Tapping the millennial market pushes digital development.
Banks in the Middle East have emerged from pandemic setbacks with a focus on improved customer engagement, which is driving product development with an eye to high-growth customer like the under-35-year-old demographic. Many banks have introduced creative online “lifestyle” banks that offer specialized services that integrate merchant features and flexible banking and payment functions. Simplicity and efficiency are critical factors to attract this essential and underserved group. In addition, some banks have integrated advanced features such as voice and facial biometric authentication to streamline account originations and facilitate payment services.
The regional financial institutions also have launched expanded capabilities to support small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) with more robust features like contactless payments and cash management. Larger-scale initiatives include dedicated innovation centers for identifying customer preferences in implementing new banking products. At the same time, strategic partnerships and collaboration with fintechs greatly accelerate the development of digital channels and online services.
Delivering on critical strategic initiatives, Arab Bank, the Best Bank in the Middle East as well as Jordan and Lebanon, is aggressively launching products and leveraging partnerships to serve its local clients and more broadly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Headquartered in Jordan and with more than a 90-year history, the bank’s digital innovation is impressive, with new platforms and services designed to engage with customers more deeply. The November launch of Reflect, the first neobank in Jordan, targets the under-35-year-olds by facilitating their daily lifestyles with a mobile-only banking experience that includes shopping links, savings and payments features.
Additional new service offerings include the rollout of a mortgage app that combines financial planning and budgeting tools instant loans available for the Jordanian market, a digital simulator that helps with retirement planning and a new e-commerce platform. Its children’s savings program, available in Egypt, Jordan and Palestine, offers benefits to children and teens and is a mechanism for parents to save for their children’s future.
The bank also offers SMEs additional capabilities, with its online corporate platform that provides better cash management and payments as well as more streamlined account openings through its digital onboarding platform, available in Palestine, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In regards to innovation, the bank’s AB Innovation Hub lets bank employees connect with fintechs for new ideas and product prototypes as well as learn about new technologies. Concurrently, the AB Accelerator invests in early-stage tech-driven startups and engages them to identify new strategies and product offerings
The bank has an extensive franchise that covers 28 countries on five continents. Its extended footprint supports local SMEs and larger corporate clients that seek international growth opportunities and want a gateway to local markets. This is evident in the bank’s involvement in financing regional strategic infrastructure, industrial and urban development projects, including those for renewable energy.
In Bahrain, Ahli United Bank, winner of Best Bank in Bahrain, has demonstrated substantial progress in developing new services for retail and business clients. Central to its retail strategy is its MyHassad deposit savings program that generates an entry for prize drawings based on the amount of funds deposited. Numerous monthly $1,000 drawings and four annual $1 million drawings have boosted deposits consistently while increasing interest in the bank.
In addition, recognizing the growth potential of SMEs, the bank has launched a comprehensive suite of services that let local SMEs integrate digital capabilities into their businesses for greater operational efficiency, sales growth and access to a community of web designers, office suppliers, accounting services and an online marketplaces.
In corporate banking, the onboarding of corporate clients using the bank’s B2B program for electronic transaction banking and cash management services grew by 50% in 2021. The value of transactions reached $22 billion in 2021, an increase of 57% over the previous year.
Commercial International Bank (CIB), best in Egypt, has shown local market leadership with its development of digital capabilities. The bank encouraged digital adoption and client education through its 2021 branch digital transformation program. Through a personalized approach, representatives are mandated to register and tutor customers using the new banking channel.
The bank’s additional improvements include a new CIB website and the Digital First app, which lets customers track and monitor spending with greater security. In response to these initiatives, the volume of digital transactions grew 27% while transaction value rose 60%.
With the issuance of Egypt’s first corporate green bond, CIB has made sustainability an integral part of the bank’s strategy. In 2021, the bank improved its environmental, social and governance (ESG) management structure to ensure that its framework is integrated across business lines and incorporates Egypt’s Vision 2030 ESG goals.
Having a franchise that serves 31 markets within and outside the Middle East, Qatar National Bank (QNB) is this year’s winner for Best Bank in Iraq. Its broad product line, offered through its majority-owned subsidiary Al Mansour Investment Bank, as well as digital services and well-recognized brand represent a formidable resource for the Iraqi retail and corporate markets, particularly in payments. The bank has rolled out innovative contactless payment options like QR Pay, which allows customers to pay using a QR code at participating merchants. QNB’s Simplify payments platform lets SME clients access card payments via their online store, and includes e-invoicing and web store design. QNB partnered with Ripple to establish a secure and efficient cross-border payment and transaction platform for retail and corporate customers using distributed ledger technology.
Bank Hapoalim’s deployment of creative and innovative banking capabilities to attract new clients won it the honor of Best Bank in Israel. The bank’s Bit payment and financial transaction application boasts 2.7 million active users and sports features like tap payment and access to more than 10,000 merchants.
Planned enhancements to the app involve transaction-based loans at the point of sale (POS), revolving credit and further collaboration with third-party payment platforms. Bit also connects with most of the country’s insurance and pension companies for efficient claims and funds disbursements.
The bank is a pioneer in sustainability and lead first green bond issuance in Israel and is committed to integrating ESG principles. Its initiatives include increasing financing and investments in sustainable projects to $6 billion, reducing its carbon footprint by 60% by 2030 and raising the share of bank employees from underrepresented segments to 15% while raising the share of women in senior management to 50% by 2025.
