an engineering transformation mindset, banks can accurately estimate the expected value at the start of the project and prove the impact of digital transformation on the core business. A successful engineering transformation goes beyond IT and cloud migration – it is fundamental to the bank’s future, its customers and ultimately to its resilience in a post-COVID-19 world.

David Murphy
David Murphy
Head of Financial Services, EMEA & APAC

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