Banks in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) are the strongest believers in a cashless society, according to a global retail banking survey released by Temenos (SIX: TEMN), the banking software company.
The in-depth survey conducted in 2019 by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) on behalf of Temenos reveals that 6 in 10 Middle East and African banking executives think cash will dip below 5% of retail transactions in the next five years, compared to a global average of 48% who think the same. The lockdown measures imposed by governments worldwide in light of the evolving Coronavirus pandemic are also expected to increase the need for and use of digital banking and payment solutions globally.
The EIU report entitled “A Whole New World: How technology is driving the evolution of intelligent banking in the Middle East and Africa” indicates that MEA retail banks are highly conscious of the threats financial exclusion and delaying digitalisation pose to their business models. Respondents acknowledge consumer demands for accessible, hyper-personalized digital banking experiences, ranking changing customer demands as the highest-impact trend by 2020 (35%). A plurality of MEA banking executives – 43% of respondents – identify new technologies, including AI, as the most impactful trend on their sector by 2025.
In order to capitalise on these trends, MEA retail banks recognize the need to sharpen digital marketing skills to bring excluded customers into the banking sphere. As such, mastering digital marketing and engagement is considered the top strategic priority for retail banks in the near term (35% by 2020), and in the medium term (35% by 2025). Notably, higher numbers of MEA respondents believe digital marketing is also the most valuable use for new technologies (23% versus 13% globally). These findings indicate that MEA retail banks believe investing in digital technologies to target and attract the un- and underbanked is crucial.
The survey reveals that the Middle East, in particular, is poised to encourage digital financial inclusion, with young populations and smartphone use predicted to hit 74% by 2025. Governments across the entire MEA region are increasingly embracing digital agendas to encourage financial inclusion and accelerate digital banking and a cashless economy. The affordability of smartphones is a key driver in the new development of building mobile-only and mobile-first greenfield banks, the top innovation strategy chosen by 37% of MEA-based respondents alongside investing in fintech start-ups (37%). Nearly one in three respondents (29%) is innovating by building a greenfield fintech firm, also a top five pick among global respondents (25%).