Mashreq Bank blazes digital trail in retail
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Mashreq Bank blazes digital trail in retail

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The UAE’s biggest private lender is a pioneer, embracing technology and innovation long before its peers. In retail banking, it is pushing back the boundaries in digital, finding new ways to serve customers – and to bring new clients into the fold.


Subroto Som, group head of retail banking at Mashreq Bank “There has never been a more interesting time to be here,” says Subroto Som, group head of retail banking at Mashreq Bank, one of the UAE’s best performing banks for five decades. “Digital is changing the way we service the customer, and how we bring them on board. It is transforming the entire gamete of retail banking.”

Som should know: he has been at the forefront of change in retail banking for more than 30 years. He has seen Dubai blossom from a desert town into a cutting-edge city, whose citizens champion digital and carry smart IDs. This is forcing banks to reallocate resources in order to ensure they aren’t left behind. “Around 18 months ago, we decided to revamp our brand distribution model based on customers needs and relevance, and reinvest the savings directly into digital,” he says. The bank played around with formats of some branches, expanding others, and tinkering with floor layout.

“We now have branches that suit a specific purpose and are tailored to our customers’ exact needs,” he adds. “Some are geared to smaller businesses or wealth management. Others are big-hub branches that cater to every demand, while others are sleek kiosks designed for speed. The look and feel, the sense of what our branches are and what they’re designed to do, has shifted.”

Mashreq Bank’s new approach is far more hands-on. Open-plan offices are designed to be accessible and amenable. Many people now enter branches only when they are looking for solutions, or are keen to explore a business opportunity. Staff at the best banks know this all too well, and this is why Som’s team is so proactive, opting to approach the customer, rather than waiting for contact to be made.  

He points to data that reinforces the need to take a far more active digital approach to retail banking. Three-quarters of all new business is now on-boarded digitally, and 70% of new customers make first contact with the bank online. Over the past 18 months, physical traffic at its branches has fallen by over 60%. Mashreq Bank’s focus on digital is clear to see at the branch level too, where it is rolling out smart cash machines with interactive screens, and installing video-conferencing rooms that allow customers to connect directly with product specialists at head office. 

Mashreq Bank is at the forefront to digital innovations. “We’ve been here for more than 50 years, and in that time we have had technology and innovation at our core,” Som says firmly. “We were the first bank in the Middle East to install ATMs, issue credit cards and introduce chatbots. We are constantly upgrading our online offering, which means we move faster and better than our competitors. If you are not there with the solutions or the products, you haven’t got a chance.”

China or the Nordic countries are more advanced than the UAE. But the country and the wider region are catching up fast. Dubai in particular is forging ahead with the creation of a genuinely digital economy, led by a plan to make all government payments cashless by 2021. 

For now, Mashreq Bank is focused on its home market. “The UAE is our key market, and our aim first and foremost is to ensure that our retail offering is perfect right across the country. That alone is a massive transformational change. But we are in 12 markets across the GCC and around the world. Our focus, longer-term, will be to adapt our world-class retail services to new markets. 

Winning in retail also means collaboration with external experts, including in the financial technology space. “Fintechs are coming up with great ideas every week,” Som says. “The opportunity to work with them to find solutions to problems far outweighs any threat they might pose. We recently set up an accelerator that is investing directly in 30 young fintechs, which is highly positive as it allows us not only to work with great young minds, but also to develop on the move.”

Going forward, Mashreq Bank’s group head of retail banking believes that while size will continue to matter, the driving force will increasingly be its quality of service, experience and innovation. “The real winners in banking will be those who can really engage the customer going forward,” he says. “People will increasingly switch banks based on that institution’s digital offering. You are going to see more disruption across the retail sector and at Mashreq Bank we are determined to be the big winners in this space.” 

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