Pandemic

Pandemic has only enabled us to fast-track our vision

As the industry is working remotely, it is critical to adopt a cloud-native strategy and embrace a data-led culture by leveraging big data to ensure seamless and personalized experiences for customers.

We’re focusing on Digital transformation principles and approaches developed in response to the current pandemic situation. Adoption of digital and innovative solutions has helped evolving business environment and to increase business sector resilience.

Mashreq Global Services provides banking and financial services, in the financial capitals of the world with international offices in Europe, Asia, Africa and the US.

Sesha Sai, Senior Vice President & Head of Technology, talk about their approach on digital transformation. Excerpts:

DQ: How is the organization heading towards the direction of developing IT capabilities?

Sesha Sai: As a global in-house center for Mashreq Bank, one of the most innovative banks in the Middle East that has prioritized delivering superior digital customer experiences, Mashreq Global Services (MGS), has an essential role to play in ensuring the bank remains at the forefront of all technological developments. The disruption caused by the pandemic has only enabled us to fast-track our vision to redefine the banking journey by digitizing services end-to-end.

To develop industry best IT capabilities, we have taken on a multi-fold digital transformation approach. As the industry is working remotely, it is critical to adopt a cloud-native strategy and embrace a data-led culture by leveraging big data to ensure seamless and personalized experiences for customers. At an enterprise level, cloud enables us to induce collaboration amongst teams across various geographies. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Blockchain have also significantly changed the technological dynamics in the financial services sector.

Mashreq has invested in these leading technologies to increase automation, reduce error rates, utilize resources better, leading to higher cost efficiencies for the bank and an overhaul in customer experiences.

Another component which has helped us in our journey towards building robust IT infrastructure and solutions is ongoing partnerships with promising fintech companies. The ecosystem is made of various players who bring their unique capabilities to the table. We believe in optimizing our solutions for our customers, whether by investing our own resources in building those capabilities in-house, or engaging in fruitful collaborations with fintech startups to leverage their expertise.

We have so far, partnered with over 5 fintech startups that enable us to create quick go-to-market solutions across green banking, trade finance, payment investigations, etc.

DQ: What are their challenges in this direction?

SS: Most banks, in their journey of adopting new technologies, face challenges in institutionalizing prototypes and taking them to an enterprise-wide scale. For many global banks, adhering to different regulatory requirements across multiple regions has proven to be challenging. However, at Mashreq, we implement the best governance practices, and this has helped us in good stead.

At an industry level, a common challenge we faced prior to COVID-19 was the adoption of digital banking among non-tech-savvy customers. However, the pandemic-induced lockdowns have forced most non-digital customers to embrace the digital banking space. In the UAE, akin to India, the government has encouraged customers to move away from manual transactions which has in turn, supplemented our efforts towards digital banking education, and towards enriching user experiences. Our online front office representatives have played an essential role in getting them on-board and comfortable.

DQ: What kind of IT products and solutions you would like to have?

SS: Pandemic has taught us that digital processes, operations and experiences are the future of banking.

Today, while we are partly on cloud and partly on premise, we would like to move our storage 100% to cloud in the next 12-18 months. Within the AI space, while we’ve built many automated solutions from a customer experience perspective, we are looking at introducing a “Zero Touch” solution which eliminates human intervention for making any complex business decisions. We are working towards bringing 100% accuracy that can read unstructured complex financial messages, therefore introducing precise, data-oriented decisions, to lead into business growth and efficiency.

Blockchain is also a critical technology in the financial services sector. It brings with it, enhanced customer experience, transparency, improved turnaround time, etc., but banks must be mindful before embarking on this journey due to the high investments and commitment needed in implementing this.

We have introduced UAE’s first blockchain data-sharing platform, in partnership with DIFC. Taking cues from this, we are looking to purse the power of blockchain further across various segments. For instance, in the trade finance sector, we are looking to introduce blockchain within our digital collateral management system which will enable us to track goods and trade in real-time. To bridge the gap between various stakeholders such as suppliers, buyers, shipping company, insurance company, the bank, ports and governments, the technology will enable us to efficiently track progress in the trade.

DQ: Has the organization evolved their strategy for implementing the IT capabilities and infrastructure that they would like to install?

SS: At MGS, we are committed to continuous innovation and aim to become a modernized cloud data center that drives agility, while being cost-efficient. We have had tremendous support from the management which has invested heavily in building digital solutions for customers, employees and our other stakeholders. Our strategy is focused on uplifting our capabilities by embracing cloud technologies such as IAAS, PAAS and SAAS across Mashreq’s network to create a platform for rapid growth.

With the new wave of digital adoption amongst consumers, we are focusing on optimizing bank branches and transforming it into smart branches to stay relevant in the digital age by introducing DIY services. Amidst all this, security remains a top priority for Mashreq. As our digital infrastructure evolves, we are introducing better governance and security practices to plug any InfoSec loopholes, right from the data center to any handheld, remote devices.

DQ: What is your thought on digital transformation, now that 2020 has nearly passed?

SS: Having spent six months in 2020 working remotely, devising, and implanting plans to introduce newer digital solutions to stay ahead of trends, I have seen the role of captives transform completely. Global capability centers have fast gained ground as business continuity and innovation partners in this critical time. The banking industry must reinvent technology which will help leap forward in terms of increased productivity and speed. The year has also taught me that digital readiness is critical at any given point in time. We must future-proof our systems in a holistic manner to create more flexible and secure platforms for any potential crisis or unexpected changes we may witness.

DQ: How are you moving towards being more agile in future?

SS: In this constantly evolving environment, embedding a culture of seamless collaboration to collectively innovate and introduce new digital solutions has been our and our parent organization’s central objective. There is an urgent need for organizations, including us, to self-reinvent, fail-fast and learn from those mistakes quickly as that will enable us to be more agile in our way of working.

DQ: What are the new techs you need to focus on, in future?

SS: We are making deliberate efforts towards digitalizing all our products and services in our portfolio. Through advanced use of cloud, AI, IoT, blockchain, robotics and API based banking, we aim to transform specific areas in banking such as peer-to-peer payments, account opening, trade finance solutions etc.

DQ: The outlook of technology in the Post-COVID era? How will Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning will be used in the light of COVID-19 pandemic?

SS: The impact of technology has been profound on the banking sector as most of the systems and operations have moved from traditional into the digital space. Digital and analytical tools will help banks scale, build flexibility and resilience for long term growth.

In this dynamic, yet cluttered environment, organizations which accurately leverage new-age technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning and are able to hyper-personalize customer experiences and journeys, will stay ahead of competition. We are in an age where customers expect seamless experiences and quick turnaround to queries. Through automation, not only can we cater to their requirements in a swift manner, but also fast track deployment of innovative products and solutions which would otherwise have taken months of planning.

We have enhanced the use of AI across our operations during COVID-19, given to the extent of incoming digital volumes. For instance, AI in payments investigation protects our customers by identifying conspicuous or fraudulent transactions. We can now prevent credit card fraud using real-time data analytics and meet regulatory and legal requirements for corporate customers with complex needs with increased operational risk. We can thoroughly carry out Anti-Money Laundering (AML)/Know Your Customer (KYC) checks with minimal to zero human intervention. Further, the use of robotics and vision robotics has enhanced operational efficiency within the company.

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