Digital acceleration: one bank’s journey through the pandemic
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Digital acceleration: one bank’s journey through the pandemic

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Joel Van Dusen, Head of Corporate and Investment Banking at Mashreq Bank talked to Richard Banks, Editor, Euromoney LiveStreams about the challenges of managing through the pandemic and prospects for the future.

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 Joel Van Dusen
Euromoney: How have you managed through the pandemic? JVD: The pandemic and the lockdowns suddenly put our employees and our customers into uncharted territory. To provide a safe environment for our staff and customers we needed to work remotely but had only a few days’ notice. We activated our business continuity plan, mobilised technology teams, increased network capacity, provided new staff guidelines and video conferencing technology. Within days we were working remotely to the tune of 97% of all functions. An amazing achievement. We give a big shout out to our employees for working so hard and being so flexible. In fact, our KPIs show that productivity has actually gone up!

This rapid response helped us seamlessly to deliver services to our clients. Our long and large investment in digital development has paid off by enabling us to serve existing clients without interruption. Additionally, some of our more analog clients have now seen the benefits of digital ways of banking, particularly its relative ease, speed, efficiency and lower cost. 

And were also helping our clients financially because we know how we behave now really matters and that our clients will remember. Where prudent we are acting to help relieve financial stress, to work alongside government policies to support business and consumers through the banking sector. We are, for example, working with customers on restructuring payment terms, reducing fees, deferring principal and, in some cases, even deferring interest. Looking forward we have launched a series of thought leadership webinars to provide advice and expertise on the business landscape post pandemic.

Euromoney: What is your outlook for 2020 and beyond?

JvD: No industry has escaped the disruption. Here in the middle east, key sectors such as tourism, aviation, construction, and retail have all been heavily impacted, but the UAE government took swift action and we have no doubt that UAE will be resilient. Even though there are heavily hit sectors there will be winners too: digital and predictive healthcare, IT services, logistics and manpower services are all benefiting from the economic change.  

Has the bank strategy changed?

JvD: The future is more than usually uncertain, and we see more challenges ahead, but we will bounce back as a financial industry and at Mashreq Bank our core strategy remains the same. We aim to deliver winning customer-centric solutions through innovation and digitisation. In practice this means three things:  First we will continue to digitise the customer journey. We think that this will only accelerate as customers are now super-focused on digital as their primary method of interacting with banks. Second, we will grow assets prudently. To that end we are building deeper relationships in sectors we see as benefiting from the changes the pandemic has brought.  Third, we are enhancing controls and upskilling employees.  Digital transformation necessitates a cultural shift within the bank. Banking is now a technology business and our people must be a technology people. We recently gave all our teams access to the IBM Digital Nation programme. Thousands took up the over. 

Euromoney: What excites you about the future?

JvD: I am excited about region and Mashreq’s future within it.  Beyond the opportunities which digital transformation brings we’re really focused on growth which comes from the realignment in global trade. For example, we’re working extensively on what we call ‘connected corridors’ between our home base in the UAE to the wider GCC, south east Asia, India, Hong Kong and the US. In India we’re very active in trade and cash management and in Egypt we’re a very important corporate bank connecting that country to the GCC. We are actively growing our client base in all these corridors and providing products and services which allow customers to connect through them. 

I’m also excited by our customer focus, our decisive management team and by our forward-looking culture.  We’ve adopted an Agile framework of multi-disciplinary departments which enable us to explore new opportunities and manage emergent risks rapidly. This means we are able to innovate meaningfully but prudently. It’s part of our history: we brought the first ATM to the UAE and now we’ve launch Mashreq NeoBiz, the UAE first digital-only proposition for small businesses. We’ve also recently launched the first blockchain-based KYC onboarding product in association with DIFC. We continue to invest in our region-leading Mashreq Matrix online banking system for corporates. 

Great staff, delivering better customer solutions through technology will drive our business forward strongly.  We believe that leads to happy employees, happy customers and better shareholder value.

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