How Banco Popular Dominicano makes banking easier for its customers

“One of our biggest challenges through our digital transformation has been changing the habits and mindset of our clients to adopt digital behaviours,” says Francisco Ramirez, Executive Vice President of Personal Business and Branches for Banco Popular Dominicano. He explains how the bank managed to migrate transactions, become the most downloaded financial services app in the Dominican Republic, and help the country significantly grow its financial inclusion rate.

Francisco Ramirez: Banco Popular Dominicano offers a wide range of digital products and services, that allow our customers to interact with the bank and fulfil all of their financial needs.

Our app Popular, which is the most downloaded app in the Dominican financial system, offers our customers a handful of digital solutions. The app – together with the capabilities provided through our online banking website, which is the most visited of the financial industry in the country – meets our customers’ individual needs, and makes their day-to-day mobility easier.

To migrate transactions, we have deployed the latest generation of smart ATMs. Through these ATMs, customers can make online withdrawals and deposits, as well as pay their loans and credit cards with cash or funding from their accounts. These capabilities are both highly convenient and time-saving for our customers.

We have also opened digital channels, where customers give us their opinions and suggestions, and even ask for information.

Our customers have reacted excellently to our new digital offerings. Today, more than 80 percent of our transactions are digital, and more than 50 percent of our clients are using our digital platforms.

One of our biggest challenges through our digital transformation has been changing the habits and mindset of our clients to adopt digital behaviours. Another challenge has been strengthening our cybersecurity and tech infrastructure, which will enable us to rapidly deliver innovative products, channels, and services, that are better adapted to our changing customers’ needs.

According to the World Bank Global Findex, in 2017, the Dominican Republic surpassed the Latin American average of financial inclusion, with 56 percent of Dominicans over 15 years old with a bank account. This represents significant growth in comparison to the year 2011, where the financial inclusion index in the country was only 38 percent.

We encourage entrepreneurial culture through several programmes. One of them is Challenge Popular, which is a design marathon where participants propose new services or products, emanating from an intense creative process of 48 hours guided by mentors. And after, the best proposals win prizes.

Another programme is Impulsa de Popular, which is a competition that seeks to encourage young entrepreneurs in the growth of their innovative projects, and enables them access to seek capital for their business initiatives.

Last year we also launched another programme to support our SME clients that want to become franchises – as well as those that want to acquire an already established franchise.

Finally, we also have Banquero Joven Popular, which is an initiative from our corporate social responsibility division. This programme seeks to educate young people in school about the functioning of ethical and sustainable banking, while improving their financial education, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills.

Banco Popular Dominicano will continue to focus on promoting digital sales, improving digital experiences, promoting innovation, transforming traditional branches, and strengthening cybersecurity; and we will strive to achieve all of this while adhering to our model of responsible banking.

Mashreq Bank expands innovative digital offering to SMEs with NeoBiz

In 2017, the oldest bank in the UAE launched the newest. Mashreq Bank created Mashreq Neo: a digital-only bank for retail customers. Now the bank has iterated the highly successful formula to offer the same high level digital service to SMEs. Subroto Som, Head of Retail Banking Group for Mashreq Bank, explains the benefits that NeoBiz will bring to SMes in the UAE, and why he’s so excited to be at the forefront of retail banking transformation.

Subroto Som: Mashreq has been investing in technology, and has been known for its innovation in this market, for a good 50 years. We were the first ones to bring a digital only bank for retail, called Neo. We are the first to bring a digital only bank for the small business called NeoBiz. So we are constantly focusing on bringing new technology for the benefit of our consumers.

NeoBiz is initially aimed at the startups and the small businesses. We have a large number of them coming to life in the UAE, and they particularly find it very difficult to open a bank account for their financial transactions.

Small businesses have had a big difficulty in opening new accounts. They have to visit a branch multiple times, and it could take anywhere between three days to 25 days to open an account.

With NeoBiz, you don’t need to visit a branch, and it could be open between a day, or at most three days.

Once an account is open, for all your transactions, the app NeoBiz is sufficient. You don’t need to visit the branch to transact on behalf of your company.

In NeoBiz – and also for our business banking accounts – we have launched a chatbot called Emma. It assists our customers with their queries. Over time its capabilities and its functionalities will improve and will increase – and hence Emma is going to be the most friendly and useful assistant to our customers.

The second: eKYC. KYC, which is Know Your Customer, for very right reasons is becoming more enhanced and complex. There are more details necessary from a bank’s perspective, and they’re required more often.

To assist this, we have launched an eKYC, where a consumer or a customer can directly upload the details, and may not visit the branch for this activity.

The third thing that we have done a lot in this market is the new digital branch. For customers who are using the digital banking technology for the first time, it’s a prime place to try them out. There are people to help you with them, so that in future you can use them without coming to the branch.

The look and feel of the branch has changed dramatically; once you walk into it, it’s very open, welcoming. There are staff – or as we call them, universal bankers, available in the lobby, and they’re there to assist the customers either to a digital machine that is possible, or take them to a consultation room where they can discuss their specific need.

In the consultation rooms, we also have a video office where you can consult with a specialist, even if the specialist is not present at the branch.

There are specific lobbies available for our Mashreq Gold clients, and for our business banking clients.

The technology that’s coming in now is easy to integrate, easy to use, and much cheaper: that’s a bigger impact. But the technology has been here for quite some time. It’s the mobility through the mobile phone that is specifically bringing in a big value for our consumers. But overall I will say, it’s the consumer adoption that is the key. And we are seeing a big, big change – particularly in the last 18 months – where the consumer is adopting digital applications, digital banks, for their day to day use.

I’m actually quite excited that this is probably the best times for retail banking. While there is lots of challenging news in the world about macroeconomic slowdown, increased or enhanced regulatory requirements, trade barriers and trade wars and geopolitical issues; I think for retail banks this is a really good moment, where the use of technology and the adoption by the consumer, are making impossibles possible. We are able to bring about conveniences to the consumer, transactions are almost instantaneous, and it is no longer a chore to do retail banking. You should almost get to the place where you enjoy doing retail banking. And that change is coming about – not only in the UAE, but across the globe.

