Prepared to pioneer

Colin Dallas, Head of Retail Banking explains how National Bank of Fujairah has tackled the challenges of the past year head-on and benefited from a pre-Covis-19 focus on digitisation allowing the development of smart new products and services for their customers.

How did NBF manage to deal with the impacts of Covid-19 pandemic?

We are fortunate to live in the UAE, where we have the backing of the government and Central Bank of the UAE (CBUAE), who have taken extensive measures to mitigate the impact of the crisis by extending financial programmes to help alleviate the effects on individuals and corporates. At NBF, we have always adopted the partnership-first approach with our clients, especially during challenging times, where our support and counsel is needed the most. Fortunately, we were able to maintain good levels of capital and liquidity to meet the challenges without undue fear.

As a bank committed to health and well-being, stringent measures and protocols were taken to ensure the safety of our employees and customers. Some of these actions include installing hand sanitizers at various common areas and offices, providing disposable gloves and masks to all customers coming in contact with any documentation and our ATM/CDM network, enhanced cleaning and regular disinfection of high touch points across all our branches and many more. We also launched a comprehensive communication and awareness campaign for COVID-19 precautions to keep our staff and customers aware of the current regulations and how to safeguard themselves. Our commitment to provide exceptional customer service remains undiminished, even with working from home (WFH) arrangements there was no drop in any of our significant banking services and in that context, I want to thank our employees for the efforts they have made to ensure that we continue to support our customers seamlessly and proactively. Additionally, we upgraded our core banking system and implemented a number of digitization projects last year.

Just like other banks and businesses in the market, we are still absorbing the impact brought forth by the global pandemic and the inevitable slowdown in response times across all areas of activity, but we are now more focused on our recovery model. This has been a critical transitionary period and at NBF, our strategy has been not only to respond to these changes with agility, but to thrive on them, further enhancing and strengthening our offerings.

How has the digital transformation trend during the pandemic impacted on running the physical branches?

The movement towards digitisation was a focus of ours well before the pandemic, so we were well equipped to sustain the transition in an effective manner. Our new branches were increasingly becoming more digitised, and our customers have responded well to emerging technology. Moreover, we have been integrating automation and robotics to eliminate paperwork from banking processes and on the corporate banking side, developed trade finance payment facilities and other digital platforms to continue enhancing our offering.

This early work enabled us to respond to remote operations very quickly and I am very proud to say we did not experience any downtime in our service provision throughout the pandemic. Similarly, customers have responded to the availability of many of our online services and the adoption rate has exploded to the point where some of the levels of utilisation that we are seeing now, we had not expected earlier for another few years.

What are the most prominent products and technological banking services that the bank aims to launch?

The global pandemic has truly accelerated the movement towards digital transformation. Implementing digital solutions was absolutely critical to the continuity of the banking sector. We had adopted an agile mindset and we understand that things are now evolving at a much faster pace than they used to, and thus, tried to remain ahead of the curve.

For instance, NBF has made significant advancements in digitization resulting in improvements in customer experience, enhanced efficiency through automation and optimisation, improved security and better resilience.  We have pioneered many technology implementations such as automated Disaster Recovery (DR), moving towards open banking architecture with Service Oriented Architecture as a backbone and fully automated end of day business processes. Since 2017, we have also pioneered in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) for the major processes in the bank, far ahead of our peer banks in terms of the outputs.

We are also at the forefront of many of the country’s efforts to become a cashless society, as we have partnered with the Ministry of Finance to launch eDirham Instant, the latest digital payment method that allows customers to pay for governmental fees and services using online banking. We also went live with the Emirates Digital Wallet ‘klip’, a cashless payment application that allows customers to store, transfer and conduct payments in a seamless and secure manner.

What are the latest achievements and developments of your bank?

As a dedicated financial partner to businesses in the UAE, we have always recognised the value of SMEs as a key pillar for the UAE, and as such, wanted to extend our support to the business community at a time when they needed it the most.  We strove to be the first in the UAE to digitise this vital sector by launching NBF CONNECT – a bespoke platform that was co-created by SMEs, for SMEs. We wanted to create a one-stop shop for businesses and empower them with resources and foster a collaborative community to help them navigate the current environment. The results were highly successful and the response from the community was overwhelmingly positive.

What is your outlook for the coming years?

In the macroeconomic conditions, we have seen the banking sector operate in the toughest environment given heightened uncertainty levels. We still expect the relative slowdown in credit growth to continue, as industries right-size. Therefore, banks are required to maintain caution to navigate this evolving environment. At NBF, we believe we can move beyond these conditions and continue to fulfill our role as the financial partner for business, focused on our customers’ personal and professional needs.