Bridging the Digital Gap – A conversation with Waqfe

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Waqfe is a digital platform that allows people to bank anywhere and anytime in a fast and friendly manner. Waqfe aims to bridge the gap between banks and consumers by making the banks digitally relevant. With Waqfe, customers will be able to open a bank account within minutes from anywhere in the GCC through a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Just recently, we had the opportunity to discuss a few things with its CEO, Ashar Nazim.

What are your thoughts on digital disruption in banking?

Google did a survey about the ‘coolest brands for teens’ last year. Out of the dozens of brands they ranked, not even a single bank was included in the running! One can only find a bank in the most hated list and that too, was because of their business practices. This is not in any way, a reflection of the sector they are in.

Does this mean that banks are not cool? Well, not quite. Banks are…. well they’re just there. Most of the time people do not think about them. Banks have been filed under the category “Not really disappointed because I don’t expect much”. They’re firmly in the purgatory of the customer’s consciousness.

Should banks worry about digital disruption? Definitely! But every sector is in digital’s line of fire. For me, the real problems banks face are their untethered connection to the passion and lifestyle of the customer. It is arguably the largest, most unacknowledged crisis in banking. Digitalization is to solve this crisis.

How can Waqfe address this emotional disconnect between banks and customers?

This issue is certainly a large reason for why we exist. Banks are very good at launching products and before the digital age, this kept the banks relevant. However, in the digital age, they lost whatever mindshare they had to digital-first companies obsessed with moments. Companies in retail, video streaming, car sharing etc. became integral to their customers’ lives and turned the customer experience dial to delight, leaving banks out in the cold. They are now directly competing with banks even here in GCC.

At Waqfe, we work with banks to reclaim that experience space with a moments led approach. We make banks emotionally relevant to customers. When you consider that emotionally engaged customers can be up to eight times as profitable, the stakes are high.

Waqfe manages this with its unique community banking platform which allows banks access to Waqfe’s ‘finovative’ channel and partner ecosystem. You get to challenge every established norm. Campaigns, communication, engagement, onboarding experience, cross selling, loyalty program – everything has been torn apart and then re-assembled. The market response has been phenomenal from the customers’ lens this time.

Transparency has been central to this success. It’s about giving the banks’ customers control over their financial management. It’s about showing respect to the customers. A powerful emotional bond is created as a result, that reinvents how customers feel about their banks. This is especially critical for the comparatively young population in the 50-million GCC market.

We see that you are introducing a unique loyalty program. How does it address the major pain points of Millennial and Gen Z households?

For too long, banks have relied on restaurant discounts and air mile incentives to woo customers.  This isn’t working anymore; certainly not for the bulk of the market that are younger and more ambitious.

The younger, digital savvy population is most concerned about their future. Their loyalty belongs to banks that can help secure their communities and help design their futures.

Waqfe’s reward program addresses this concern. The personalized purpose-beyond-profit angle that Waqfe brings via its unique reward program flips the current paradigm on its head.  To youths as well as to their households, this means access to a variety of social benefits such as internship opportunities, scholarships, tuition fee discounts, access to vocational training and international placements. If you look deeper, this is about creating a lifetime relationship with the most attractive segment of the market.

What other problems does Waqfe solve for banks?

There are two business problems that we solve for our partner banks.

One, we make banks digitally relevant again. The Platform as a Service concept is relatively new to the region and only for the bold. It helps banks look beyond their legacy technology system without the need to spend tens of millions of dollars. And it speeds up their time to market. A case in point is a leading Islamic bank in Bahrain where we implemented the digital banking platform in less than four months and at a fraction of the capital expenditure that they had budgeted. The chief executive of the bank is on record saying this is a stellar success story he will be sharing for months to come.

Waqfe’s digital platform allows for anytime anywhere banking, opening bank accounts in less than 7 minutes, without the need to walk into the branch. It effectively opens up the GCC market for banks beyond the national borders.  The API based open banking system means our partner banks are able to integrate with the world of fintech without worrying about their legacy systems. The platform is at the nexus of three exponential technologies namely, mobility, data and artificial intelligence.

The second problem we solve is the low customer profitability for majority of banks in the region. This is about dramatically reducing cost of customer acquisition and creating that emotional connection to remain at the top. The community angle is a game changer. It helps our partner bank to look beyond rates and tenor to exponentially build out their customer base.

Banks are facing other pressures too. In some markets they need to start meeting strict financial ratios. I see all of this contributing to the perfect storm of consolidation. Simply put, not all banks are going to make it. We believe going digital quickly with Waqfe is part of the strategy of winning in this competitive era.

So how will banks save cost and time with Waqfe’s digital banking platform?

We know of banks who have spent years and over 200x what our partner banks have spent to go digital. This is a region rife with over budget and digital projects delivered past deadlines. With Waqfe’s technical and functional expertise, banks can go digital under budget, on time and with same year top line growth. They can increase their deposits, increase profitability per customer, and reduce churn. At the same time, they can penetrate the under-banked younger Gen Z and Millennial generation.

What is your main goal at Waqfe?

We want to change the basic impression of how good is done in our communities.

For banks, Waqfe is about bringing purpose back to the core of banking.

For citizens, Waqfe is about making it incredibly convenient for them to do good, based on some very simple financial choices they make. The ability to do good is embedded within their digital lifestyle without disturbing their banking convenience.

How does the future look for Waqfe?

Market response to Waqfe’s ‘finovation’ has been tremendous. At current pace, we will sign up an exclusive set of 10 partner banks across the GCC and help them go digital with certainty. Over next three years, the plan is to work alongside our partner banks to help them acquire 1 million customers and USD 10 billion in deposits. This, we believe, will be the point of inflection. The journey would then begin.





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