‘A symbol of possibilities in Africa’ – Century celebrates FPSO acquisition

Century Group is the largest indigenous operator of floating production storage and offloading vessels (FPSOs) in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria is the largest oil and gas producer in Africa, but the industry has endured a long history of political challenges. Century’s Head of Business Strategy, Dr Preye Angaye, explains those challenges and how the group has overcome them; while Head of Corporate Affairs Karl Harris outlines Century’s successes this year and discusses the importance of being a proudly Nigerian brand in the oil and gas industry.

World Finance: I’m with Dr Preye Angaye and Karl Harris from Nigeria’s Century Group. Century is the largest indigenous operator of floating production storage and offloading vessels in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria is the largest oil and gas producer in Africa, but the industry has endured a long history of political challenges.

Dr Preye, talk to me about those political challenges, and how they’re impacting investment in the oil and gas industry.

Dr Preye Angaye: Well, the political challenges we’ve had are not necessarily particular to Nigeria, but yeah.

They’ve bordered around the policy, taxation, and the operational environment. So if for instance it takes a longer time to arrive at policies that would give confidence to investors, then that would also stand as a challenge.

However, I think the government of the day has not really done too badly in recent times. We’ve had the petroleum industry governance bill passed, and the Deep Offshore Act has also in recent times come on-stream.

We’ve also had policies surrounding the local content, which tries to encourage indigenous participation. And I think on the whole there’s better corporate governance around oil and gas industry operations at the moment. So yes, we’ve had challenges, but I think we’re doing quite well.

World Finance: Have there been other challenges that the industry has faced?

Dr Preye Angaye: We’ve had issues relating to capital. When you think of the oil and gas industry, it’s basically a capital intensive business – especially when you think of gas exploration. So capital has actually been an issue, but Century Group has been able to build partnerships – so we usually have pride in our financial capability in handling problems related to capital.

And then there’s also the issue of a skills gap – so there are certain aspects of the oil and gas operations that need some depth of understanding, and we still find out that there are some gaps. But over time we’ve been able to – through partnerships and further training – bridge such gaps. So I think we’re doing pretty well.

World Finance: So how does Century work with clients to deliver value despite those challenges?

Dr Preye Angaye: We’ve always ensured that activities are carried out efficiently, and safety is always the watchword. So most clients walk up to us and ask that a particular thing be delivered; but we go beyond that. We try to understand exactly what they expect of us, and then we see what other add-ons we can bring onto the table – obviously creating opportunities for ourselves. It becomes a win-win situation for both of us.

Karl Harris: Our secret wand remains our people. Through the years we’ve succeeded in engaging people that understand the vision and drive of the company: enabling people, solving problems, and creating value.

World Finance: Now, Century is proudly 100 percent Nigerian – how important is this to you as a company, and to the future of the local industry?

Karl Harris: Well, it’s very, very important. Through the years we consider our humble beginning and where we are track record, you realise that we’ve come a long way. It took a lot of hard work, commitment, integrity. But here we are: we still don’t know yet where we are going, but we have so much more to achieve.

As an African brand, we’re very proud to be 100 percent Nigerian, because we stand as a symbol of possibilities to several other institutions out there in Africa. Like in recent times a Ghanaian exploration company – fully Ghanaian – did major exploration work off the coast, and discovered oil. The first time an African brand is doing that!

Several other companies or brands within Africa have come to realise that there’s no limitation to their dreams; their dreams are valid.

World Finance: And what does the future hold for Century Group?

Karl Harris: A very beautiful future, I must say. The year in focus now, 2019, has been awesome. Within this year 2019 alone, Century Group has made major strides. We’re talking about acquisition of two floating production and storage facilities. One of them is christened Tamara Tokoni, while the other is called Tamara Nanaye. Very Africa, Niger Delta names.

There’s so much more to achieve; we’re looking at in the future the possibility of going public, and inspiring new things.

Dr Preye Angaye: And we’re equally excited that as a company we’ve continued to encourage health and safety. We organise what we call the Health and Safety Summit; that has actually brought a number of other industries outside of oil and gas together, to discuss safety. We actually want to encourage safety to be a lifestyle. It’s our culture, and we want every other firm to think of it as its own culture as well. So, that’s something we hope to carry on with, and to do greater things: to ensure that Century Group is always out there, being international, welcoming investors, and willing to partner with all those who want to move the oil and gas industry forward.

World Finance: Preye, Karl: thank you very much.

Dr Preye Angaye: Thank you.

Karl Harris: Thank you.

CMB: Future of industry is combining investment banking and private banking

In the last 20 years, Monaco has seen an inflow of very sophisticated clients – not just millionaires and billionaires, but active ones, seeking help not just with managing their money, but managing their businesses. This is why Francesco Grosoli, CEO of Compagnie Monégasque de Banque (CMB), believes the future for the bank – and the industry as a whole – is to combine private banking with investment banking. He explains how CMB’s participation in the pan-European Mediobanca Group facilitates these services, and his personal ambitions for the future of the bank.

World Finance: Francesco, how does CMB set itself apart in such a highly competitive market?

Francesco Grosoli: Before talking about CMB, I think it’s important we talk about the Monaco marketplace – and how Monaco in the last 20 years has evolved.

We had an inflow of very sophisticated clients. Active entrepreneurs; billionaires – more than 50; millionaires – more than 12,000. It’s a very competitive market. And clients – particularly entrepreneurs – are looking for help in not only managing their money, but also in their different businesses.

We might have clients wanting to buy businesses, or to sell businesses; and having behind us Mediobanca Group, which is a pan-European investment banking group, is a great add to the service that we can provide.

And of course, CMB is there to manage their wealth: not only to invest their money, but also to consult us for the strategy and the future of their families.

World Finance: Mediobanca recently announced its four year plan; how does CMB fit into this strategy?

Francesco Grosoli: It’s very ambitious. So Mediobanca has planned a four percent increase in revenue, to €3bn. A four percent increase in earning per share, from €0.9-1.1bn. And a shareholder distribution over the period of €2.5bn.

