Rethink And Refresh: Gulf International Bank Wholesale Banking Head Khaled Abbas Q&A

Khaled Abbas, wholesale banking head at Gulf International Bank (GIB), shares his thoughts on how the pandemic is pushing banks to find agile methods to meet corporate needs.

Global Finance: What lessons has your response to Covid-19 taught you about GIB’s digital strategy?

Kahled Abbas: While the events of the past few months have helped validate and strengthen the argument for a digital approach to business and operations, they have also allowed us to stress test our readiness and modify our assumptions and digital plans. What started out as a brief disruption to normal activity is quickly turning into the new normal. A number of our early initiatives on the digital front accelerated outcomes in light of the Covid-19 situation. From responding to client needs to assessing risk, fraud and cybersecurity postures, the crisis has been a unique enabler of a new culture and way of thinking.

Priorities have shifted to the adoption of adaptable and open standards and outcome-based assessments, as the workforce shifts to an out-of-office environment, and the increased provision of the full set of products and customer services as well as internal processes onto digital channels. The need to refresh strategic digital objectives more frequently has been clearly evidenced. One key internal challenge has been the replacement of co-located agile teams with virtually connected workgroups that have built a collaboration methodology as they worked. Formalizing these structures and sharing key lessons and success factors will be key to continuing to think, act and deliver at pace. The crisis has also resulted in greater focus on collaboration and integration with key agencies and partners to deliver last-mile integration of digital solutions for consumers as well as businesses.

GF: Please tell us more about such partnerships.

Abbas: GIB is constantly assessing and evaluating potential partners in the region and beyond, to allow us to offer best-in-class and innovative solutions and services to our current and potential customers. Our partnership model and culture are rooted in a belief that banks can no longer go it alone as they seek to bring innovation to traditionally unbanked or underbanked segments. Teaming up with niche service providers allows GIB to embrace new technology, markets and segments much faster and also allows us to serve a broader cross section of businesses and consumers. It also helps create an internal culture of collaboration. It is an acknowledgement of the fact that banking needs to serve consumers and businesses in addressing their need for timely and fair access to services and capital. The SME [small and midsize enterprise] segment is projected to be one of the cornerstones, as the Kingdom [of Bahrain] looks to diversify its economy to achieve the objectives of its Vision 2030. It has also been a segment that has struggled traditionally with financial exclusion.

Our recent partnership with the Social Development Bank and Beehive to offer MSME [micro, small and midsize enterprise] funding was unique in the sense that it brought not only a technology partner, but also a financial partner with a social mission, together in partnership with GIB. It also helped fulfill a long-held desire on the part of our stakeholder community for GIB to participate in the growth and nurturing of the MSME sector from an early stage—something we regard as a social responsibility towards the communities we operate within.

GF: What do you think will be the biggest digital corporate banking trends in the Middle East in 2021?

Abbas: Consumer behavior will continue to drive corporate needs in the Middle East, as would apply to any other market. Considering the focus on digital wallets, cashless society and real-time payments, we envisage following key digital corporate banking trends in 2021: greater openness to electronic payments, greater adoption of open banking, and ecosystem-driven propositions. This scope will provide opportunities for banks to offer pull payments in future and grow online payments much faster compared to ATM or card payments in the next few years. There will be an increased adoption of technologies including machine learning, artificial intelligence, and big data to detection of suspicious and fradulent transactions as well as facilitating cashless, contactless and touchless payments.