JAYASH PATEL, THE HEAD OF LIV. EMIRATES_NBD/SUPPLIED
What are your views on digital banking in the UAE?
Suvo Sarkar (SS): With the UAE having one of the world’s highest rates of smartphone and internet penetration, we are seeing quick adoption of digital channels by customers in the country for financial services.
More and more customers across different age groups and backgrounds are becoming active users of mobile and online channels, exhibiting a strong preference for ‘anytime, anywhere’ banking. Close to half of UAE’s banking customers are now digitally active, in line with global averages, and using electronic channels twice a week on the average to track spends or carry out transactions.
While most traditional banks have been adapting to this shifting landscape by digitising their offerings, we have been witnessing a growing demand among the UAE’s 2.5 million millennials for a very different digital banking offering. Millennials are true digital natives, with over nine in ten owning smartphones and spending an average of three hours per day on social media platforms.
They are driven by experiences rather than products and expect their bank to fit in with their on-the-go lifestyle. To cater to this new generation, Emirates NBD launched Liv., the region’s first lifestyle-focused mobile-only bank, built entirely new ground-up also by a team of millennials.
Tell us more about how a digital bank works?
Jayash Patel (JP): When conventional banks undertake a digital transformation process, they are often constrained by legacy systems, processes and policies. However, a digital-only bank has a key advantage in that it is specifically built to address the needs and preferences of digital native consumers who have grown up with the internet, smartphone and social media.
Liv. was introduced to cater to this evolution in banking preferences of millennials. As a mobile-only bank, Liv. is always thinking digital-first rather than trying to digitise existing products and services, and we had the opportunity to re-imagine the entire relationship with the customer in the process. In the process, Liv. gives back control to customers, empowering them to take charge of the experience and delivering a more personalised and custom-built banking journey.
In the two years since its launch, Liv. has disrupted traditional industry paradigms to offer customers a lifestylebased intuitive banking experience that enables them to keep track of their daily life and their finances in one app.
The app offers customers several unique features catering to millennial customer preferences, including instant fully mobile based account opening, curated and personalised content, social media-based money transfers and gamification to offer an engaging experience. Liv.’s millennialfriendly proposition is further supported by partnerships with several popular and homegrown new generation brands, enabling customers to access a range of personalised promotions and offers they prefer.
Following the launch of Liv., what kind of uptake and ROI have you seen?
JP: Ever since its launch in 2017, Liv. has seen tremendous uptake among customers in the UAE. It is today the fastest growing bank in the country, recently crossing the 200,000-customer milestone. Acquiring the first 100,000 customers took us around 14 months whereas the second 100,000 took us only seven months, so our rate of acquisitions is accelerating.
Five in six of our customers are millennials and we see accounts being opened on a 24/7 basis. In fact, two out of five Liv. accounts (40 per cent) are today being opened between 8pm and 8am, when most banks are closed. We also see new account openings from remote areas of the country, a clear indicator of the widespread appetite for digital banking.
Millennials also rely on peer referrals to make informed decisions, and we see happy Liv. customers referring their friends and family, making word-of-mouth one of our strongest acquisition drivers. As a digital-only bank, Liv. operates from a lower cost base compared to a conventional bank, helping us deliver better margins eventually.
We have zero branches or sales teams, making our cost of acquisition a tenth of the main bank and overall cost to income ratios about half. As we add more products and services and continue to scale up, we expect to see increased momentum and profitable growth.
What are some of the main challenges you have faced as a digital bank?
SS: One of our early challenges was scaling up the platform as quickly as we wanted to, given that some of Emirates NBD’s core IT platforms which also support Liv. we’re undergoing an enhancement in parallel. While this initially slowed down our go to market timelines, we are now able to achieve an app update release once in three weeks on an average.
Another issue is that the ecosystem in which Liv. operates is not yet fully digital, thus presenting a few challenges in integrating relevant information easily to enable completely seamless customer experiences. Liv. was also launched as a start-up by Emirates NBD, an unprecedented step for one of the region’s leading banks.
This brought with it the challenge of working from a completely new mind-set needed to incubate and launch a start-up: of thinking and operating like a challenger instead of a champion, developing the ability to take risks and quickly absorb failures, and fostering an agile team culture.
How does Liv. plan to expand its footprint and offering in the region?
SS: Despite being a relatively new entrant to the UAE’s banking scene, Liv. is fast becoming the bank of choice for the UAE’s millennial customer base on the back of its unique lifestyle-led proposition. Given the strong market acceptance for Liv. since its rollout, we are actively looking at opportunities to expand the platform to other millennial-majority markets in the MENA region such as KSA and Egypt, where Emirates NBD has an existing presence.
Going forward, Liv. will also continue to expand its product suite in the UAE as well as address needs of other emerging segments, such as Generation Z customers who are increasingly entering the workforce. Liv.’s success is testament to the growing maturity of the UAE market, as consumers embrace digital innovation in all aspects of their life.
The bank has been a leader in bringing to market millennial-friendly products, services and features, such as the Goal Account, which allows customers to set and save towards financial goals to help them achieve more of what they want, whether it is travel, a gift for a loved one or to simply save for a rainy day.
We will also continue to team up with innovative tech firms to bring latest tools to the market that can help us improve our customer experience. One example of this is our partnership with US-based Kasisto, the creators of the KAI Banking Conventional AI platform for finance, to introduce Olivia—Liv.’s first chatbot powered by AI that will enable us to respond to customer queries quickly in line with our growing customer base.
We plan to invest in further evolving Olivia’s functionalities to develop a more engaging and convenient banking experience. As Liv. looks to expand its presence across the region, we are also setting up a cloud-based IT platform that will help us scale Liv. quickly to new markets. In addition, we are exploring facial recognition mechanisms, big databased analytics and fraud prevention technologies to help provide a convenient and safe experience for customers.
Last but not the least, Liv. will also continue to engage customers through exciting promotions, recently announcing an exciting campaign offering one lucky customer the chance to win his or her private island. All that customers need to do is use their Liv. app and debit card to carry out transactions or sign up for new products to earn ‘Livion’ loyalty points to qualify directly or through a draw to participate in a group competition and emerge as the final winner.