And on top of it, CMB has been even more aggressive. Our goal is to reach €15bn of assets under management – so more than 20 percent increase from where we are now.

World Finance: And how do you intend to achieve this?

Francesco Grosoli: We have hired already quite a big team, joining me at the same time. Investment specialists, private bankers, to manage the client assets. But also creating synergies with the group.

The future of the industry is to bring together investment banking and private banking. Creating a private investment banking service that is, and will be, second to none.

This needs highly skilled bankers, technology, the help of the investment bank behind us. But also a lot of passion, of dedication.

Products are more or less a commodity – you can buy them everywhere. But the way you sell them to your clients, the way you are helping them, deciding which solution is the best for them: that’s what it’s all about. And that’s what I want CMB to achieve.

We don’t want to be the biggest bank; we want to be the best bank, we want to be dominant in the principality and beyond.

World Finance: Now you personally joined CMB in May of 2019 – what attracted you to join the bank?

Francesco Grosoli: I’ve been working 20 years for large groups, and the appeal of joining a smaller organisation where I can definitely influence the future of the bank, and be more impactful to bringing to life an organisation that is today very well known and recognised locally. We have very strong Monégasque DNA, but with behind us a very entrepreneurial group with a pan-European footprint.

The fact that most of the decisions are taken locally, in conjunction with our group, makes us faster, more responsive. We are closer to clients, and we are capable of putting the whole organisation for one specific deal, and making it happen very quickly.

It is time today to bring something different, to differentiate ourselves from the usual private banking service that is provided by our competitors.

That’s what we can achieve, and that’s what we will bring them in the next four years.

World Finance: Francesco, thank you very much.

Francesco Grosoli: Thank you.

Alpen Capital exploring opportunities in Myanmar, Indonesia and Africa

Alpen Capital is an investment banking advisory firm, offering solutions in the areas of debt, M&A and equity, to institutional and corporate clients. It’s been operating across the GCC and India since 2005 – with additional projects in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Founder and executive chairman Rohit Walia discusses the business’s recent transactions, the opportunities he’s looking to discover in Myanmar and Indonesia, and the firm’s associate company, Alpen Asset Advisors, which specialises in asset and wealth management.

World Finance: Rohit, let’s start in the GCC; what opportunities are there for investors?

Rohit Walia: There’s a lot of opportunities – the GCC’s going through a major change in the way business is done. I mean, if you look at the UAE, the ownership patterns we used to have, what you were allowed to do, have completely changed.

Saudi Arabia had major reforms. A lot of infrastructure is coming up with their 2030 vision. Similarly, most of the GCC countries have something or the other happening. There’s a lot of interest from the outside to come and do business in the Middle East and GCC specifically.

World Finance: Tell me about some of the recent transactions you’ve been involved in.

Rohit Walia: We did a very interesting one recently. We sold a food company, a large ticket transaction, to a very large listed company in Saudi Arabia called Savola. A very nice transaction, very strategic in nature. So they took a 51 percent stake in the company, and they left the management as-is.

Complicated – it took us one year to the get the documentation done, but yeah!

We did another interesting one in Oman, where we sold a company belonging to one of our clients in Dubai, to another client in Qatar. But the business is in Oman. So yeah, we’ve done some interesting stuff along the way.

World Finance: What other emerging market opportunities are there in the region?

Rohit Walia: In the emerging market we’ve done a lot of work in Sri Lanka. We’ve funded a number of banks there, roughly three-quarters of a billion dollars. We’ve done funding in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India. So the emerging markets have done well for us.

We’re looking at two new markets I will visit myself now: one is Myanmar, and the other one is Indonesia. We’ll see how that pans out.

World Finance: And what sorts of transactions have you been involved in, in those regions?

Rohit Walia: Mostly financial institutions. So funding financial institutions – and I think one of the things we’ve looked at is impact funding, as they call it. So women, for example: women empowerment is big. Or SME businesses. Things that increase employment, that are good for the economy, sustainable. That’s been some kind of a focus.

Most of our funding has come from development financial institutions, which give you longer-term tenure money. And it’s good for the emerging markets to get funding from the global development institutions.

World Finance: I mentioned at the top your associate company, Alpen Asset Advisors; tell me about its offering in independent wealth management.

Rohit Walia: So it’s an independent asset management offering. We used to offer previously only one bank’s products, which was Bank Saracen. We changed that about five years ago, to have a number of banks: banks like CIC, Credit Suisse, Crédit Agricole, which we are all on-boarded with, and which provide us solutions for our clients.

So each of them has a product offering, which is then tailor-made to what clients really want. So we’ve done custom-made products, we did a very interesting one in Iraq recently, for Trade Bank of Iraq, called Dananeer fund, which buys Iraqi bonds. So bespoke products, depending on what the client is looking for from the solution – we put it together.

World Finance: And you mentioned a couple of new regions you’re going to be exploring; what else is in the future for Alpen Capital?

Rohit Walia: Africa; we’ve started covering Africa, we’ve done a few transactions there. So we’ve done Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria. We’re looking at Senegal. It’s a big continent, huge market, and I think a huge opportunity for growth.

World Finance: Rohit, thank you very much.

Rohit Walia: Thank you.

AFP Confía joins the experience economy with customer engagement tech

In the first half of this interview, AFP Confía CEO Lourdes Arévalo and board member Robert Vinelli discussed El Savlador’s 2017 pension reforms, and the big picture for Confía’s next five years. In this video, Investment Director Rafael Castellanos and Risk Director Kelvin Mejía explain how the region’s largest pension fund is embracing new technology to more effectively and efficiently engage with its 1.5 million customers.

World Finance: Rafael, we’ve heard about the big picture for AFP Confía; now tell me about your team and your processes. How do you ensure excellent performance?

Rafael Castellanos: Well our team is composed of young but very experienced individuals. Our portfolios are mainly in fixed income securities, and we’ve helped develop the Central American region and El Salvador’s industries through investing in municipal projects: water utilities, electricity, port and airport expansions, and a variety of different industries.

