Digital With A Human Touch: Q&A With Bank ABC’s Sael Al Waary

Sael Al Waary, deputy group CEO of Bank ABC, discusses how AI has changed the rules for digital banking.

Global Finance: What is the key to getting app-based banking correct?

Sael Al Waary: You must always remember that consumers dictate the agenda and that by simply listening to them you will be able to catch up with the future. One of our key successes has been building this cloud-based, AI-driven app within a diverse digital ecosystem. Since launching our digital, mobile-only bank, ila, in November 2019, we have already released more than 20 app upgrades, including user interface and functionality enhancements as well as innovative financial tools, in response to customer feedback and the demands of the new “no-touch” economy. When the app, on the whole, has the flexibility to cater to customers’ lifestyles, we can achieve the integration of human experience with digital advancement, which is an important end-goal leading to success.  It is important to be agile, connected, and intuitive, so we are always looking to co-create tailored solutions to meet our customers’ ever-changing needs and stay ahead in a world where innovation is key to progress and survival. Our customer-driven strategy and innovation mindset enabled ila to cement its mark as a leading digital bank in the region and exceed all its year five KPI’s by its second year.

GF: How can ila provide services that go beyond banking, and why is this important?

Al Waary: At ila Bank, we believe in “Banking that reflects you.” ila has been designed to listen to its customers, study their lifestyles and priorities, and offer them an intuitive, seamless banking experience at their fingertips by providing products and services that solve their pain points. Thanks to AI, cutting-edge technology, and sophisticated data analytics, ila empowers our customers with an extremely personalized banking offering, enabling their everyday experiences from when they wake up until they go to bed at night. It also helps them achieve their short-and-long-term financial goals and aspirations. In essence, it offers an experience that goes beyond banking, taking the modern-day customer on an enduring ‘ila journey’ to become an indelible part of their lifestyle.  As suggested in its name, which is Arabic for the word ‘to,’ ila encapsulates our promise to take customers on a journey from where they are in life “to” where they aspire to be. 

GF: How has open banking benefited Bahraini customers and banks?

Al Waary: Bahrain was the first country in the Middle East to adopt open banking regulations. We made sure that our cloud-based, digital mobile-only ila Bank is compliant with open banking regulations. It is the foresight and prudence of our regulators in Bahrain that has enabled and supported this, allowing us to make great strides in the realm of open banking. I think open banking is extremely important for international customers with multiple overseas accounts. Open banking empowers them with greater flexibility and control over their accounts and makes informed financial plans and decisions. It also helps SMEs budget better. I believe open banking is growing and will be widely adopted worldwide in two years.

GF: Why did you develop the digital-human agent, Fatema, and does its “empathy and personality” give it a competitive edge over other chatbots?

Al Waary: We wanted to transform customer experience through an autonomous, extremely efficient, AI-driven Digital Human Assistant ‘Fatema.’ Unlike other digital assistants, its human-like appearance, emotional intelligence, and broad knowledge of our products and general topics enable it to hold intuitive, effortless and engaging conversations with our tech-savvy customers.

Fatema is equipped with an AI-powered digital brain capable of accumulating experiences, learning and responding to our customers through experiential learning. It currently works alongside the ila team to deliver unparalleled, hyper-realistic and personalized customer service, 24/7 via ila Bank’s website.