Interview: Joseph Abraham

What role does technology play in improving the consumer experience, and what is the optimum balance of in-person and online banking?

JOSEPH ABRAHAM: As technology evolves, banks need to adapt and improve their capacity to innovate. The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant effect on digitalisation in Qatar’s banking sector, as it drastically shortened the time institutions had to implement new and innovative digital solutions in their daily operations. By some estimates, changes implemented by banks in their digital transformation would have taken up to 450 days in the pre-Covid-19 world, whereas in 2020 they were able to do so in no more than 30 days. The parameters of what can be done with technology and the speed at which it can be done have changed, and the potential is limitless. Physical branches will continue to exist, although they will be more segmented and fewer in number. Their role within the banking industry will inevitably adjust to this digitalisation process.

A positive client experience represents a competitive advantage for banks, and this is where innovation must be applied in order to differentiate from the competition. This being said, differentiation through technology will always require an element of human contact in order to maintain a high level of trust among our customers. Technology allows banks to gather large amounts of knowledge and data, which if correctly applied, is an enabler for innovation.

Where do you identify gaps in the banking sector that could benefit from further innovation?

ABRAHAM: Most recent innovations in banking have been in facilitating digital transactions. In the near future, however, innovation will allow banks to understand a client’s profile, and customise their experiences and enhance their interactions through artificial intelligence and data analytics. It is expected that we will see more micro-innovations to help customers receive the best experience when interacting with a bank. As we have moved towards these goals in recent years, the challenges posed by cybercrime and online fraud have increased significantly. This is another area where banks need to come up with innovative solutions in order to provide safety and security for their clients.

How can blockchain technology augment traditional operations, and what will be the impact of cryptocurrencies on the industry?

ABRAHAM: It is hard to determine the possible applications of blockchain when it comes to transparency, as it will affect a wide range of banking services such as online payments, mortgages, land registries and escrow arrangements. Similarly, blockchain can be transformational in cross-border transactions, so we can expect to see global financial trade change drastically over the next decade.

Cryptocurrencies, for their part, have generated interest worldwide, and this trend will continue. However, this segment lacks a regulatory framework that provides stability and security. Banks will have to adapt to cryptocurrencies, and it is safe to say that this will happen when they are regulated across markets.

In what ways can banks better facilitate market entry for foreign businesses and investors?

ABRAHAM: Qatar is providing a supportive environment for new foreign business. It was one of the first countries in the Gulf to allow 100% foreign business ownership, and the process to receive permanent residency is now more flexible. We support continuous efforts by the government to open up the local market further to become a prime destination for investments. The opportunities for foreign businesses and investment are significant. Banks have an important role to play in facilitating foreign investment as they provide all the necessary advisory and financial support, and liaise with government organisations, such as the Qatar Financial Centre and the Qatar Free Zones Authority.