Throughout the years our team has also been a pioneer in regionalising our portfolios through investing in Costa Rica and Panama; a little over $500m in the last few years. With that, and the diversification of our portfolio, we’ve been able to achieve number one performance in the industry.

World Finance: Now Kelvin, you’re currently re-engineering your processes to make better use of technology and automation; tell me more.

Kelvin Mejía: Well, with this re-engineering, we want to guarantee that our customers are our primary focus. We’re using big data analysis and machine learning tools in order to help us be closer to our clients, but resolve their problems remotely.

For instance – Rafael and their team are using Python, R, and Power BI tools to resolve everyday problems within their investment processes. Such tools I think will help us raise awareness of the pension system, help our clients to know their returns in their portfolios, and also to highlight and communicate the advantage of voluntary saving for their retirement.

World Finance: And what changes have you seen in customer engagement or savings rates since you’ve been developing this stronger dialogue with your customers?

Kelvin Mejía: Well, since 2017 pension reform, engagement is rising. Nowadays our customers have new benefits, such as partial withdrawals, which is a huge improvement to our system. So engagement is rising.

But being the biggest pension fund in Central America and the Caribbean means that we have 1.5 million customers – more than 50,000 pensioneers – so rising engagement is actually a challenge. But Confía is stepping up to that challenge, and we’re doing it through technology. Nowadays we’re using biometric identifications to our customers, we’re using self-service stations and artificial intelligence for WhatsApp.

So finally, I think that the engagement will still increase in the following years, because at the end of this year we’re submitting to our local regulator an application for a new, voluntary, savings fund. So that will be a new challenge for us, in order to help our customers to have the best pension that they deserve.

World Finance: And Rafael, how has the investment team been empowered by the new tools that Kelvin mentioned?

Rafael Castellanos: Yeah – in order to find solutions through innovations, we’ve challenged our team to look for everyday processes that can be simplified and done a lot quicker.

Being able to manipulate big data has expanded our horizons; and at the same time we’re able to use data-led approaches to find solutions without having to depend on IT specialists or data scientists.

We’re being able to do this now in a few days or maybe a day, rather than weeks.

World Finance: So getting even closer to the voice of the customer. Rafael, Kelvin, thank you both so much.

Rafael Castellanos: Thank you, Paul

Kelvin Mejía: Thank you.

AFP Confía geared up for great change after El Salvador’s pension reform

2017 saw long-awaited pension reforms in El Salvador: increasing mandatory contributions, and allowing greater international investment by pension funds. AFP Confía is the largest pension fund in Central America and the Caribbean; CEO Lourdes Arévalo and board member Robert Vinelli discuss what the changes mean for Salvadoran retirees and pension funds, and how Confía is transforming its processes to provide better client experience.

World Finance: Robert, introduce us to AFP Confía and El Salvador’s pension system.

Robert Vinelli: Well, Salvador was originally a government-run retirement fund. And because they were having problems, they privatised it.

The issue really becomes the government has used funds in order to pay for the social security problems they had before. They were paying one percent, and now they are increasing it slowly. And the retirement of the workers is now becoming more and more healthy.

The economy of Salvador is growing; not as well as we’d like, but at a healthy 2.3 percent. And we expect that the funds will continue to grow very nicely for the retirement.

World Finance: So how have the 2017 reforms changed things – both for retirees and the pension funds themselves?

Lourdes Arévalo: I think one of the most important things the reform did was create a mechanism for longevity. This mechanism works like insurance for all the people, so they can have their pension paid for their lifetime.

The other thing the reform did was open the possibility to invest in foreign markets – we didn’t have that before. And also allow the people to obtain 25 percent of their fund in advance. So I think this was very, very good for the system.

World Finance: And how has AFP Confía responded to these changes?

Lourdes Arévalo: Well, change was always there, for the last 20 years that we have been operating the AFP. We have to think outside of the box, to see all the technologies, new ways to contact clients. Also we are changing our core system – we’re moving to SAP – which is a huge change for us. But it will be more efficient for the operations.

We’re focusing on innovation. Innovation, efficiency. Looking for our client experience. We’re just looking everywhere for best practices to introduce new technologies, new tools, to serve our clients.

The most important thing I think is, we have to assure our people that we’re protecting their money during their pension lifetime. So we have high standards in risk management, investment management, and there’s a lot of international standards we’re looking for and we’re following in audit, compliance, operations, human resources – and of course, technology.

World Finance: And Robert, what is the strategy and the ambition for AFP Confía over the next five years?

Robert Vinelli: Well, we’re not only expecting to be number one in Central America, as we are now, but even bigger. And serving more people, and serving them even better.

The fact that some of the reforms causes our profit to lessen for a short period of time, we’re expecting to recoup that, as Lourdes said, through technology, through efficiency, through all the other systems. But more important through South American expansion that we expect to carry out very quickly in the next years.

World Finance: Lourdes, Robert, thank you very much.

Lourdes Arévalo: Thank you very much.

Robert Vinelli: Thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure.

FirstBank Private Banking: Our clients are keeping us on our toes

FirstBank of Nigeria’s 125 year heritage and growing international network gives its private banking division a strong foundation to provide best-in-class, bespoke services to its high net worth clients. Idowu Thompson, Group Head of Private Banking for FirstBank of Nigeria, explains how the bank works to understand its high net worth clients’ individual needs, how those needs have been changing in recent years, and what the future holds for the bank.

World Finance: Idowu Thompson is Group Head of Private Banking for FirstBank of Nigeria. FBN’s 125 year heritage in Nigeria, and growing international network, gives the private banking division a strong foundation to provide best-in-class, bespoke services to its high net worth clients.

Idowu – who are your clients, and how do you work to understand their unique banking needs?

Idowu Thompson: Our clients are largely ultra-high-net-worth, or high-net-worth, individuals. These clients cut across different cultures, different backgrounds, levels of education, age, gender, religion.

One of the things we pride ourselves in doing is not just listening to our customers, but also hearing them.

There are two ways in which we do that. So, one involves looking at what their buying patterns are; looking at their behavioural patterns are in terms of what they’re demanding, what they’ve used historically, in terms of the proposition – the private banking proposition.

