In an interview with Muscat Daily, Abdul Karim Zahran al Hinai, assistant general manager – head of alternative channels at National Bank of Oman (NBO) spoke about the usage of new digital tools to promote and achieve financial inclusion in Oman. He said NBO has various initiatives in place to promote the usage of its mobile app and Internet services.
Over the past few years, NBO has taken various initiatives in the retail banking segment, so please tell us why there was a need for such new initiatives?
In today’s increasingly connected world, customer expectations continue to evolve at a rapid pace. At NBO, we strive to deliver innovative products and services that meet and exceed the ever-evolving needs of our customers. To this end, we have undertaken several initiatives designed to offer seamless compelling solutions in the retail segment.
For an example, our prepaid ‘Badeel’ cards are among the first in the nation to offer the benefits of contactless ‘tap and go’ technology. We have also continued to develop our digital channels to ensure an optimal user experience for our customers. Our award-winning NBO mobile app has been further improved this year with new features. Similarly, upgrades to our online banking platform mean it’s now easier than ever for customers to manage their finances electronically.
With customers increasingly opting for the convenience and security of digital banking over face-to-face interactions, it’s crucial for us to remain at the cutting edge of the technology landscape. We have spent several years re-architecting our infrastructure to build a resilient and scalable ecosystem that supports our ambition to deliver products and services that redefine the customer journey
What kind of initiatives can we expect to see in the coming months, as there were talks about biometrics or social media usage for banking transactions?
NBO is one of the first banks in the country to embrace biometrics. Users of our mobile app already have the option to log in more securely using fingerprint and face ID recognition, and we are working to deploy biometrics to further simplify banking transactions, this comes in line with our ongoing drive to bring innovative products to our customers. Additionally, we continue to have a strong social media presence and we are pioneering banking services on Twitter by enabling customers to check their balances and receive mini statements directly via the platform. This is just one example of how we are using social media to redefine the customer experience.
Have you hired an external agency to recommend the various cards launched by NBO, or was it done internally, kindly elaborate more on this?
At NBO, we always seek to encourage creativity and the exploration of new ideas. Our expert card team was able to close the gaps in the products, generating increased acceptance and loyalty from our customers. The carefully selected team members demonstrated their expert knowledge by putting together all the campaign plans for the cards and product selections. In doing so, they leveraged their deep understanding of our customers’ real needs, with highly successful results.
In NBO’s last year’s annual report, it was mentioned that digital banking services rose by over 90 per cent in 2017 due to higher investments made by the bank on technologies. What type of growth NBO is expecting this year and why?
Continuing on this upward trajectory, we are expecting our digital banking services to account for around 95 per cent this year. At NBO, we remain committed to retaining our leading position in digital banking and have various initiatives in place to promote the usage of our mobile app and Internet services.
In addition, we have launched a range of prepaid cards to help drive greater financial inclusion. NBO was also the first bank to dispense debit cards through its Interactive Teller Machine at our main branch, allowing customers to get their cards around the clock when needed. Our customer-centric approach, superior service, innovative use of technology and diverse range of products and services cement our position as the ‘bank of choice’ in Oman for our customers, employees, shareholders, and the community.
According to you, what are the key factors that would drive digital banking growth in Oman in the next few years?
Oman is a country with a high percentage of young people; the majority of residents are below 40 years of age and very digital savvy. This demographic is keen to adopt the latest technologies and represents a key driver of digital banking growth. Banks also continue to play a vital role in several government initiatives such as e-Oman,
particularly from the payment fulfilment perspective. Meanwhile, we expect to see technologies that help to simplify the payment journey such as QR codes and NFC payments become more widely used throughout the local market later this year.
Banks are extending beyond their core offerings to form a network of value across industries, creating their own ecosystems that deliver the services customers want at a lower cost, and with greater convenience. By aggregating internal and third-party offerings, banks are creating a ‘financial supermarket’ that offers customers easy, one-stop access to a wide range of products and services, allowing them to address multiple financial needs through a single, integrated channel. They are also engaging more with customers through their digital channels, which have become increasingly important as points of contact in the digital age.
What are the key challenges you foresee for the rapid growth of digital banking in Oman, and how is NBO planning to overcome those challenges?
One of the key challenges we face is the lack of an established transaction ecosystem between banks, government and businesses. At NBO, we are working towards developing more business-to-business (B2B) relationships in order to help shape the future of Oman’s financial landscape. The lower spending power of Oman’s so-called ‘digital natives’ may also create obstacles to the advancement of digital banking, in terms of the volume and value of transactions rather than uptake. Finally, traditional regulatory methods also have the potential to hamper the growth of digital banking. NBO will continue to work closely with regulators to launch innovative digital banking products and services while ensuring that we are always operating within the required guidelines.