How the UAE’s traditional banks can keep pace with mobile-first competitors

An opinion piece by Otávio Tranchesi, Finance Industry Lead, AppsFlyer

The digital transformation of the banking industry has well and truly arrived in the UAE, with the majority of customers demanding seamless digital services for all their banking requirements. In fact, mobile apps have been the UAE’s preferred method of banking since 2017 — and 90% of residents now use apps for their banking. Gone are the days when people had one bank account for life, visiting the bank in person to perform most transactions. Today’s connected and digitally savvy customer is happy to switch banks, have multiple bank accounts and access apps on the go.

And the market is adapting to these trends, with new digital-only or digital-first banking solutions such as Zand, Liv, and Mashreq Neo appearing all the time. Traditional banks cannot stand still — it’s vital that they offer the integrated and smart mobile experience that customers are increasingly demanding. This isn’t necessarily as simple as it may seem, as they are often encumbered by legacy systems, size, and a lack of agility, all rendering them slower to adopt changes.

But it is possible for the major banks to be competitive in this space — let’s take a look at how.

Prioritise app adoption

Digital-first fintechs have to focus first on acquiring customers. Number one for them is growing their user base and scaling — as fast as they can. But traditional banks have an advantage here. They already have the customer base, a strong brand, and some loyalty. So, their priorities should be different — encouraging customers to move from physical or online banking to mobile. And how can they do this?

First, it’s vital to have an exceptionally good mobile app that provides a slick user experience. Customers expect their mobile banking app to be speedy, simple to use, flexible, and secure. So, it’s important to invest in the right technology that will allow banks to provide this.

Once that’s in place, it’s about attracting people to the app and getting them to use it. QR codes powered by deep-linking tech are one of the most effective ways to go. When the code is scanned by the customer, they’re sent to the app store if they haven’t downloaded the app already, or to a particular page in the app if they already have the app. It also makes it possible to measure the effectiveness of campaigns, allowing the bank to glean insights such as the number of people who have scanned the code, how many were existing customers, and if they then transacted via the app.

An example could be someone who wants a new credit card. They find an offer they like, visit the bank’s website and fill out the initial information they’re asked for. The bank wants more people to use their app, so they present the user with a QR code. This points them to the app, where they can finish their application for the credit card. And the bank can assess and measure their campaign to see how well it worked and what the user did, and when.

QR codes can also be helpful when completing a customer’s offline to online journey. For example, if a bank posts a new credit card to a customer, they can add a QR code to the envelope or letter, again directing the customer to the app.

Insights from data

Data is the key to mobile success. Including a QR code with a credit card, as mentioned above, is all very well — but how do you measure its impact? Particularly as there are likely to be other campaigns running to direct people to the app, it can be tricky to know what’s working and what isn’t.

This is why it’s important that traditional banks invest in strong measurement tools. It’s the only way to get clear insights into which campaigns and messages are working and where app users are coming from. By understanding the customer journey, it’s possible to refine and optimise each touchpoint accordingly, maximising marketing success.

Trust matters

Trust is imperative when it comes to customer relationships, and this becomes even more important for banks and financial institutions that manage people’s hard-earned money. So, when utilising mobile, it’s vital to ensure that fraud protection and security is absolutely rock solid — and to ensure this commitment to security is communicated to the user. Using clear and concise language and ensuring information on fees and terms and conditions are straightforward and transparent goes a long way towards creating trust.

Providing customers with a personalised, simple, and effective mobile service is a great way to build relationships and trust with customers.

The shift to mobile

Traditional banks simply won’t survive if they don’t innovate in the digital space — and fast. To compete in today’s increasingly digitised world, they need to evolve, utilising smart, sophisticated tech to meet growing customer expectations and stay relevant as more digital-only players emerge.

Although traditional banks are likely to be faced with an innovation roadmap that is more cumbersome and slower than their agile fintechs counterparts, they do have benefits which they can take advantage of, namely a strong existing customer base and a well-known, reputable brand. So, if the major banks in the UAE focus on pulling more customers towards their app, invest in smart measurement tools and remember that transparency, security, and trust are all vital, it’s certainly possible to compete in the mobile space and provide the service that customers increasingly expect.