The other part, which is also more qualitative, involves sitting with them and getting a deeper insight as to their individualities. There’s a need for us to be able to treat them as individuals.

What we try to do is to put the piece of our own expertise – in terms of investment knowledge, in terms of the wealth management offerings, in terms of what’s available out there in the global trends – and make some of these things available to them, so that they can make the right decisions for themselves. And continue to see us as their bankers of first choice.

World Finance: Tell me more about the changes that you’re seeing in your clients and their financial services needs.

Idowu Thompson: Our clients are a lot more demanding these days, in a very good way. A lot of the clients want high yield on their portfolios; at the same time a lot of them also want the safety of their portfolios!

And what that has done for us is to also put us on our toes, as the leading private bank in Nigeria. There’s a lot more questions around the wealth management needs. A lot of what we are seeing now is the demand for a relationship – and not just a relationship with the individual, but also the relationship with the family. So in those instances we talk about things like family benefits, family recognition. And just being able to know our clients thoroughly, and help them actualise their financial goals.

And in that way we find out that we’re able to build trust. We’re also able to add value to them in terms of the quality of advice that we give to them.

So I think by so doing, it’s a bit easier for us to work on longer-term relationships, and create the kind of stickiness that we would seek with our clients.

World Finance: How important is having the 125 year heritage of the FirstBank Group to building and maintaining that trust?

Idowu Thompson: Well I can say to you Paul that it’s a fantastic feeling for me. It makes my job easier. There’s a saying that FirstBank, in terms of a corporate entity, is a bank where everyone runs to as a flight to safety.

We’re under a very dynamic executive team, and a very well-focused board.

The banking sector in Nigeria has indeed gone through some transformation; but one of the tests of us as FirstBank, and as the leading bank, is the fact that we’ve been able to stand firm. We’ve been able to make good progress, even when the environmental climes were challenged. And we are heading in the right direction – I can see that clearly.

World Finance: So finally, what does the future hold for FirstBank Private Banking, and for your clients?

Idowu Thompson: In terms of what the future holds, we want to be the clear leader, and also the private bank of first choice for our clients.

We do expect that there’s going to be a lot more competition coming in from the non-traditional institutions; so you’re going to see a lot more insurance companies, asset management companies, deploying wealth management solutions, providing advisory services, to their clients.

We also have competitors coming from offshore banks; even from the developed banks that have representative offices in Nigeria.

So for us, it’s being able to be anticipatory. It’s about being able to create innovative products for our clients. It’s about being able to find the role of technology in what we’re doing. It’s also about being able to comply with the regulatory requirements – and a lot has changed in that clime. You’re looking at requirements like the Common Reporting Standards. We’re also looking at the GIPS, which basically impacts how investment managers reflect the performance of their portfolios.

But what I can dare say is that for us as FirstBank Private Banking, and as an institution in FirstBank, with the leadership of the bank, with the board, the management: we are thinking steps ahead. A journey is not a race that’s won in one day. And that’s the way we’ve tried to position ourselves.

We are indeed a bank that’s here to stay, and a bank that would continue to be the leading choice for Nigerians.

World Finance: Idowu, thank you very much.

Idowu Thompson: Thank you very much Paul.

Italy’s private banks prepare for generational, digital, regulatory change

Three main forces will shape the Italian private banking market in the next five years, says Stefano Colasanti, Head of Business Development and Commercial Planning for BNL Private Banking and Wealth Management BNP Paribas Group. First: generational change, as wealth flows from current private banking clients to their heirs. Second: digitalisation, as all banks are forced to update their processes and offering. And third: regulation, as MIFID II comes into force. In this video, filmed in BNL Private Banking and Wealth Management’s Rome headquarters, he discusses these trends and explains how the bank is responding.

Stefano Colasanti: The Italian private banking market, served by private institutions, has been growing steadily in the last three years up to an overall value of €800bn at the end of 2018 – with an overall growth of eight percent with respect to 2015.

The Italian Association of Private Banking estimates project growth to continue also in 2020, when the market is estimated to reach €900bn.

At the end of 2018, BNL Private Banking managed around €34bn, positioning itself as the fifth competitor in the Italian private banking market.

Three main forces will shape the Italian private banking market in the following years: generational change, digitalisation, and regulation.

In the coming years, we’ll have a huge amount of wealth that flows from the current owners – the current private banking clients – to their heirs: millennials, generation X.

It’s very important for the major wealth managers to create, to build in time, a good relationship manager with their client heirs, because private banks that first prepare this generational shift will get a very important competitive advantage, and tap into the client base of the competitors that are not able to prepare this generational change.

The second force in Italian private banking market is digitalisation. Clients want to have the same customer experience by the financial institutions and non-financial companies – for example, Amazon. Private banks – Italian private banks – are not lagging, and they need to put digitalisation at the centre of their agenda, to offer clients this type of very high value customer experience during the relationship with the clients.

The last force in Italian private banking is regulation. The introduction of MIFID II in Italy will have a very important and significant impact on the Italian private banking market: for the first time, clients will be displayed the costs associated with their investment products and services. Private banks have to review their product offering by simplifying, making it compelling for their clients. It’s very important to offer to the clients the right services or products with the right costs, to respond to the right needs of the clients.

BNL Private Banking embarked on a transformation journey of its service and business model, which resulted in three key actions.

The first action is a new approach to wealth advisory, by reaching the offering services of non-financial products and services: corporate advisory, issuance advisory, real estate advisory; to manage the global wealth of clients, to be the partner of the client in managing their wealth.

The second key action is the digitalisation of the relationship model, by introducing a new, innovative, very important tool platform for the clients’ discovery – for example, humanist – or for managing their relationship with the bank such as the app, My Private Banking. In this way we want to create a very important relationship with the new generation of clients. We created a specific contact centre dedicated to our private bank clients, that is active 24/7: it’s a fast-lane, dedicated lane, to address the clients’ needs in terms of banking, financial, and non-financial needs.

