MANY EGGS FOR MANY BASKETS

Dubai 2017 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, CEO of Mashreq Bank, on the importance of diversification, digitization, and the growth of e-commerce.

 Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair
BIOGRAPHY
Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair is the CEO of Mashreq Bank and a member of the Board of Directors of Abdullah Al Ghurair Group of Companies, which has operations in more than 20 countries. In 2012, he was appointed chairman of the UAE Banking Federation. He has held various dignitary positions, and his wide experience in the banking industry and business have made him a well-known personality in the region. He was elected as Speaker of the United Arab Emirates Federal National Council (UAE Parliament) for a tenure of four years, which ended in February 2011.

Can you give us an overview of Mashreq Bank's performance during 2016?

Mashreq Bank performed well in 2016 despite the economic hurdles the market presented in 2015. Mashreq Bank's corporate business is diversified across multiple industries, making it better positioned to weather storms than if we had focused on simply one sector. Our ability to do this is testament to our experience in banking and our transparency as an institution. We are aggressive in business, yet honest in addressing challenges, real or perceived, in an effort to become part of a stronger and healthier banking system.

How will Samsung Pay be utilized, and what is the scope for similar technology to be used across the economy?

Samsung Pay is a digital platform that allows users to store funds and purchase items directly from their smart phone. Mashreq Bank is Samsung's first partner for Samsung Pay in the region. In addition to that, this year the UAE Banking Federation is launching a national-level digital banking system referred to as a digital wallet where you will be able to receive, store, and remit money wirelessly. With a digital wallet customers will be able to send money from one phone to another. Customers will be able to pay for Dubai Metro, go shopping, and transfer money without using a credit card. Ultimately, we believe this type of technology will revolutionize banking and financial transactions in the market and around the world.

This is still a cash-dominated society. What strategies will you implement to help this kind of technology develop as a sector?

In order for cashless payments to grow, both the customer and the merchant must have the respective hardware (e.g. mobile phones and contactless terminals) infrastructure. However, for cashless payment products to be successful, the customer must adapt their thinking and behavior patterns to go digital and trust the new technology. On our end, we must ensure that this is a more flexible, convenient, and secure method of payment. We are optimistic about this trend because we are seeing it progress. At Mashreq, 85% of our transactions are taking place on our mobile banking platform, either from online, our smartphone app, or at an ATM. Several years ago, banking transactions only occurred in the branch with a banker. Today, Customers are adopting fast to new ways to pay without ever visiting a branch. Our customers are increasingly younger and increasingly looking to do business and execute transactions digitally.

Mashreq saw 30% growth in e-commerce linked card business. How is the bank moving forward in line with this sector?

E-commerce is exponentially evolving in the market. Companies like souq.com and noon.com are offering their version of global e-commerce portals and developing strongly in local and regional markets. The trend is increasingly moving towards online shopping, and more customers are adapting to such e-commerce platforms for their regular shopping. Banks will have to work to facilitate secure payments on both ends. The digitization of banking transactions will usher in a new era where banks will make less or no traditional transactions, which have been profitable in the past. Money saved from bank transactions will help customers maintain larger bank balances, which will lead them to look to invest their surplus capital. This will force the banks' business model to shift from conducting transactions to more advisory services and offering new services, products, and wealth-growing opportunities. We want to facilitate an environment where expat customers, instead of remitting money back home, will look to invest here in the UAE. We would like to offer investment opportunities that are so secure and attractive that customers will be willing to come back time and again.