An interview with Stewart Lockie, Head of Retail Banking at Al Ahli Bank of Kuwait
Since its foundation in 1967, Al Ahli Bank of Kuwait (ABK) has firmly established itself as a leading provider of retail and corporate banking services in Kuwait, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.
ABK believes in the transformative power of technology, which enables the bank to be more efficient in delivering for its customers. For this reason, the bank has continuously been upgrading its platforms, distribution channels and services, to make banking more accessible to its customers. ABK continues to focus on leveraging digital technology to streamline its offering, and has introduced a number of innovative solutions to transform traditional banking, making life simpler and ultimately creating greater value.
The European caught up with Stewart Lockie, Head of Retail Banking at Al Ahli Bank of Kuwait, to find out more about the progress the bank has made in the digital space, while balancing the challenges and opportunities of a Covid-19 banking landscape.
How has ABK’s digital strategy helped throughout the Covid-19 crisis?
Stewart Lockie: ABK was quick to adapt to the crisis. The bank has been through a digital transformation over the past two years, and this stood us in good stead during the pandemic. A Covid-19 taskforce
was established bank-wide to ensure all areas of customer and staff interaction were well communicated at all times.
Working closely with the Central Bank of Kuwait and Kuwait Banking Association, ABK ensured all required changes were adopted and implemented within timescales. Facilitating things such as full 24-hour cash replenishment and enabling customer’s access to funds at all times were a priority.
There were only a certain number of branches that could operate during the first stages of the crisis for the safety of staff and clients, based on the Central Bank’s regulations, and the opening hours were also reduced. We made sure we opened branches across Kuwait to ensure geographical spread was convenient and accessible for all. Staff working remotely were given all the tools required to serve our customers professionally and in a timely manner.
All communication channels were effectively managed to ensure health guidance and up-to-date banking advice, as well as day-to-day announcements by authorities, were communicated to our customers and staff around the clock.
This was also a prime opportunity for all banks, including ABK, to push digital banking, and we witnessed an increase of 61% on this front.
Is ABK planning any new services to help customers in a post-Covid-19 world?
We are proud to announce that just recently ABK was among the first banks to launch a tokenisation solution supporting Samsung, Fitbit and Garmin Pay applications. This was part of the bank’s evolution to provide our customers with digital contactless payments enabling them to make transactions at a distance, ensuring the safety of our customers when paying at the point of sale.
In addition, the bank also recently launched voice biometrics to offer higher levels of security and convenient pre-authentication when calling our call centre, and we will shortly launch our chatbot solution, all aimed at delivering quick and secure information without the need to visit the branch.
The bank has also partnered with Kuwait’s National Aviation Service (NAS), to provide a complementary fast-track meet and assist for airline passengers, which includes home baggage delivery and also booking specific seating in the airport VIP lounges. We are also working with them for home check-in services where our customers can have their baggage collected and checked-in prior to departing to the airport. We currently provide “At Home Solutions” through our local concierge partner Qiblah, offering over 20 services such as vehicle registration/service, purchase and delivery, etc. without the need to leave home. All this contributes to encouraging social distancing wherever possible.
Do you believe the health crisis has been a catalyst for ABK in developing its digital services?
Not necessarily, but its application has been invaluable to our customers. Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, the bank had already started its digital journey and had introduced a number of solutions aimed at empowering customers to perform transactions and services remotely using their mobile devices. ABK’s mission is to consistently provide services that simplify and enrich our customer’s lives using technology as the major driver. This has been demonstrated through the delivery of solutions such as ABKPay, which enables customers to request and receive funds instantly using social media platforms such as WhatsApp. It also means you can generate a new pin number, open accounts online, withdraw cash without a card and, as mentioned there is the recent launch of our mobile payment solution with Samsung, Fitbit and Garmin.
The bank has also launched online transaction security with Verified-By-Visa and MasterCard’s Secure Pay solutions to ensure a second layer of authentication.
Sum up the key benefits that ABK is delivering through its digital innovation.
Convenience, simplicity and speed, along with ensuring integrity and security, are key to providing remote banking 24/7 from any location and from any device. Customers have the ability to access and transact from any smart device or PC, or through an authenticated call, thus reducing the need to travel outside. Our online/mobile banking solutions are available 24/7 with no daily downtime, and we ensure our customers get a minimum 24 hours’ notice if there is any planned maintenance. Maintaining this high “up-time” ensures that our customers can transact anytime, anywhere in the world, regardless of the local time. Our customers want to feel they are totally in control of their banking facilities wherever they are.
What can we expect from Al Ahli Bank of Kuwait in the medium-term?
ABK’s digital journey is at the forefront of its current strategy and core to our future success. The bank already established a digital taskforce back in 2018, and we are already developing the framework and roadmap for our digital future. As a bank, we need to ensure that we meet the demands of a digitally-savvy generation to ensure sustained growth, and this should encourage a move towards a more remote banking solution. But we need to make sure we still provide a range of services for the convenience of customers who prefer the more traditional ways of banking. Face-to-face interaction will always be important. ν