Third is the role that BNL Private Banking can play in sustainability. BNL Private Banking can address the client to financial investments to sustain the environment, to sustain the economic growth, to sustain the growth of our country, to help the people.

I strongly believe these new strategic actions will give BNL Private Banking a competitive edge over its competitors, and innovative services, solutions, products and tool platforms that we are introducing will help us to be more attractive to the new generation of private banking clients.

ATFX launches institutional brand, expands educational offering

ATFX is a global forex and CFD brokerage. In the UK it’s been regulated by the FCA since 2017, and it’s been growing fast. Managing Director Wei Qiang Zhang and Head of Marketing Ergin Erdemir discuss the brokerage’s competitive edge, its recently launched institutional offering, and the upgraded educational support that ATFX offers to its customers.

World Finance: First, how does ATFX set itself apart in the highly competitive forex market?

Wei Qiang Zhang: Yes, correctly, the FX market is very, very competitive now. We set up ourselves differently, focused on two things: people and technology.

We recruit talented people from around the world. They are multi-tasking, multi-skillsetted. For example, our customer services team can speak 10+ languages in 15+ offices around the world.

We invest heavily on technology. Now we have our own aggregator, we have developed our front end and back end system into second stage. Very soon our clients will be able to create an account with one or two clicks.

Of course our products also stand out from others; I will give Ergin, our head of marketing, for more details.

Ergin Erdemir: Thank you very much Wei. At ATFX we differentiate ourselves in three different key areas: being flexible, being competitive and cost effective, and being customer-centric.

Another key area we are focusing is offering the best possible competitive spreads to our clients. To do that we have redesigned our account types based on our client feedback. And each account type comes with multiple benefits, starting from competitive spreads and raw spreads with 0.0 pips on major products.

At ATFX we think the customer is everything. That’s why we put our customers at the heart of our business. We listen to them day in and day out, meet their needs through our products and services, and I think this is the best way to provide them the best possible trading experience.

World Finance: It’s not just retail forex you offer; you’re also stepping up your institutional offerings?

Wei Qiang Zhang: Exactly. Last month we launched our new brand: ATFX Connect, which is our institutional platform. We can aggregate 20+ liquidity providers, we can configure the price into different requirements. For example some clients maybe need a retail price with smaller tickets; some clients maybe need a bigger ticket from non-bank liquidity. We are proud of this product; we think we can offer this to our clients in hedge fund areas, in asset managers, and other brokers. Even some big banks.

We can deal with the prices through different channels such as API, webpage, GUI. Also a mobile app in the future.

We are also offering special solutions for some brokers, such as exchange data, which is very popular now. And we have some events worldwide coming in October-November; so if you’re interested, please watch out!

World Finance: Now, how do you ensure that your customers are educated and empowered in their trading?

Ergin Erdemir: At ATFX we take education very seriously, because we think there’s a lack of good education materials available within the forex industry. That’s why we have recently created a brand new education strategy – not only for new beginners, but also for intermediate and advanced level traders.

Our clients can join daily and weekly webinars with our global chief market strategist, and discuss the latest market trends. We also offer up to 20 webinars every month, covering major European languages, and touching various topics like technical analysis, fundamental analysis, and trading psychology.

Through offline channels, globally we run more than 10 seminars in our local offices, where our clients can come in and discuss their trading strategies, and improve their trading knowledge.

Finally, we’re attending trading events across the UK, Europe, and the rest of the world: to meet our partners and traders, to discuss their trading needs.

World Finance: And what protections and support are in place for your customers?

Wei Qiang Zhang: As s responsible broker under UK regulation, we have put various measures and tools to protect client interests and also client money, of course!

For example, active balance protection. Clients will not lose more than they have with us. And we have also a dedicated team to reconcile client money up to the penny on a daily basis.

We’re also looking for extra insurance to protect the client money further. But everything is based on the integrity and professionalism of our staff: we train them regularly, not only for skills and knowledge, but also for compliance and regulation, so we can serve our clients best.

Ergin Erdemir: In terms of support, we do not limit our customers to contacting us only via phone or email: they can simply go on our website, one click, open the live chatbox, and start talking to ATFX team members, and get the answers of their questions instantly.

As a result of our investment in customer service, ATFX won the Best Customer Service award by ADVFN in 2019, and the Best Forex Broker award through the UK Forex Awards.

World Finance: Finally, what does the future hold for ATFX UK?

Ergin Erdemir: At ATFX group, we are committed to grow our business across the UK, EU, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, even Latin America.

We will keep investing in our technology so that we can provide an excellent user journey to our clients. We are also in the middle of developing our mobile application, which is due soon.

Of course we’ll be investing on education and customer service, so that our clients can feel comfortable and competent while trading with us. We will keep investing in our products and offerings so that our clients can feel they are getting value for money. Last but not least, we will keep releasing new features for our professional traders.

Wei Qiang Zhang: Also, the market is very competitive now. So simple, pure brokerage doesn’t work anymore. So we have to move away from it, to build a more advanced, fintech model. That’s why we set up a new IT team in one of the European countries. Also we are updating our institutional offering: we’re going to sign a new PP, we’re going to have our own aggregator. We will also have our new bridge. So hopefully next time we can tell you more!

World Finance: Wei, Ergin, thank you very much.

Wei Qiang Zhang: Thank you.

Ergin Erdemir: Thank you.

Growing the good in business and in life: BMO’s triple bottom line

“We know that if we treat our clients well, they’ll in turn trust us and treat us well,” says Dev Srinivasan, Chief Operating Officer for BMO Bank of Montreal Canadian Business Banking: “It’s not a short-term game, this is truly a long-term game.” In the last of our three videos with Dev, he discusses BMO’s mission, and vision for its business brand.

Dev Srinivasan: BMO’s purpose is to grow the good in business and in life. And when you think about that small amount of words there, and how much is embedded in those words, it really excites me.

BMO wants to ensure that it’s doing good by its employees, good by the community, and also wants to succeed in the marketplace. So it’s really all-encompassing, and you can get all of those three things aligned. Banking can often be solely about profits with a number of other institutions; BMO really take care to align those three objectives.

