Warba Bank, headquartered in Kuwait City, Kuwait, is a relatively new bank, established in 2010 under an Amiri Decree to boost the country’s economy. The bank, guided by its vision to be the leading digital-first Islamic corporate and retail bank in Kuwait, quickly carved out a leadership role in the sector and today offers financial products and services in three main lines: personal, corporate and investment. By realizing its mission to “provide innovative financial solutions and outstanding digital experiences to help our customers fulfill their life ambitions”, Warba Bank has earned the trust of Kuwaitis, as evidenced by the high marks customers have heaped on the bank.This is largely due to the bank’s staff, who are guided by Warba’s positive values: “Can do: We get things done. Fast. And we don’t let obstacles stand in our way; Winning team spirit: We work with our clients and team members to deliver the right solutions; Ambition: We have the drive and enthusiasm to always go one better.”
International Banker recently welcomed Mr. Shaheen H. Al-Ghanem, Chief Executive Officer of Warba Bank, to fill us in on the recent progress of this pioneering bank, which is often the first to market with a revolutionary innovation. The pandemic has only confirmed the importance of its commitment to being digital-first.
Mr. Al-Ghanem, thank you for speaking with us today….
How has Warba Bank adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID-19 has had a pounding effect on the banking sector and macro-economic factors. Despite the challenges, Warba Bank manages the situation efficiently and effectively through the implementation of sound measures to ward off the negative implications of C-19.
For example, through our customer-services initiatives, we are committed to strengthening our service quality to customers. We have developed various new processes and operations to combat the impact of C-19 on our society. Our key initiatives show how Warba has played its part. As an example, we launched an integrated queue-management system for our branches. Customers can book appointments digitally to visit their desired branches through the bank’s mobile-banking app and the website. All Warba branches follow a firm policy for SOPs (standard operating procedures); limitations on the number of people in branches apply to employees and visitors to protect them from C-19. The policy is in line with the best practices and standards dictated by the Ministries of Health and Commerce and Industry. Also, out of transparency, Warba is publicly disclosing all incidents of COVID-19 cases discovered in its branches.
The bank continues to serve its customers during lockdowns and curfews. Since the start of the pandemic, Warba, either directly or indirectly, has served customers, namely through home delivery of card products, the call centre being available 24/7, and IT (information technology) applications and systems being maintained to an uptime of 98.86 percent during the fiscal year 2020.
We have also put forth a strategy to utilize social media and the direct channels of the bank in comforting the public. We continue to educate and spread awareness to the public about the C-19 SOPs and the benefits of vaccines through our far-reaching social-media channels.
Warba Bank has launched three digital wallets to retail customers for fast and contactless payments, namely Samsung Pay, which is available to Warba customers with a Mastercard credit card on Samsung devices; Fitbit Pay, for Warba customers with any active Warba credit card on compatible Fitbit smartwatches and trackers; Garmin Pay, available to Warba customers with a Mastercard credit card on compatible Garmin wearable devices.
We also introduced a fully digital onboarding service allowing new customers to open the saving account Al Sunbula through fast, simple and secure steps in less than five minutes. The service does not require customers to visit a branch in person.
On the retail-banking innovation front, Warba Bank is continuously investing in the digitization of its banking products and services through the mobile and classic web to meet all the banking needs of its customers. This direction is in line with the bank’s long-term corporate strategy that was renewed to adapt to the ongoing circumstances created by the C-19 pandemic. The bank envisions leading the banking industry as a digital-first Islamic corporate and retail bank in Kuwait.
What challenges in your market are unique to Kuwait, and how have you overcome them?
The C-19 crisis has hit Kuwait’s economy hard in 2020 and 2021. This has had a domino effect on all sectors of the economy, and banking is no exception. However, Warba took on the challenges and introduced initiatives as a response. Some of these initiatives included building a pandemic-response and decision-making cross-functional team comprising various functions of the bank. We developed remote-working capabilities through staff access to bank resources securely, communication with colleagues, and information sharing and work. We built a resilient IT function for increased helpdesk capacity, network bandwidth, application-loads profile and security aspects such as end-point protection, data-loss prevention and breach detections. Warba deployed new digital products and services for customers and focused on the automation of back-office processes. We developed and implemented enhanced stress-testing capability supporting capital planning and CBK (Central Bank of Kuwait) engagement as approved by the board. The bank recalibrated and validated our credit-grading system (credit lens) for IFRS 9 (International Financial Reporting Standard 9) purposes to maintain the integrity and accuracy of the provision-estimation process. We conducted business-continuity/DR (disaster-recovery) testing, factoring in conditions and circumstances created by the pandemic.