National Bank of Kuwait (NBK), the winner for Best Bank in Kuwait, has launched a five-year digital plan to accelerate tech expansion to boost efficiency and improve the customer experience. With more than 30% of banking system assets and deposits and a footprint spanning 13 countries, part of NBK’s growth strategy is attracting tech-savvy millennials with new digital banking products. NBK debuted Weyay, Kuwait’s first digital bank, that offers services designed for this younger cohort.
The bank’s corporate banking business enjoys strong regional relationships and an international footprint and holds a 30% share in regional trade finance, especially for projects within the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). As a result, the division is a significant contributor to Kuwait’s Vision 2035.
With Islamic banking representing 40% of the Kuwaiti market, the bank seeks to use its majority stake in Boubyan Bank to increase its presence in the banking segment.
Winner of the Best Bank in Oman, Bank Muscat is noted for its commitment to customer by promoting greater financial awareness and expanding its product lineup with innovative services throughout the Sultanate.
The bank has expanded accessibility with more than 800 engagement points like ATMs that complement its 174 branches as well as its mobile and internet banking platforms. At the same time, its retail bank surpassed 1.3 million users on its mobile and internet banking platforms. In contrast, corporate and SME customers have a new website for business offerings and an enhanced transaction banking platform that generated $13 billion in transaction volume in 2021.
Bank Muscat’s the Meethaq Islamic banking division grew to 24 branches, which resulted in a 10% increase in digital users and more than 100,000 customers. Its corporate bank leads in project finance with a strong pipeline of infrastructure and industrial project mandates, while its ESG initiatives support youth and sports, education, environment and social welfare issues.
As the largest bank in Palestine with 74 branches and over 30% share of system assets and deposits, Bank of Palestine has leveraged strategic partnerships to develop its franchise and won the Best Bank in Palestine award.
One such partnership is with the European Investment Bank, which provided a $50 million line of credit to support local SME clients. In addition, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has extended $15 million for SMEs and women-owned businesses.
The Bank of Palestine is engaged in corporate social responsibility initiatives to support health-related causes and dedicates 5% of its net income to promote community and human development. It has developed programs to increase financial inclusion by providing financial and non-financial advisory services for SMEs and women in business. Its flagship women’s banking program has assisted over 14,000 women-owned businesses.
The bank is targeting the youth segment with additional services, like supporting the more than 7,000 POS terminals with mobile QR capabilities nationwide.
Embarking on a five-year strategic plan to support customers and deliver sustainable earnings, The Commercial Bank (CB), the winner for Qatar, is developing innovative and unique client-centric solutions to increase engagement. Using AI and client data mining, CB is refining its analytics capabilities to launch first-to-market technologies and personalized banking offerings. Other capabilities include using client voices for biometric identification, contactless POS transactions and supporting the use of digitally recorded signatures. The use of the bank’s digital channels rose 15%, while biometric registrations climbed 28% during 2021.
To cater to millennials, CB has tailored offerings and financial guidance via the TikTok social media platform and launched its Sadara Youth program for Qatari customers ages 18 to 25 that offers specialized features.
The bank’s commercial banking business has also rolled out of new digital products to better serve its corporate customers in Qatar and with GCC as well as international customers with projects in the country. Corporate client usage of the bank’s mobile channels is up 20%, while in transaction banking, more than 90% of payments, salary, and trade transactions are conducted digitally, with overall volumes up 48% during 2021.
Saudi British Bank (SABB), the winner of Best Bank in Saudi Arabia, is keeping up momentum after finishing its integration with Alawwal Bank, which it acquired in 2018 to become the kingdom’s third-largest bank with a 9% share in the banking system deposits and loans. The acquisition boosted SABB’s retail, corporate and wealth management businesses by moving 500,000 retail and 4,500 corporate clients into the bank.
SABB offers a leading digital banking experience for its retail customers, including the younger, tech-savvy population. At the same time, its corporate bank operates with a comprehensive suite of commercial products and offerings.
The bank enjoys a significant competitive advantage as an associate company of the HSBC Group, which provides a global reach and access to HSBC’s 85-country banking network. By leveraging this partnership, SABB gains extensive financial and operational benefits, many of which involve integration into HSBC platforms and services.
SABB is also growing its merchant-acquiring service, where its POS capabilities have captured a 15% market share with merchants. In regards to payments, SABB utilizes blockchain-based Ripple to secure global payment options for cross-border transactions.
Demonstrating its ability to adapt to customer needs through digital innovation and technology advancements, Emirates NBD has been named the Best Bank in the UAE. Its innovations have furthered its lead in retail and commercial banking and wealth management franchise, which has captured a 20% share of system assets, deposits, and loans.
The bank upgraded its core IT system in 2021, which enhanced its mobile and online banking platforms. Overall, 80% of the bank’s clients are digitally active while 98% of transactions are conducted digitally. Emirates is among the first banks to integrate its website with UAE PASS, the national digital identity and signature portal, making account openings more secure.
More than half a million millennials have banked with Liv., the Emirates NBD’s digital bank that includes a wealth of benefits.
On the ESG front, UAE branches were the first in the region to be awarded Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold certification, which reflects the bank’s commitment to these principles.