BMO’s culture really has a huge impact on how we work with our clients. We’re very collaborative, and we’re focused in on the client first. We know that if we treat our clients well, they’ll in turn trust us and treat us well. And that really is the key. It’s not a short-term game, this is truly a long-term game. We’re great in good times; we’re even better when challenging times arise.

One of the most important tools that BMO has in terms of ensuring that we truly are growing the good in business and in life is, we have a client advisory council where we take 20 of our top clients from across the country, and we bring them together every six months. And we really look to them to be the voice of the business community: in terms of what’s needed, where are the shortcomings, where are we falling short, where is the industry falling short? And we work really aggressively with the ideas we get from that council to really look to improve and continually move the bank forward.

The vision for BMO Business Banking is to be recognised as a leader globally in commercial banking. We’re doing this in a couple of ways. It’s important for us of course financially to be recognised this way, but we also want to be recognised in the way that we’re achieving that financial success. And again, that comes back to our purpose, which is all about ensuring that we’re giving back to our communities, giving back to our employees, giving back to our clients as well. And if you do all of those things in the right way, you will achieve that leadership.

Why BMO Business is focused on tech, women-led, and indigenous business

“There are three [business banking] areas that we’re really focused in on, and align really well with our purpose, which is to grow the good in business and in life,” says Dev Srinivasan, Chief Operating Officer for BMO Bank of Montreal Canadian Business Banking. In the second of three videos with Dev, he explains the common thread that unites technology, women-led, and indigenous businesses.

Dev Srinivasan: BMO focuses in on a broad group of clients; however there are three areas that we’re really focused in on, and aligns really well with our purpose, which is to grow the good in business and in life.

The first area would be technology and innovation. Toronto and Canada in general is really a growing tech hub. Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal were three of the fastest-growing technology hubs in the world in 2018. This is a hugely important segment, and it is an area where we’re focused in on serving clients across the broad spectrum of their needs. We’re able to deal with venture capital companies that are really the life-blood of the tech space, as well as private equity and the companies themselves as they go public and grow faster.

Second would be women in business. Women-owned companies are growing faster than the overall market, and female entrepreneurs represent 60 percent of new business started. It’s a hugely important population, and we want to ensure that we’re supporting all groups. And if you look at our growth within the bank, we’re actually growing women-owned businesses at about 30-40 percent faster than we are male-owned businesses. So it’s a great opportunity for us to do well in the community, and also do well for our business.

And then finally indigenous banking – a hugely important population in the Canadian economy. BMO has served indigenous communities since 1992 with a dedicated team. This team really partners up with the communities in terms of understanding their unique needs, and ensuring that we’re delivering the services, the guidance, the expertise that is needed to help those communities thrive in a challenging environment.

Women in business, indigenous banking, and technology and innovation; very disparate in a lot of ways, but the common thread that ties them all together is the benefit that they bring to the Canadian population, to the community. And also the huge opportunity it represents from a business perspective. And that is one of the major reasons why BMO is focused in on this space.

How BMO can help your business maintain its competitive advantage

“The pace of technology – how fast it’s moving today – is having a dramatic impact on our clients,” says Dev Srinivasan, Chief Operating Officer for BMO Bank of Montreal Canadian Business Banking. In the first of three videos with Dev, he explains how BMO is adapting its processes and working faster, to make sure its clients can do the same.

Dev Srinivasan: The pace of technology – how fast it’s moving today – is having a dramatic impact on our clients.

When you think about how quickly now competitive advantage can be taken away through technological advancements, it’s impacting not only BMO’s clients, but the bank itself. And the pressure is really on for banks globally to really up their game, and ensure that they’re serving clients in a way that is allowing them to keep their competitive advantage.

At BMO, we believe that we are an incredibly strong business partner in this sense, and the advancements we’ve made allow our clients to keep their competitive advantage, and allow them to continue to win in the marketplace.

A great example of how BMO is responding to the change and the technology advancements out there is what we’re doing in the small business space right now.

It used to take the same amount of time to get a $100,000 loan approved as it would a $10m loan. And now what we’re able to do – through Business Express, our platform – that allows us to approve small business loans under a million dollars in under 30 minutes. It’s a huge advancement, and it allows our clients to really move with the pace of technology, and allow them to move ahead of their competitors.

BMO is also updating its processes. When you think about the amount of time that used to be taken by administrative activities, we’re now able through the use of technology, we’re able to reinvest in terms of client service, ensuring that our relationship managers are front and centre with clients, understanding the industries, and ensuring that we’re helping them move along as quickly as possible.

BMO wants to be seen by our clients as somebody that is relevant in the industries that they operate. So a couple of things that we’re doing on that front. We’ve really focused in on verticals that are truly impacted by technology, and the change, and the speed of change. So as a for instance, we’ve focused in on technology and innovation; we’ve created an entire vertical focused on that. And it’s able to serve companies from start-up, all the way up to going public, with the full suite of products and services that traditional banks actually would have a challenge in delivering.

How Nigeria’s Access Bank is strengthening governance for the digital age

In April 2019, Access Bank merged with Diamond Bank: now with 29 million customers, Access is the largest bank in Nigeria by customer base. And as well as transforming its customer-facing processes, it’s reforming its corporate governance and compliance framework to keep up with the technological challenges of banking in the modern age. We have two more videos from this interview: about the changes Access Bank is making to serve its more-than-doubled customer base, and its sustainability projects.

World Finance: Tell me about your corporate governance practices; now you’re such a much larger bank than before, this must be increasingly important.

Herbert Wigwe: Extremely so. We have – apart from the traditional things, and the four eyes principle, there’s also – clear delineation of duties. We basically comply with the code of corporate governance by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and by the central bank. But we go far beyond that. Even the board committees look at things to do with technology, with cyber security: because it’s a brand new world. Now data is the new currency! It’s no longer the bank vault.

Now, compliance is a big thing, today in the world. We are beginning to strengthen our entire compliance framework: working together with our subsidiary out in the UK, we are making sure that all subsidiaries are compliant with the global compliant standards. Because the bigger you are, the more you are subjected to scrutiny in the different geographies in which you have a presence.

