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Saleem Ul Haq: “Mauritius is among the few markets to have a framework for crypto-currencies”

Saleem Ul Haq

The landscape of businesses is changing with the advent of technology. It is the same with the banking and financial services. Digital transformation is taking over. The Chief Operating Officer of Bank One, Saleem Ul Haq, explains that digital transformation is making banks become more efficient. He also states that Mauritius is well-positioned to attract FinTech. 

What is your perspective on the shifting landscape of banking and financial services?
Customers’ behaviour and expectations from their banks are changing. This is due to the experiences they have from social networks and apps, which can be accessed directly from their smartphones. Tech giants like Amazon, Apple and Google are creating new standards with regards to best in class customer experience. Consequently, customers are expecting the same level of app-like engagement from their financial services provider. FinTechs and new Digital banks are also creating new products and services for the more demanding customers, by focusing on simplicity, relevance and making the experience seamless on digital channels.

Are banks sufficiently prepared for the digital future?
Banks have a lot of catching up to do to remain relevant in this new playing field where technology is becoming a main driver. One of the hurdles that many banks have to face are their legacy systems, which require significant maintenance and are not flexible enough to support the rapid deployment of new products and services. Many banks are already migrating their technology to the cloud and replacing their legacy with ‘as-a-service’ platforms that can provide them with the right capabilities and scalability.

Banks are also putting their efforts to give more choices to their customers, on different channels, for example Internet Banking, Mobile App, and Social Media. These are some of the key areas in which Bank One in particular is making headway. Banks, in a way, have to be present where their customers are. In many markets, including Mauritius, branches continue to serve many traditional customers. The digital future in banking also implies attracting the right talent with highly skilled tech and data resources being in high demand and preferring to work for Tech players and Startups, which can be challenging at times. 

Many banks are already migrating their technology to the cloud and replacing their legacy with ‘as-a-service’ platforms that can provide them with the right capabilities and scalability."

How do you see the effect of digital transformation on the banking industry?
Digital Transformation is making banks become more efficient in their operations by digitalising their processes moving away from manual and paper based, as well as providing more digital channels to their customers. This can only be good for customers who will benefit from more choices, faster service and better experience from their banks. 

Which emerging technologies do you see as game-changers and will have the greatest impact on banking?
Among the technologies that can have a significant impact on banking are Blockchain technology that can facilitate specific use cases for the banking industry. Access to banking services are also moving towards tech driven solutions such as instant messaging, wearables and digital assistants.  Artificial Intelligence is already being used to provide interactive and personalised banking services to a customer. Open/Application Programming Interface (API) banking will allow customers to share their data to other service providers for more value. 

Where do you see the greatest opportunity?
Open API banking will provide opportunities for banks and FinTechs to collaborate in offering more value-added services to customers. The latter will be able to share their banking data and benefit from services provided by the various players in the eco-system. Banking as an activity will not remain with traditional banks only but will rather be available to customers as services from the eco-system players. Collaboration will be key for the benefit of the customers.

Otherwise, the latest innovation is Blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. What is your take on this?
There is some implementation of Blockchain already to facilitate trade finance between different countries, as well as payment solutions that are built on top of the technology. This is beneficial for all the actors in the eco-system and ultimately for the customer. With respect to cryptocurrencies, many will come and disappear due to strong regulations and lack of support from the ecosystem. Banks will need to watch out for Libra, announced by Facebook, which has the potential to change the payment landscape worldwide, if regulations allow for it. Facebook has an estimated 2.5 billion customers, which gives an idea of the reach we are talking about.

Banks will need to watch out for Libra, announced by Facebook, which has the potential to change the payment landscape worldwide, if regulations allow for it."

Where does Mauritius stand on this technology?
Mauritius is well positioned to attract Fintechs who want to test and launch their business locally and move to the African continent. The provisioning of Regulatory Sandbox Licenses (RSL) allows for faster proof of concepts and rollout of new services, and provides learning for the regulator as well to understand the application of the new technologies enabling them to adapt their strategy along the way and come up with the appropriate regulations. Mauritius is among the few markets to have a framework for crypto-currencies and Blockchain and this is a very good start. More projects should surface in the future; possibly with the collaboration of banks.  

How do you see the integration of Blockchain affecting the banking system?
Banks will also be leveraging on the Blockchain technology through partnerships with Fintechs. There will also be more collaboration to solve for use cases. This will be beneficial for all parties in the eco-system.

Similarly, what is the future of the banking sector with AI and robotics?
AI will enable personalization of banking services for providing more relevant and better experience to customers, while improving operational efficiency for banks. Robotics will cut operating costs, increase efficiency and ensure regulatory compliance seamlessly while providing better customer experience. Robotics will also free up employees in the banking sector for higher value and innovative work.

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