What would you say differentiates Warba Bank from other banks competing in your marketplace?
Warba Bank has a distinct vision and mission. Its vision is to become the leading digital-first Islamic corporate and retail bank in Kuwait. Its mission is to provide innovative financial solutions and outstanding digital experiences to help our customers fulfil their life ambitions; provide staff with a rewarding work environment and nurture high-quality talent; and deliver sustainable profitability for our shareholders.
In line with its vision and mission, the bank has gained special recognition amongst the local Islamic banks for its products and services, offering the most unique value propositions. As per the third-party market analyst Service Hero, Warba Bank’s overall position is around 140 bps (basis points) ahead compared with the average service quality index of Kuwaiti Islamic banks (the benchmark).
Some of the top service dimensions that illustrate Warba’s differentiations in terms of superior customer service are the speed and quality of the services provided by Warba, which is 515 bps more than the benchmark; speed of customer-request processing, approximately 460 bps more than the benchmark; customer telephone interactions, with Warba Bank at 390 bps more than the benchmark; employees, considered 240 bps more service-oriented than the benchmark; reliability of Warba’s service quality, 200 bps more than the benchmark.
The top service dimensions that illustrate Warba’s differentiations in terms of innovation in retail banking include the delivery satisfaction of Warba’s services in the view of the customer at around 970 bps more than the benchmark and the usefulness of the bank’s digital-banking apps (iOS, Android and Huawei) at approximately 420 bps more than the benchmark. As well, the usefulness of Warba’s website is around 350 bps more than the benchmark.
Where does Warba Bank stand on the increasing use of technology in all sectors of banking? Do you envisage the bank increasing automation and decreasing human contact?
In line with its vision to continue leading in the digital realm, Warba invests heavily in its digital banking apps and services available on iOS, Android and Huawei smartphone operating platforms for the retail-banking sector. In addition to offering essential products and services, Warba has pioneered several innovative digital-banking services that position it as a digital-first bank, especially in Kuwait. One of our top digital solutions available to retail customers is our youth banking app. Warba was the first bank to offer a banking app for youth in the region with a satisfying UX (user experience) and feature-rich interface. The banking app comes with special features, offers and discounts tailored for the segment. We also provide an in-app Mastercard Send-remittance service; the Mastercard Send service in our banking app is called Super Transfer Service. Being the first-of-its-kind remittance service in Kuwait powered by Mastercard, the service offers a unique value proposition of multiple payout channels, competitive rates, possibility of tracking payments and transferring full payments to beneficiaries without any operational charges to 30 plus countries.
And we offer our fully digital and first-of-its-kind loyalty program in our app W-Pocket, enabling users to earn and burn loyalty points. In terms of rewarding loyalty points, users earn points when paying telecom bills using Warba credit cards, inviting friends to bank with Warba and transferring personal salaries to Warba. To redeem loyalty points, users can burn points by getting certain banking services or converting points to cash. Further, Warba partners with external companies to provide other methods for redeeming points, including the purchase of goods and services from listed merchants in the app in collaboration with the local digital-wallet solution BookeeyPay; subscription for buy-one-get-one-free offers from the popular Entertainer App; and exchange of W-Pocket points for Oasis Club Miles from Kuwait Airways.
As well, we offer our first-of-its-kind in-app personal-finance-management service, which combines Warba’s key banking and finance-management services as widgets on a single page in addition to new features for users, including My Portfolio, which shows previews of assets and liabilities in Warba with the ability to add balances from other locally available banks; My Cashflow, which provides snapshots of money-in and money-out from accounts in Warba; My Growth, which reveals patterns of saving in Warba accounts.
And we provide a fully digital financing product, Express Finance. Being the first of this type of digital service to market, it enables existing customers to get Al-Wafi financing of up to 250,000 KD against collateral, without the need to pay a single visit to a Warba branch. We offer a first-of-its-kind digital-money box feature called Hassala with intuitive funding methods that encourage customers to save. Also available is our innovative and personalized in-app banking advisory service Al Mustashar that identifies and suggests the best digital solutions for users’ banking needs. We have found that the most used interfaces and navigational features are fingerprint and face-identification login services as alternate login methods for users who prefer logging in without password entry; bio verification for transactions through the banking app; dark mode theme on iOS.
