While technology is a great tool, the banking sector runs on relationships. For centuries, the bond between banks and their customers served as the backbone of the business. Today, as competition increases, balancing digital with personal service has never been more crucial for banks.
With 46 banks operating in the UAE, the population of about nine million people is faced with an abundance of choice. This does not include the foreign institutions based in the Dubai International Financial Centre and Abu Dhabi Global Market. To stand out, every bank needs to be clear who it is trying to serve and deliver something of real value to their customer.
While technology has given consumers more control of how they bank, there is need for that old-fashioned personal touch that seems to have all but disappeared. It is possible to win customers over on price and convenience, but customer relationships are critical for the success of complex financial transactions.
It is far more important today to build long lasting relationships with customers that reach beyond the traditional short-term transaction focus of a bank and its customers. At National Bank of Fujairah, our focus is on building our bank-customer partnership across the organisation and underpin our actions with a sense of responsibility to support our clients in their individual growth journeys through the inevitable ups and downs of life.
Here are five simple steps to engage customers in the digital era:
1. A consultative approach
Listening is fundamental to the success of any relationship and that holds true for the banking sector. A bank that doesn’t take its customers’ underlying needs on board will be left behind as clients search for partners who develop a deep understanding of their business to serve them better. Of course, developing this in-depth understanding is not sufficient on its own, the business needs to be organised in a way that facilitates an appropriate response. In 2014, we reached an interesting point in our journey whereby clients were showing an increased appetite for Shariah-compliant solutions as they begin to appreciate this model as a viable alternative to conventional banking. NBF Islamic was launched in response to this growing demand, and then broadened to cover corporate banking services. Since that time, all significant product and service enhancements involve customer participation.
2. Innovative solutions
Banks should assess how their solutions are adding value to the client and showcase how different technologies and services may bring them benefit. At the same time, it is important to remain accessible and adapt to different working models - able to handle a paper based written instruction with as much respect as a request coming via our mobile banking app, tailoring our approach to the convenience of different customers. The bank recently launched NBF Elham, a specialised business segment dedicated to supporting the banking requirements of Emirati female business leaders and entrepreneurs, to provide this level of care.
3. Beyond banking
A true partnership not only considers the partners’ immediate requirements but goes beyond to see the world through their lens. Our knowledge exchange platform, NBF Knowledge Series, is an example of how we regard ourselves as more than just a bank. The last series focused on preparing more than 700 business leaders ahead of the VAT implementation, as well as talks led by world-class experts on matters pertinent to individual groups of customers. Moreover, we also worked with Thomson Reuters to help businesses develop their understanding on the taxability of their business and provide a service that can also help with accounting tips, filing and registration.
In the UAE, SMEs make up 95 per cent of all enterprises, employ 42 per cent of the workforce and contribute over 60 per cent to the country's GDP. Access to guidance and easy-to-use tools from reputable institutions might not be always possible for many SMEs – simply given the costs attached or the lack of awareness of the need to seek advice on certain areas. In 2017, we joined Thomson Reuters to educate SMEs through “Accelerate SME” platform and contribute to their success story. The portal is completely free to join and offers invaluable advice for business owners and entrepreneurs.
4. Customers first
The strong sales culture that has developed in the retail and real estate markets also exists in financial services. If this is not carefully managed, it can lead to situations where the importance of the sale to the salesman become more important than the interests of the customer. In the worst cases, the customer becomes just a means to a sale. At NBF, we reduce this risk by taking the time to understand what the customer is trying to achieve and to ensure the suggested way forward is appropriate for their specific circumstances, making the long-term health of the customer relationship more important than any individual sale. While we may lose a specific deal because of this approach, the customer appreciates our intent to do the right thing by them in the long run.
5. Focus on sustainability
NBF is focused on building its own business to be sustainable over the long run. To do well, we also want to be part of a thriving environment and community. Our long-standing partnership with Enable, a social enterprise that is part of the Desert Group, is a good example of this. By sponsoring the “Enable Mobile Store”, we are reiterating our commitment to investing in our community and its overall wellbeing by increasing awareness about people of determination SME inclusion and promoting the social enterprise model to other corporates.
Every bank is different and has different objectives that will be reflected in its actions. At NBF, we are inspired by our clients’ ambitions and remain committed to their success.
Source: Gulf News - Banking
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