JOURNEY TO THE FUTURE

Kuwait 2019 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

Zain is at the forefront of the digital revolution, working with the latest trends to improve the lives of its customers.

Bader Nasser Al-Kharafi
BIOGRAPHY
Bader Nasser Al-Kharafi obtained a degree in mechanical engineering from Kuwait University and later an MBA from London Business School. After graduation, he joined Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC), later joining Al-Kharafi Group and rising through the ranks. He has also held senior positions at Gulf Bank, Foulath Holding, Diamond International Motors, and Gulf Cables & Electrical Industries. He is also a supporter of youth development; he is the Vice Chairman of INJAZ, a non-profit NGO delivering educational programs on entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness. In 2013, he became Managing Director of Al Khatem Telecommunications Company, Zain’s JSC in Iraq. He became Vice Chairman of Zain in 2014, and in 2017 was also appointed as Group CEO.

In light of Zain's impressive 28% YoY growth in 2018, what strategy has the company implemented in order to ensure the continuation of these astonishing results?

At Zain, we have worked hard on growing both our revenues and bottom lines. We have designed and implemented targeted commercial strategies in each of our markets, together with a strong focus on execution. We have refreshed our brand, both visually and in terms of positioning. Our new positioning is centered on helping our customers to unlock opportunities, i.e. putting the customer at the heart of everything we do. We have spent a great deal of time listening to our customers and ensuring our activities are localized to suit each market. Customers who are happy with their brands tend to stay with them longer and are willing to spend more with brands if they are delivering real value—that can be in terms of offering relevant offers or by providing new services that deliver on customer needs, i.e. helping them to get things done. The demand for data also continues to rise significantly, fueled by smartphones with bigger and higher-definition screens, higher-quality content, and a massive expansion in the number of apps. In terms of home connectivity, a similar trend is also occurring. We believe that by offering the best data network, the latest devices, and great customer support we are winning in this space. Elsewhere, we have developed our B2B offerings from being somewhat “one size fits all" in the past into end-to-end, segment-specific offerings, from SMEs through to large corporations. We have focused on targeted value propositions going beyond mobile into fixed and solutions; again, putting the customer first we aim to be their trusted business partner. We aim to play a bigger role in our customers' lives, transforming ourselves into a digital lifestyle operator—to that end, we have made numerous investments in this space. Some examples include Zain Life in Kuwait; Zain Cash in Iraq and Jordan; and our Group API platform that connects our customers to the best and latest digital content available worldwide. We have continued to invest in the customer experience—we launched the first AI chatbot in Kuwait, and later in Bahrain. Our “Voice of the Customer" program provides us with real-time customer feedback following on from their interactions with our products and channels, giving us insights into how we can improve and simplify.

Kuwait has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the MENA region. What new opportunities can Zain exploit in the country in order to increase its presence?

We are going beyond mobile and into the digital lifestyle space—we will empower homes with the fastest connectivity via BEAM, our wireless “fiber" high-speed home data product, and later 5G, and via our Zain LIFE smart living platform. We will work tirelessly to be the preferred brand for the youth segment; indeed, this is one of the key drivers of our digital lifestyle focus. We will be a key player in the IoT space in Kuwait. We aim to partner with the government on its journey to Vision 2035. We were a main partner in the Kuwait smart meters projects and are involved in a number of initiatives. We believe we are well positioned with NXN, our smart cities company, and also with our other investments, such as Zain Drone, to play a key part in this vision.
What will be the key factors in order to succeed in and effectively implement a 5G network in the country?
Initially, 5G will focus on high-speed wireless broadband competing with fiber in terms of home connectivity. So, the key here will be having a regulatory framework that enables the right amount of investment and also of course the short-term availability of devices. In the second phase, we will see low-latency applications evolving; these have the potential to change everything from gaming, education, drones, and industry to fintech, healthcare, and farming. We will be entering an era of increased innovation and we will see many firsts due to 5G. We believe that ZINC, our innovation incubator in Jordan and Kuwait, will also help us to take the lead in some of these applications, e.g. virtual and augmented reality.