Banks Behind the Idea Editor's Choice Middle East & Africa

Behind the Idea: Bank ABC

Bank ABC, which is incorporated as Arab Banking Corporation B.S.C, is an international bank headquartered in Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain and was founded in 1980. They have coverage across the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, the Americas and Asia. A leading provider of Trade Finance, Treasury, Project & Structured Finance, Syndications, Corporate & Institutional Banking as well as Islamic Banking services, Bank ABC is aiming to expand its retail banking in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region. 

Sael Al Waary is the Deputy Group CEO of Bahrain-headquartered Bank ABC and Chairman of the advisory board of ila Bank
Sael Al Waary is the Deputy Group CEO of Bahrain-headquartered Bank ABC and Chairman of the advisory board of ila Bank IMAGE SOURCE PROVIDED

Sael Al Waary is the Deputy Group CEO of Bank ABC and Chairman of the advisory board of ila Bank. He has been on the forefront of Bahrain’s fintech revolution, steering the fintech agenda in the Middle East. An industry thought leader, he regularly speaks at international conferences and events around the world on the subjects of digital disruption and financial inclusion.

What has been the traditional Bank ABC response to financial technology innovations?

Bank ABC has always had a futuristic outlook when it comes to our banking and financial services. We embrace innovation at the highest level of the organisation, and we have long-recognised and advocated that the future is digital. We take an inside-out approach to the digitisation of services and the adoption of disruptive technologies; innovation and agility are at the heart of our corporate strategy and we have established ourselves as pioneers, anticipating the “next big thing” and driving digital innovation in the financial services sector not only in Bahrain but across the region.

How has this changed over the past few years?

With the emergence of fintech and the widespread disruption of traditional financial services, we decided not to fear change, but instead embrace it. This shift in mindset has been extremely important. Our commitment, as the leadership team of the Bank, to remain agile, has embedded innovation as a core value of the Bank’s strategy and corporate culture. If we ourselves do not understand and embrace the impact of digitisation, it would be very difficult for us to survive, let alone achieve growth, in the fast-evolving financial services environment.

At Bank ABC we have embraced digital disruption as a catalyst for positive change and developed a comprehensive digital strategy and set ambitious and challenging goals for ourselves. The strategy revolves around 3 pillars, namely:

  • Modernise- through continued investment in our infrastructure
  • Evolve – by added value propositions
  • Disrupt- by developing innovative products

We are committed to enhancing our operations and offerings as a Bank by leveraging the latest technology as well as providing innovative payment solutions through our subsidiary AFS. Our digitisation agenda extends to wholesale and transaction banking we are focused on modernising our existing platforms and transforming our products offered to clients.

We launched the region’s leading fintech conference, the MEA Fintech Forum, in 2017, as a catalyst for fintech innovation in the MENA region and to drive the discussion forward to look beyond disruption. We host a range of leading industry experts and innovators and provide a platform for the latest ideas and technologies to be shared.

The digital disruption of services has transformed our lifestyle, behaviours and expectations of all services including Banking. Consumers demand CONVENIENCE, ACCESS AND PERSONALISATION. At Bank ABC, we had an ambition to create a bank that serves today’s customers and their fast, connected and always on-the-go lifestyles. ila was created with the vision for it to be a bank that truly understands its customers, their priorities, dreams and aspirations, and acts as an active financial advisor as opposed to a passive traditional bank account. Through a series of focus-groups, we learned not only about what today’s generation want from their bank, but actually co-created a bank with the very community that it aims to serve.

With ila, we have merged cutting-edge technology and human understanding to create a bank that is aligned with modern life. It listens to its customers, studies their lifestyles and priorities, and offers them intuitive banking support that is completely attuned with their financial needs. ila is ‘Banking that reflects you’.

With ila we are also driving positive social impact, ila has created quality jobs and internships for young Bahraini professionals – over 80% of ila employees are Bahraini and 84% are under 40 years old. The bank is launched in Bahrain with a roadmap to expand across middle east.

Have you and Bank ABC created a culture of change inside the company?

No matter how much we strategise and invest in our strategy, without an agile, innovation-driven culture, we will not be successful in delivering key projects and in making real change. This culture, mindset and behaviour are embraced at every level of our organisation and inform our outlook and day-to-day running of the Bank. A key example of this is the establishment of our Innovation Lab – ABC Labs.

In 2019, Bank ABC set up a Group Innovation Function, to accelerate the Bank’s digital transformation journey and foster a more agile work culture. We set-up ABC Labs as a dedicated space in our Head Office to support the emergence of new ideas and innovation. The Labs feature leading-technology, modern design and facilitate collaboration, experimentation and the development of new business models, markets, processes and solutions.

Our dedicated enterprise innovation function is aimed at supporting the digital optimisation and transformation of the Bank in an increasingly digital landscape with the constant evolution of financial and banking services. In the longer term, it endeavours to capture innovation opportunities, embed innovation management in the culture and increase employee engagement in innovation process.

Spurred by the rise in online engagement and the prevalence of virtual talks, ABC Labs host a series of monthly webinars called Talks @ ABC Labs for Bank ABC group employees and key partners. The Talks feature leading industry experts across the finance and technology fields for informative and engaging sessions on pertinent topics. We will soon be launching innovation challenges as part our commitment to creating an inclusive culture led by ideation, innovation and integration.

What FinTech ideas have been implemented in Bank ABC or ila?

We are modernising and investing in our existing platforms to drive operational efficiency and deliver more effective customer service. We believe that Open Banking is a key driver for delivering better value to our retail and corporate customers through the creation of customer facing ecosystems in partnership with leading fintech and Big Tech companies.

At the centre of our digitisation strategy is a robust cloud-based API platform and adopting Microservices architecture wherever beneficial to fuse our internal and external systems. The same API platform serves as our ecosystem integrator for utilising fintech services to enhance our banking products and services. We have also introduced the region’s first API Product Owner and API SCRUM Team as we recognise the value of APIs as critical enablers for business agility.

Collaboration is key to embracing technology and we have also adopted many leading Software as a Service (SaaS) systems from AWS, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, etc.

From a retail banking perspective, we have introduced the region’s first digital employee “Fatema”- world’s first Digital DNATM Human who can read emotions and react through the use of  AI Natural Language Processing.

Do you see any other industry challenges on the horizon? 

COVID 19 has accelerated the impact of fintech on banking and financial services and I believe that investment in digital is essential to survival in the post-COVID era.

In recent years, the impact of digitisation has focused mainly on retail banking; now this will shift to the digital disruption of the Wholesale Transaction Banking model. We are also witnessing a huge shift in the payments landscape with the use of smartphones overtaking the use of cards. This will continue with a focus on seamless customer journeys and the increasing popularity of secure, frictionless, contactless transactions using intuitive technology and the prevalence of AI and Blockchain enabled payments.

Can these challenges be aided by FinTech?

Bank ABC has been prudent and invested in our digital future and strategy, as the challenges of COVID 19 have demonstrated, we cannot be complacent about the future or stability of our services but always promote agility at every level and remain open to new ideas and innovation.

Final thoughts?

Innovation and agility are at the heart of our corporate strategy and we have established ourselves as pioneers, anticipating the “next big thing” and driving digital innovation in the financial services sector not only in Bahrain but across the region.


  • Executive Economic Development Advisor (Emerging Markets) | Contributor

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