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From Traditional to Digital: Customers dictate the balance

Colin Dallas, Head of Retail Banking, NBF

How important is a digital transformation in the retail banking sphere? 

In retail banking, customer experience has always come first. Digital transformation has played an instrumental role in shifting the customer’s experience by making it easier, faster and more convenient. Banks are now tirelessly working towards ensuring the user experience reflects enhanced efficiency, better security and resilience, and faster and instant servicing. At NBF, the transformations that we implement are driven by the evolving needs and requirements of our customers. These changing needs serve as a guide for us to constantly improve and enhance our operations to ensure maximum efficiency and the most positive customer experiences. The road to transformation is a rapidly-evolving   one, with digitsation leading this wave, we have leveraged this tool to be able to meet the growing demands of our retail customer base.

What is the budget allocation for digital transformation in your bank? What is it going to focus on?

The bank has allocated a budget between DH160m to DHh200m for new initiatives, 80% of which are dedicated to digitisation. NBF is looking at automation around robotics to eliminate paper work from banking processes while on the corporate banking side, it is developing trade finance payments and other digital platforms. Moreover, the new branches are becoming increasingly digital as our customers are responding well to emerging technology. While we are investing in digitisation, our strategy remains focused on placing the customer at the forefront of everything we do, meaning that we are still catering to the various needs of our customers including the ones that still want to see papers and the tech-savvy ones that want to see a fully-fledged digital system.

What are the prime innovations, new technologies and digital moves that your bank has taken in this regard?

NBF has made a number of investments in its products and services over the last few years to ensure ease and convenience for its customers such as workplace banking, door-step service for Priority customers, expansion to be present in more locations and enhancing online and mobile banking solutions. The majority of our customers regularly utilize NBF’s alternative channels and after the implementation of our new Internet Banking platform, this number has increased. NBF has also made significant advancements in digitization resulting in improvements in customer experience, enhanced efficiency through automation and optimization, improved security and better resilience.  We have pioneered many technology implementations such as DR, Service Oriented Architecture, and COB automation and RPA in the UAE region and we are far ahead of our peer banks in terms of the outputs.

What are the main challenges being faced while switching from traditional to digital banking?

As with any company undergoing a systematic change, there are some expected difficulties that come along as part of the onboarding process. Responding to these changes was a challenge that was initially faced both internally within the bank and externally with our customers. At NBF, we were experiencing a shift in our internal culture and in needing to upgrade our legacy systems. From the customers’ end, we had to work hard to gain their acceptance with reference to security concerns. Moreover, there were also some regulator and compliance issues surrounding customer engagement and the need to get physical documents to be able to successfully make the transition to online banking.

Do you have any data, studies that point to the potential benefits of retail banking moving into the digital space?

Yes, there are various studies that point to an array of benefits such as the advantages of a lower cost distribution model, the removal of fixed distribution network – i.e., immediately open to everyone with a network connection, removal of friction points currently encountered by customers, ability to deliver meaningful products & services to match customer needs based on customer data / behavior and the speed to market.

How is digital banking enhancing customer experiences?

At NBF, we have actively invested in state-of-the-art technology in order to be able to provide improved turnaround time for customer transactions, improved accuracy and quality of services, minimization of physical documentation, increased customer convenience, improved security, more timely response and resolution of any complaints and overall improved customer experience. In addition, there have been enhancements such as smart forms, customers being able to update their Emirates ID details through cash deposit machines when they expire rather than visiting a branch and the implementation of self-service smart branches to offer our clients seamless and hassle-free digital experience.

What are the steps and benchmarks for your bank's digital strategy?

Through our strategy, we are seeking to introduce digital processes for both customer-facing and back office operations in a phased approached based on regulatory approvals for the purpose of achieving a successful and smooth transition. Our key benchmarks will be the customers’ adoption of our new systems, improved efficiencies in turn-around-time and customer satisfaction, plus reduced operating costs.

What various customers are you targeting with which aspects of its digitalization? 

Initially, we were targeting the younger generation based on our research which has identified their need & willingness to adopt these innovations.  However, we are in discussions with other customer groups to ascertain and identify what their requirements are and how they want them to be delivered. Due to the ubiquitous nature of mobile phones, their connectivity and the development of straight through digital process, we believe that customer segments which banks have traditionally not pursued will now be viable opportunities.

What about an omnichannel approach, is it something you have already begun to implement?

We have already started this journey to enable customers to access NBF’s services while having the same overview and capabilities across all touch-points. As such, this will enable customers to start a process on one channel and complete it on another. Moreover, it also allows us to create flexible limits across all channels to match customer behavior.

What is your view on pure digital-banking players?

At NBF, we allow our customers’ dynamic needs to guide our behavior and decisions, especially when it comes to systematic changes. With that in mind, we still believe that selected customers will continue to require a physical connection with their bank, particularly high net worth individuals requiring assistance from Relationship Managers. Additionally, cash remains a vital element in the current environment and therefore a certain level of physical network is still required, however this may well be digital in nature. As technology continues to develop and customers become more open to digital interaction, only then will physical networks start to diminish. As with everything, change will always face some resistance from its counterparts and as such, we at NBF like to segment our customers based on their needs and requests and provide them with the option to have both a physical and digital experience.

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