On the corporate-banking front, Warba launched the following digital services for clients through the corporate online portal during the year 2020: our salary-upload service for companies to transfer employee salaries directly, which is linked to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour; merchant services to reconcile company points-of-sale and payment-gateways transactions with different types of detailed merchant statements; dashboard services that summarize customers’ accounts and term deposits with the last 10 transactions; transfer service to easily transfer funds between a company’s accounts to beneficiaries in Warba Bank, local banks and international banks; enhanced access-management function to include sub-users’ access to accounts and daily transfer limits.
How would you describe the company’s approach to customer service, and what best exemplifies this?
Warba Bank makes providing innovative financial solutions and outstanding digital experiences to help our customers fulfil their life ambitions part of its corporate mission. As per the third-party market analyst Service Hero, Warba Bank has exceeded customers’ satisfaction by 540 bps more than expected.
Based on the bank’s internal social-media sentimental analysis, the polarity KPI (key performance indicator) between the negative and positive sentiments has been in the favour of Warba Bank, which received around 170 bps fewer negative sentiments and around 230 bps more positive sentiments compared to the overall market during the year 2020.
Warba believes in keeping its employees abreast with information and banking knowledge to serve its customers with the highest quality of service and provides extensive and regular training programs to its frontline employees on each customer touchpoint. The bank uses various technology platforms such as the Yammer app and an in-house mobile-app solution called Gadha to spread product, service and banking knowledge within the organization.
Do you have any examples of successful social–responsibility initiatives or work undertaken in the community by the company?
The bank is extremely keen and open regarding its positive impact on society. As part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR), Warba Bank launched the social-banking and gamification app Fayez for Warba customers and the public with an intuitive user interface. The app comprises two components: comprehensive fitness tracking features to promote social well-being and healthy lifestyle as well as sports prediction and social engagement based on the concept of gamification.
The bank has also partnered with many charity organizations to enable and encourage customers to donate digitally. The donation methods span beyond the traditional cash donations and include donating points earned on Fayez and W-Pocket.
The bank also supports SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) by featuring them in Warba’s CSR vlogs (video blogs) on social media, especially amidst the fallout period of COVID-19.
The bank is actively releasing C-19 educational videos for digital banking and IT-security awareness, customer financial knowledge and rights, and many other topics mandated by the Central Bank of Kuwait.
Please briefly explain the key features of the bank’s partnership with Kuwait Airways. How will itspecifically benefit Warba’s customers?
The launch of the travel partnership with Kuwait Airways offers Oasis Club Miles in exchange for customers’ W-Pocket points [Warba loyalty program points] through the Warba banking app. The partnership is the first of its kind, a fully digital loyalty program that enables the redemption of loyalty points for Oasis Club Miles on the app. The unique benefits to the customers are that they can redeem the points digitally and without subscribing to a plastic card, and the conversion rate is one W-Pocket point for one Mile, which is also extremely attractive.
And please briefly explain the key features of the bank’s in-app personalized banking advisory service. In particular, how does this service help address customers’ banking needs more capably than what the bank was offering before?
The service is AI-based, using a collaborative filtering algorithm, which means that the customer receives customized product and service recommendations based on eligibility, behaviour and needs. The service is extremely effective with its advice and encourages customers to adopt many different products and services through the digital channel.
How successful has the Al Massi segment been since its inception? What are some of the most innovative digital offerings the bank has launched to assist customers within this segment?
Al Massi is a growing segment for Warba Bank, and the customer base has significantly increased. The growing demand from high-net-worth individuals is also due to the continuously expanding attractive and unique services for the segment. In early 2021, the bank launched the first-in-the-world Elite Dual Chip Card [powered by Mastercard] exclusively for the Al Massi segment.
What specifically can customers do through the digital onboarding service that they were not able to do previously? And how positive has the customer feedback for this service been since it was introduced?
New customers can open the Al Sunbula saving account, which is the bank’s most popular saving account, completely digitally. The account-opening process is based on touchless delivery, and even KYC (know your customer) is done through the digital channel. The whole process saves the customer time and is highly secure, and the user’s interaction is simple to follow. Customer feedback has been extremely positive and promising, evident from the fact that the adoption rate of account opening through the digital channel has increased by eight times year-over-year.
Mr. Al-Ghanem, it sounds as if Warba Bank’s digital-first strategy is paying off across the board. Thank you for your time today.