Interview with Mr. Gary Collins – Managing Director of Solveworx Digital Innovation (pty) Ltd

1Reference to your wide experience in developing mobile banking strategies with significant number of banks across different countries, what are the most important mobile banking trends in 2021? How they are reshaping expectations in the retail banking industry?

I’m sure most, if not all, banks, in Egypt have picked up on the surge in customer activity and use of mobile, contactless banking channels, and digital, electronic payments,which has continued even after the initial lockdowns and restrictions.  

This boost in mobile banking is pushing many banks to re-evaluate mobile as a channel, and to figure out how to integrate new, innovative technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Chatbots, e-KYC and Big Data, and new ways of working across their mainstream Retail and mobile distribution channels, to get their services to market. At the same time banks are also exploring strategic acquisitions, and partnerships with non-banks and specialist FinTech’s (using Open API’s) to differentiate their customer’s Mobile experience. So a lot of very exciting developments, and interesting times ahead for mobile.    

2- What is the impact of COVID 19 crisis on the stastics of the global mobile banking market? Responding to the increase in the number of mobile banking services’ users, how can banks upgrade the level of security and safety of using mobile banking apps?

Digital banking, mobile banking and digital electronic channels are not new, however its no secret that the pandemic has spurred many customers  and banks to consider doing more with their mobile channel. Some say that the Pandemic has accelerated this shift to mobile by 5 years, by injecting a sense of urgency in so-called laggard and pushing leaders and innovator banks to invest and experiment with new ways of reaching customers.

Of course, fraud and risk remains an ongoing concern, and it is important Mobile Banking customers remain confident their banking transactions are safe and secure.

There is some very smart technology out there, designed to foil the ‘bad-guys’, and that includes predictive analytics, and smart AI-based solutions, but in the high-stakes, cat-and-mouse game of fraud and loss, technology has its limitations, so Banks should actively engage with customers to educate and inform them of the risks, and the steps the bank takes to protect them.  

3- To which extent mobile banking apps and mobile money solutions had positively impacted financial inclusion rates in Africa in both urban and rural areas?

It’s fair to say that Mobile Telephony has changed the face of mobile financial inclusion, ‘banking the unbanked’, by enablibng banks to provide affordable financial services to low-banked and underbanked communities. There are numerous success stories, both small and large, from around the world to draw on. Egypt remains one of the countries with the highest percentage of unbanked customers in the world, however I remain optimistic that banking-the-unbanked remains a massive, unexplored opportunity for the right bank to provide affordable, low-cost services to this segment, in a profitable and sustainable manner, with the support of the Central Bank.

4- How do you assess the link between Banks and FinTech Companies nowadays? Should Banks and FinTech Companies be partners or competitors? How can an effective partnership between both parties lead to strategic benefits for all and for the clients as well?

We’ve see the relationship between Banks and Fintech’s change over the past decade from a competitive ‘race-to-the-bottom’, to a more collaborative model, based on a fundamental recognition of their respective strengths and weaknesses of each.

On the one hand FinTechs and Startups operating in the Financial Services space tend to focus on relatively narrow parts of the payments value chain where the costs to deploy smart tech to solve specific, usually customer-focussed, issues is low, the risks are fewer and the Regulations allow.

Banks, On the other hand, have very deep wells of skills, resources, and capital underpinned by powerful balance sheets and also occupy a vital role in the countries financial system, and so are well-positioned to absorb the high fixed costs of regulation, risk management, and compliance.  

So we have arrived at a really interesting place where banks and Fintech’s are getting smarter at figuring out what they are good at, and exploring new ways of doing business as partners, vendors or service providers. But overall what we see (at least for now) is that it’s easier for Fintech’s, and incumbent banks to collaborate rather than compete, based on their respective strengths and weaknesss mentioned above.

5-A well-planned combination between branch (face to face) and digital transactions is likely to best serve the customers. How can banks balance between physical and digital banking? What will the branch of the future look like?

Firstly, I don’t think we are about to see branches disappear any time soon. What is clear is that the branch infrastructure and the role of the branch will continue to evolve as banking needs change.

There is likely to be less need for a “one-size-fits-all” branch distribution model,  as branch profitability comes under pressure from digital electronic channels, centralisation and changing customer behaviours. Instead, we see typical ‘branch-of-the-future’ models increasingly focused on performing fewer, highly specialist customer functions with singular human-centric touchpoints (eg. advisory or wealth management), while other channels are used for other specific needs that don’t require the human element.

6- In your current position as the managing director of Solveworx Digital Innovation (pty) Ltd, how are you helping your customers and business partners to shape new business models while managing people through change in a digitalized world. What are the most important skills and topics that you have added to your agenda and programs since COVID 19 crisis?

Like everybody else, the Covid pandemic took us by surprise, and had just finished delivering our Digital Innovation in Banking Masterclass in Cairo, and barely made it home before lockdown.

At first we and our customers struggled to adapt, as we had to recut all our material for online, find new ways of talking to our customers and decide how to move forward.

  We have kept our training events ‘live’ using Zoom and other training platforms, because I sincerely believe that pre-recorded, on-demand lectures cannot fully replace the kind of banking industry expert-led learning that brings huge benefits to our delegates. We are currently adding courses in Risk and Innovation, Governance, Compliance and Credit as well as blockchain to our portfolio, because I think online training is here to stay, and it is unlikely we will return to face-to-face training anytime soon, which is bad news for my Platinum Frequent Flyer status, but means I get to spend a lot more time at home in Sydney.

I would like to take the opportunity to give the Egyptian Banking Institute and the wonderful team in the International division, a big ‘Thank You’ for their continued support and faith and our desire to bring live, expert-led training to Banks in Egypt.

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