HSBC Bank Egypt Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sherif Aref has said that the bank’s investments in digital infrastructure over many years meant it started the response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic from a strong position.
He added that the bank witnessed an increase in transactions as an immediate response to the pandemic. This came as customers re-routed their business to HSBC, using its global reach to manage the risk of an unforeseen disruption to payments.
Here, Aref sits down with Daily News Egypt to review the steps the bank took to protect its customers, and itself, as much as possible from the pandemic.
How has the pandemic affected the bank’s plans in providing banking services?
Our investments in digital infrastructure over many years meant that we started the response to the pandemic from a strong position. More than 90% of HSBC Egypt’s payment transactions were done through digital channels in 2019, so the underlying technological capability to handle remote banking needs was clearly in place.
Add in the fact that HSBC Egypt was already home to one of our global service centres of expertise in transaction processing for customers, both in the Middle East and beyond, and you can begin to appreciate quite how digitally developed our business was prior to the pandemic.
Because we were already investing to accommodate that customer-oriented drive towards digital, we had the additional capacity at hand to expand to meet the sudden spike in demand for digital banking services that the pandemic brought in.
Being well prepared digitally meant we were able to channel our additional crisis response efforts into protecting the health and safety of our customers and colleagues in branches, by devoting resources to putting those technology basics in place.
We enabled over 90% of our head-office workforce to work remotely from the safety of their homes. For our colleagues that still had to go to offices and branches, we embedded the highest levels of health and safety measures.
These included, but were not limited to, the rollout of required personal protective equipment, the enforcement of proper social distance, as well as tweaking our cleaning regimes to make it fit for the new environment.
We also capitalised on our video conferencing technology and enabled our wealth and corporate relationship managers to conduct personal discussions with our clients. This ensured that all their individual banking needs are addressed safely, securely, and without disruption.
Did this crisis accelerate the implementation of the bank’s plans for providing technological services and digital transformation?
Right now, connectivity is more important for our customers than it has ever been. Digital solutions have enabled companies to pay for goods and services, to pay their staff, to move goods to and through ports, and to do it all remotely, securely and safely.
Across the bank, we launched and accelerated many initiatives to extend our remote banking capabilities, to help our clients achieve most of their banking needs without the need to come to a branch.
In corporate banking, we have embarked on an ambitious programme to help customers with their business continuity efforts, enrolling hundreds of clients onto our digital platform. Providing this digital lifeline has been crucial to company supply chains.
We launched in August 2020 the HSBCnet Mobile Application, which helps our corporate customers access their accounts while on the move. The app will also help businesses manage their trade financing by integrating key tools such as Trade Authorisation and Trade Transaction Tracker. In addition to this, the app introduced the new soft-token feature to replace the physical ones.
Another critical service offered by HSBC is the Digital Trade Open Account. Paperwork is digitised, saving 140,000 sheets of paper and up to three hours on average on each transaction by eliminating branch visits.
We also launched a simplified version of HSBCnet, designed to meet the needs of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It provides a summary view of all accounts to check balances immediately after log on, faster access to transactions, and easier payments with fewer screens and built-in validation. It is also supported by Arabic language facilities.
On the personal banking side, we have launched HSBC Voice ID, allowing our customers to use their voice to verify themselves when accessing HSBC Phone Banking instead of PINs, passwords and security questions. This puts Egypt at the forefront of HSBC’s global rollout of VoiceID.
This aligns perfectly with Egypt’s drive towards a cashless economy and highlights HSBC’s commitment to introducing digital solutions to our clients in the country.
What did you learn from studying how the bank’s customers interacted with the services provided?
We are seeing year-on-year increases in automated operations versus manual ones, and we are responding by introducing digital solutions to meet this need.
We witnessed an increase in transactions as an immediate response to COVID-19 as customers re-routed their business to HSBC, using our global reach to manage the risk of an unforeseen disruption to payments.
For example, our trade business in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (MENAT) region has seen a spike in the food and health care sectors. As a result, we accelerated transaction times to ensure an uninterrupted flow of trade, and we are currently processing most of these transactions within 24 hours.
Almost 80% of our Wealth and Personal Banking customers are now registered online. Hence, we witnessed an increase of 19% in the Personal Banking Online transactions numbers and an 8% increase in customers’ migration to the online platform versus January 2020.
Also, more than 80% of our corporate clients are onboarded on HSBCNet with over 2m transaction performed since January 2020, representing a total value of more than EGP 400bn.
We also upgraded and enhanced our public website which acted as a key tool in communicating all the changes and updates to customers and as a result we witnessed an increase of 85% in the number of visitors versus January 2020.
Despite this significant increase in volumes we continued to meet our service levels and our systems remained resilient.
What is the bank’s plan of action in 2021 as COVID-19 persists?
Many customers have told me directly how important our support has been to them, whether it came from colleagues in HSBC branches, who are doing a fantastic job and showing outstanding resilience, or from colleagues working from home, and I know that for some of them it is a very challenging experience.
The pandemic has changed the global economy, accelerating the need to build back better. Businesses across the region and in Egypt in particular are committed to continue to learn and adapt to the new market normal.
HSBC’s clients are already embracing digital offerings, placing them in pole position to embrace more technology, optimise supply chains, explore thought leadership solutions and build back better for the next generation.
As one of the largest multinational banks in Egypt, and with a presence here since 1982, HSBC’s unwavering dedication to building its digital knowledge will continue. The bank has been a leading and respected voice on digital advancements for more than three decades.
We will undoubtedly continue to support Egypt’s digital banking journey, be it through talent creation, research and development or tech deployment.