By GILLIAN SARAH DUNCAN | SPECIAL TO REACH BY GULF NEWS
As the digital future becomes inevitable, a one-size-fits-all approach in banking does not work anymore, and financial institutions that adeptly combine the best of digital and human touch will stand out.
These are the words of Aref Al Ramli (pictured right), Regional Head of Digital Banking for Mashreq, after the UAE-based lender launched Mashreq Neo, a full fledged digital bank that transformed the traditional banking landscape of the country, on October 1.
Aimed at the connected generation, customers who sign up to MashreqNeo receive an account number within seven minutes, and their cards and cheque books within 24 hours. Thereafter, customers can apply for a credit card and trading accounts, including even a virtual gold account. Al Ramli tells Reach by Gulf Newsabout the benefits of opening a MashreqNeo account:
What is your strategy behind Neo?
We wanted to cater to a new segment: the connected generation. They are always on their mobile phones, love to do things much more conveniently and do not have the time for physical branch visits.
Given the trends we are currently seeing in mobile banking and the adaptation of digital, we felt it was the right time to launch a bank that caters to this generation. Above all, to give them the ability to transact digitally.
What do you mean by the connected generation?
When we say the connected generation, we mean digitally savvy people. They are individuals who use a wide range of connected devices. They are familiar with social networks and have access to significant computing power in their pockets.
I’ll give you an example: today for our mobile banking application, Snapp, our oldest customer is almost 92 years old, while the youngest is 18. It is a broad spectrum of age groups, and what we are trying to do is to create a bank that caters to these customers and their changing needs.
Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, CEO of Mashreq Bank at Mashreq Neo’s launch
Why is digital banking becoming popular in the UAE?
It mainly comes down to the infrastructure that is available and the enormous uptake of smartphones in this country – the UAE is number one in global smartphone penetration. Add initiatives by the government such as e-government and cashless society to these, and it makes the UAE the perfect environment for digital banking.
We are hoping that there is a big uptake for Mashreq Neo. The product is right, especially in an advanced digital market such as the UAE. About 91 per cent of our customers are transacting through digital channels, so we know the timing is right.
What makes Mashreq Neo different from other digital banks in the UAE?
The difference is that Neo is a fully fledged digital bank. It is not only an account, a credit card or a wallet. In fact, we are providing lending products.
We are providing foreign currency accounts and we are even providing investments. We are allowing customers to invest in international markets.
Another key strength is the level of personalisation we offer. We even have a virtual gold account where you can buy virtual gold in ounces. We are quite bold in saying that this is probably going to be one of the most advanced digital banks in the world.
Subroto Som, Head of Retail Banking Group at Mashreq, Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, and Aref Al Ramli, Head of Digital Banking
How will personalisation be different?
Financial institutions today have access to a lot of information. Based on that, they provide you credit cards with benefits that suit your lifestyle.
With Neo, what we have created is one digital card. You are the one who chooses what package of card benefits you want. You can also tailor your loyalty rewards programme based on your preference, be it cashback, loyalty points or travel points. The best part is that you can switch between packages after three months of being a Neo customer.
So Neo is powered by data analytics?
For us, the challenge has always been to gather, consolidate, structure and analyse customer data. We have a lot of information about customers. With significant investment already made in doing this, what we want to do is provide contextual and valuable benefits to customers in an effort to make life easier.
How do customers open an account with Neo?
You have two options. Either you can come on to our website or you download the mobile application. The app is much easier because it gives you the option of scanning your passport and Emirates ID.
The account opening process for Neo is between four and seven minutes. It is that convenient. When you have finished setting up an account, you’re given an account number, which you can use to instantly open a foreign currency or an equities account to trade in more than 30 markets. The next thing we deliver is your chequebook, debit card and – if you’ve applied for it – a credit card, within 24 hours.
Mashreq Neo is the first digital bank to enable trading in foreign equities, gold and foreign currencies
What transactions will be enabled for Neo?
You will be able to carry out basic account [operations], which is to withdraw and cash deposits through ATM channels. We are also enabling Mashreq Pay wallet as part of Neo, where you will be able to use an Android smartphone as a contactless payment device.
You can also carry out regular banking transactions that we provide in Mashreq today, such as international utility bill payments, cardless cash and digital transactions on the move.
From brick-and-mortar branches to digital banking, what has changed?
Ten years back, an average customer would visit the branch almost 15 times a year. Now they rarely visit. Having said that, it is not the death knell for financial institutions as we know them.
The good thing is that technology has helped us to transform the branch banking experience. If you look at the card and chequebook printing capabilities we have today in Mashreq, all it takes is 30 minutes to provide you with a new card, whether it is a debit or a credit card.
What sort of offline support will you provide with Neo?
Neo is not a mobile-only digital bank – it is a mobile-first digital bank. Our channel of preference for customers is mobile, but we will also be supporting them with an online banking portal, as well as a dedicated call centre and an ATM network for physical cash withdrawals.