KUWAIT: Shaikha Al-Bahar, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) Group said that the pandemic accelerated the drive towards digitization while differentiating how serious and committed each bank is to its digital approach. Al-Bahar’s statements came in her participation in a webinar themed “Are You Prepared for the New Age of Digital Banking?”, which was organized by Bloomberg and hosted a number of regional banking leaders. Al-Bahar went on to say that NBK’s diversification strategy has paid off during the challenging times of the pandemic, noting that this goes back to the eighties when it expanded sectorally and geographically in key financial locations across the world.
Partnership with the youth
Al-Bahar mentioned: “NBK is present in 14 countries and offer all financial services including conventional, Islamic banking, investment banking and wealth management, trade and project finance among others. More importantly and as of last week, we also launched “Weyay”, the first digital bank in Kuwait, reflecting the vigorous and tech-savvy nature of the Kuwaiti society and representing a long-term partnership with the youth and meets their needs in a way that suits their lifestyles.”
“The new digital bank is a major milestone in our digital transformation agenda as we witness the changing landscape of financial services across the world,” she elaborated. She noted that “Weyay” offers an integrated package of advanced products and services that help the youth track and organize their expenses in a better way, which contributes to increasing their ability to accumulate savings, as well as provide appropriate investment channels for growing these savings.
Technology as a way for growth
Al-Bahar stated: “When developing our digital agenda, one of our key objectives was to align the technology investments and digital roadmap to NBK group strategy to standardize even at the International locations. This will consolidate, rationalize and simplify the IT application portfolio within the Bank and will further allow improvement on cost synergies and create room for cross-selling of products and services across the bank’s network.”
“We are using our digital investments and the capabilities built in Kuwait (including NBK Digital Factory) as a critical growth avenue in the short- and medium-term, particularly for growing our retail banking operations across the group,” Al-Bahar added. “Our digital bank “Weyay” will act as the platform to penetrating new markets in our network. The focus will be on markets were we have identified a growth opportunity and were a digital offer will ramp up growth and grow our market share and targeted segment penetration,” she explained. “Egypt and Saudi Arabia are our key growth markets outside Kuwait and we see great potential to leveraging Kuwait-developed digital capabilities to growth in these two markets, she noted.”
NBK’s digital agenda
NBK Deputy Group CEO shed light on the bank’s digital agenda emphasizing that it is embedded in the bank’s strategy and hence it is committed to implement it and to keep pace with the most advanced Fintech solutions. Al-Bahar noted that NBK’s strategic direction revolves around being the digital leader and trendsetter in Kuwait and in the region, building next generation digital banking experience, and being digitally working bank with all employees.
Our digital activation ratios, mobile usage and digital transactions fundamentally increased as we accelerated our action plan towards enhancing/revamping our existing channel experiences and in developing new ones, Al-Bahar added. In parallel, new skills and capabilities are being injected into NBK by recruitment of diversified talent and internally developing others using best-in-class training programs and techniques, she added.
Group’s digital office
Al-Bahar said: “We established NBK Group Digital Office as a key enabler in the organization for digital transformation and is also responsible for increasing innovative products and service portfolio through Fintech partnerships.” “Wealth management services is a strategic priority for NBK and with digitization at the core of our strategy, Smart Wealth (our digital wealth management platform) integration paved the way for that avenue of growth. Enabling NBK Mobile customers to open NBK Capital Smart Wealth account digitally and transfer money to their accounts in a hassle-free way via NBK Mobile Banking App through seamless integration with Smart Wealth,” she added.
State-of-the-art data center
Al-Bahar siad that for NBK, the priority was also to invest in a state-of-the-art data center, which was established in Kuwait. This suggests the importance of data analytics, consumer behavior and ability to offer bespoken products to customers. She added that heavily investing in digital infrastructure improves productivity, meet customer expectations, and capture market share, that can only be done through leveraging big data capabilities, noting that NBK strives to improve the reliability and sustainability of our digital infrastructure with a strong emphasis on cyber security and regulatory compliance.
Investment in talent
On banks’ need for new skillset to support more innovation and expansion in the digital banking space, Al-Bahar said: “NBK’s vision and mission was to always invest in local talent, making NBK the main attraction for Kuwaiti Talent which is demonstrated by the amount of new Kuwaiti recruits in 2019 (pre-pandemic) which exceeded 600 new recruits within a year.”
“We focus on internal and external recruitment procedures, prioritizing our in-house employees, as NBK highly supports talent mobility to retain existing talents in the organization and for promoting career development,” she added. “We have over the years developed exceptional training programs with top universities globally, to ensure best quality training is delivered across various seniority levels across the Group,” she mentioned.
Advancing gender equality
The webinar also discussed gender equality on which Al-Bahar emphasized that there are no restrictions in anyways on female representation in the work force in Kuwait generally and the banking sector specifically, noting that there is some room to increase the representation of women in senior positions and board membership as you said and I believe this is an area of focus that has been gaining more attention recently.
“We are highly committed to advancing gender equality as a key element of our talent development management. To this end, we have taken many initiatives and measures towards increasing the presence of women in leadership positions through proper guidance and providing appropriate opportunities for their career development, as well as embedding the culture of women empowerment across the whole Group,” Al-Bahar pointed out.
Al-Bahar mentioned that staff figures are a very good representation of NBK’s commitment to gender equality where females represented 46 percent of the total employees as of Sep-2021. Also, programs to support women empowerment by the Bank included “Women’s Leadership Development”. “We also expand our diversity and inclusion commitment to our customers where we have been launching some products and services for our female customers and female entrepreneurs. An area we will continue to develop further as part of our commitment to advance financial inclusion,” she added.
Strategic sustainability pillars
The webinar discussed the progress made by NBK towards achieving its sustainability pillars, on which Al-Bahar said: “We are looking forward to continued progress in making ESG standards a basis for dialogue with customers, embedding sustainable finance in all its operations, and building sustainability as an integral part of our corporate culture.” Additionally, NBK strives to strengthen its position as a leading provider of sustainable banking services. The Bank also expects to announce initiatives to better measure ESG impacts, with the highest priorities focused on assessing direct and indirect environmental impact, as climate change risks continue to emerge, she emphasized.