So it’s changing our thought process, it’s changing the way we look at life, it’s changing the way we look at the world. It’s also enabling us to anticipate the great changes that can come even out of technology that may disrupt our business. And enabling us to be the first to disrupt the business if any such thing was going to happen.

World Finance: You personally must be a lot busier now with the new Access Bank; tell me about your priorities at the moment.

Herbert Wigwe: First of all it’s people: any business is founded on strong people and people management. I mean, irrespective of what you do with technology; it’s people at the end of the day who run all of these things. So that’s the first one.

The second is technology. We were lucky in the deal with Diamond, in the sense that we had the same technology platform. But sometimes getting systems to speak to themselves, so that you don’t disrupt the customer, keep their account details the same, etc – may not just add up immediately. I think it’s going on well, but it remains a challenge.

And thirdly, there are larger issues that have to do with infrastructure. So I’ll give you a simple example. If they switch network, or if there’s an issue across the country: it will affect us, because we have the largest customer base! At 29 million customers it means that one out of every three transactions settles on your platform: at the slightest issue, you feel it more than anybody else.

Now, these are issues that we didn’t have to deal with in the past. But resolving them is the most important thing. Creating the fallback situations, creating backstop arrangements, to ensure that if there’s a problem with the systems somewhere, your customers can also transact their businesses without feeling that hitch.

You know, it’s an interesting time for us.

World Finance: When we met two years ago, you expressed at the time a very strong personal responsibility to the country. Now as you say, one in three transactions landing on your platform: do you feel a greater responsibility than ever to the country and the continent? How are you seeing that reflected in Access Bank moving forward?

Herbert Wigwe: More than ever before. I think with 29 million customers, I begin to understand the impact of our actions on the country. The impact of whatever we do from a digital standpoint, in terms of our contribution to the GDP.

You know, we have 200 million people. We have maybe 50 million unique bank accounts. It means that there’s a market of anywhere between 60 and 70 million that needs to be brought into the formal sector.

What we’re trying to do is to make sure that we use digital to support them – even the bottom of the pyramid. If we can help them, that can begin to have so much impact on our country. One, in terms of financial deepening. Secondly, in terms of the funding and liquidity profile of banks. Thirdly, in terms of the sustainability of the financial services institutions. Fourthly, in terms of the contribution to the GDP of our country.

SMEs, micro-SMEs, represent the bedrock of the economy. And if we begin to serve them more and more and more, it can change our country totally. And I feel a strong responsibility to do that.

World Finance: Herbert Wigwe, thank you very much.

Herbert Wigwe: Thank you very much, Paul.

Access Bank CEO: ‘Doing business responsibly and sustainably is the only way’

When Herbert Wigwe first created Access Bank, his ambition was to create the most respected bank in Africa. He explains what this means: in terms of expanding financial inclusion in Nigeria and the rest of the continent, supporting women entrepreneurs, and helping launch Nigeria’s Sustainability Banking Principles. We have two more videos from this interview: about Access Bank’s improved corporate governance practices, and what it means to be Nigeria’s largest bank by customer base.

World Finance: When you created Access Bank, your ambition was to create the most respected bank in Africa…

Herbert Wigwe: Absolutely.

World Finance: …financial inclusion, sustainability, obviously extremely important for that; tell me about your sustainability goals.

Herbert Wigwe: I think for us, sustainability is a very important part of our business. Issues that have to do with people, planet and profits – very, very important. So we – together with the Central Bank of Nigeria, several years ago – launched the Nigerian Sustainability Banking Principles. And I think for several years we have been at the lead of it.

Things that have to do with gender balance; we started supporting female entrepreneurs, we introduced things like the maternal healthcare scheme – things which are not very normal, in the context of the continent.

But apart from that, I think the most recent aspect – which gives us a lot of pride – is the fact that we launched a green bond. And that green bond is Climate Bond Initiative certified – it’s the first in the continent.

And the more we do these things, the more we think other corporates will take a lead – and therefore lift up the continent as far as sustainability is concerned. And I think if you keep us side-by-side, most institutions in the continent and world over, I think we’re exactly where we want to be.

World Finance: As you say, supporting women has always been very important to Access Bank – how has that evolved over time?

Herbert Wigwe: When we first started this whole initiative, we initially thought about supporting women financially: professional women, women who were entrepreneurial. And we said, we wanted to take 20 women from zero in terms of turnover, to NGN 1bn in terms of turnover, over five years.

And over the five years – you know, from 2006-11 – I think we did very well.

But we then went and sat back and said, look. This whole thing about gender support can be done differently. There’s so much more apart from finance that we need to give. Finance is important, but it’s not everything.

So we emerged into what we referred to as the Access Women Network. This was about creating a forum where we inspire, connect, and empower women. We created portals through which women could be supportive of themselves. We created portals where we could support women – for instance, if you needed an accountant, you could get an accountant to look at your books at rates that were subsidised. Because for a lot of them who were becoming entrepreneurial, they needed to be taught a bit more in terms of the basic things around accounting, and all of that.

And then we deepened our capacity-building as far as this was concerned. So twice a year we would take women and train them. For those who are at the beginning, early stages of their business, support them from a capacity-building standpoint. For those who were a more mature level, teach them about issues around succession planning for their businesses.

So that was what Access Women Network was built around. And I think today it’s got to a mature stage. We have tens of thousands of women who are part of that network. They meet at different points of time in the year, discussing the typical issues that their gender has to deal with.

World Finance: How does your mission inform what you do? Both in terms of the services that you’re offering to your customers, and also across the continent – working across borders and building your brand?

Herbert Wigwe: Our mission is very simple: it’s setting standards for sustainable business practices. Unleash the talents of employees. Deliver superior value to our customers. And provide innovative solutions to the market and communities we serve.

And what that does, simply, is to say: we will do business, but we will do business responsibly. We will do it sustainably. And it’s something we have been celebrated world over for, and we remain extremely proud of it. So it may not be the most profitable thing in the short term – defined in strict financial terms. But in the larger sense, and looking at it over time, doing business responsibly and sustainably is the only way to live.