Interview: Ismail Douiri
What are the principal developments taking place within the banking sector?
ISMAIL DOUIRI: The main segments boosting banking activity in Morocco involve very small businesses (VSBs) and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as well as individuals. In the case of VSBs, this is due to their entrepreneurial and dynamic nature, but also to the fact that there has been a notable shift among such companies towards the formal economy. This has been helped by several government-led initiatives that have improved the business environment and introduced progressive taxation schemes. On the supply side, bigdata analysis and innovation in credit processes have enabled some banks to provide VSBs with easier access to credit without collateral, something which they have traditionally have been unable to provide.
In some cases, VSBs and SMEs have trouble delivering the proper documentation or drafting a clear business strategy. Banks can offer support with this through modern financing and training, as Attijarriwafa Bank is doing with the Dar Al Moukawil specialised centres initiative. These programmes boost the financial inclusion of local entrepreneurs by increasing access to bank services to every category of the population. This should be a top priority for every bank, as it is beneficial for everyone involved. Another key development has been the rapid digital transformation of retail banking, which has given rise to a new banking model that allows agents in bricks-and-mortar branches to allocate more time to each individual customer.
Clients have enthusiastically welcomed the possibility of using mobile and internet channels to perform banking operations remotely, helped by a large penetration of smartphones and cheap data plans (4G mobile data plans in Morocco are 10 times cheaper than in Europe). They have also been reassured by the careful way banks have conducted their digital transformations, unlocking at the same time new initiatives to detect fraud and draw activity reports more efficiently than before.
What trends do you foresee with the emerging development of mobile payments?
DOUIRI: One of the biggest challenges facing the Moroccan financial sector is the massive circulation of cash, and we hope that the development of mobile payment initiatives will reduce this to a certain extent. We welcome the fact that Bank Al Maghrib has designed a system with total interoperability as one of its pillars, which immediately creates the largest possible community of users, and encourages merchants and shopkeepers to adopt the platform quickly. However, in order to make this reform successful there should also be specific incentives and counter-incentives so that individuals, businesses and the government can see the benefit of reducing the use of cash. For the banking sector in general, the costs and risks of using paper money are huge. Morocco could replicate what has already been successfully achieved in other countries, although it is also important to acknowledge that each country is different; Sweden has almost eliminated cash, but Germany and Japan are still heavy users.
How would you characterise the current level of investment, both domestically and across the region?
DOUIRI: Lately, there has been a slowdown in investments coming from large corporations, as a result of excess capacity. Although initiatives such as the Industrial Acceleration Plan 2014-20 attracted notable levels of foreign investment into the country, including from many European, US and Asian operators, Moroccan companies have so far remained conservative, and few of these projects are led by local firms.
Regionally, we see significant growth in international trade and investment with Africa. As trusted business partners, banks can play an important part in supporting and accelerating these trends. Our partnership with Bank of China, for example, contributed to establishing stronger trade ties between us, building on the clear will of Chinese firms to invest in and trade with Africa.
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