HSBC is one of the largest and recognised banks in the world with its global headquarters based in London. Its Middle East, North Africa and Turkey (MENAT) operations is based out in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The HSBC MENAT office houses provides various services for its range of clients in the region. Here Ghinwa Baradhi, the Chief Information Officer at HSBC MENA & Turkey (MENAT) explains a little more about her role.
The banking industry has been adapting to innovation and new technologies for decades – whether ATMs in the 1970s, debit cards in the 1980s, or internet banking and e-commerce in the 1990s. In the last ten years or so, the explosive growth of smartphones and the connectivity they bring has brought about a rapid shift towards mobile banking.
HSBC’s approach to financial technology innovations has been to partner with the fintech industry, helping to build a stronger ecosystem and provide superior products and services to customers. Strategic partnerships with fintech and enterprise start-ups are bringing significant customer and business benefits to HSBC globally, delivering insight into major innovation trends, early adoption of new technology or business models, and sound financial returns. We’ve been at the forefront of finding innovative solutions for our customers to create a bank fit for the future.
In MENAT, we are actively involved in accelerator programmes such as DIFC FinTech Hive, where we nurture and mentor groups of aspiring fintechs every year.
While innovation isn’t new to HSBC, the big change over the last few years has been the pace of innovation.
Looking at the smartphone example – smartphones have brought customers closer than ever before to their service providers. So close in fact that customers no longer compare service providers against their direct competitors, they compare them all against each other – a customer expects to have the same experience when they do their banking as they have when they do their online shopping. That was new for banks and they’ve responded by providing personalised, interactive, instant services available at any time.
More recently, the impact of COVID-19 has put an even greater focus on the importance of innovative digital banking solutions. A great example is our technology team taking the initiative to accelerate planned developments, such as incorporating digital signatures into customer journeys to provide contactless service, and launching our new online investment platform, providing real time access to book equity and ETF trades at the customer’s convenience, along with robust insights to track progress on their wealth portfolio. Keeping our customers connected to their finances – whether savings and investments, or payments and international transfers – has ensured that funds have continued to flow despite lockdowns and economic dislocation worldwide.
The effect of the global pandemic has been clear to see. From Q4 2019 to Q1 2020, we saw a marked decrease in manual payments made by our corporate clients of 41 per cent, with the volume of cheques we processed for them dropping 17 per cent. Meanwhile, we saw mobile transactions rise 146 per cent from February to March. This shift to digital yields benefits and should be viewed positively, but it’s important for banks to understand the evolving needs of their clients as they adapt and navigate through the ever-changing economic landscape.
While the vast majority of our customers in the region have been digital for a number of years, more customers than ever before have been using our digital channels and have realised that digital banking is better for them – it reduces turnaround times, reduces time to receive payments, it is more convenient and it has greater security.
We’ve actually had such a positive response from customers to our digital banking solutions that we’ve decided to go 100% digital with our wholesale banking customers in the UAE from 1 November 2020 – we will be discontinuing manual instructions. Our online banking platform, HSBCnet, will be the only available channel for customers to make payments and initiate certain trade finance transactions in the UAE.
The opening of HSBC’s state-of-the art regional headquarters in Downtown Dubai two years ago was a key moment for us as an organisation. It enabled us to set new standards for our people, changing the way we work and sharpening our focus on customers. Our new headquarters has smart technology at its core and was designed to support an agile work environment, giving our employees the choice and flexibility of when, how and where to work and fulfil their ambitions. The new building included an innovation lab, giving employees a space to connect, learn and put their ideas into action. We’ve now taken this online with the advent of an internal innovation community across the region, an opportunity for employees to learn new skills and grow their careers through cross-functional, collaborative teams.
Having a culture built on openness means that trust is already embedded in the way we work every day. Our long-standing commitment to flexible working, and being a region that has helped pioneer HSBC’s global approach to agile working, put the Middle East in a strong position to deal with the disruption to regular routines caused by global efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Empowering an average of 90% of our people to work remotely every day, as we were doing at the height of the pandemic in the region, isn’t just about the vital hard infrastructure of internet connectivity and systems security. It’s also about the inherently intangible human infrastructure of trust and dependability, collaboration and commitment, leaning-in and leading confidently at every turn.
Innovation Through Fintech Ideas and Predictions in the Industry
We are integrating fintech ideas and solutions throughout the bank. HSBC’s investments in big data analysis and artificial intelligence at a Group level are helping speed up, simplify and reduce risk in the US$19.5 trillion of annual global merchandise trade.
We are using analytics, robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence to speed up simple tasks – 58% of corporate payment alerts are managed by artificial intelligence.
And here in the UAE, we are working with a consortium of banks for the sharing of verified ‘know your customer’ – KYC – data over a blockchain, with a solution provided by one of the fintechs in a past cohort of the DIFC FinTech Hive programme.
With increased digital adoption comes increased risk from cyber-attack and financial crime. One of our key fintech investment themes is around security and crime prevention. Also, evolving regulations across the region present both challenges and opportunities to scale fintech solutions, in areas such as Cloud and open banking.
As I mentioned earlier, we are investing and partnering with fintechs to address industry challenges and collaborate with leading ventures to take advantage of opportunities. Using our scale and network provides these firms an opportunity to rapidly enter new markets. Examples include Quantexa, which detects financial crime using real time network analysis, and Menlo Security, which helps to prevent phishing attacks and malware.
Innovation plays a key role in creating a successful future for financial services. Combining the agility and speed of fintech startups with the stability and experience of incumbent banks such as HSBC leads to a powerful transformation that serves our customers when, where and how it’s most convenient for them. It is always about the infinite mindset to re-invent, keep learning and innovate.