ONE ON ONE: Keeping an eye on consumer banking

Theodore May
6 Min Read

The ink on Kashif Sohail’s business cards is hardly dry. Barclays’ new director of consumer banking in Egypt (he’s four weeks into his tenure) comes into the job at a time when a year’s worth of upheaval in the global financial system has done little to stem a blossoming retail banking business.

Though Barclays has a roughly 100-year presence in Egypt, it only launched its retail segment two years ago. Already, though, the bank has 65 branches throughout Egypt and more than 100 ATMs.

Sohail takes his perch atop the consumer bank on the back of the growth spurt that has seen the roll out of these operations across the country.

While he maintains that the bank is still expanding, he explains that in 2009, Barclays entered a phase of consolidation, in which it will be his duty to tweak business practices and implement best practices to shore up the customer base.

“There comes a phase in your strategy when you consolidate. You identify pockets of excellence; you identify pockets of need, etc. And then will come the stage when you get into revenue optimization, he said.

One of the most interesting approaches that Barclays has taken in its retail business has been to create a mechanism for heavy customer feedback and to allow itself the flexibility to change policy to meet those needs.

Sohail, who takes on three or four customer service cases each month to get a handle on his clients’ troubles, said that one common complaint was that Barclays, like all Egyptian banks, close by 2 in the afternoon. Responding to that, all Barclays branches will all soon stay open until 5 pm, daily.

“There’s so much that the customers tell us that helps us create new products and services, he said.

In another example, Sohail said that one client approached him, saying that Barclays had no mechanism by which clients could renegotiate the term of a loan. The customer, Sohail noted, was solvent and on time with his payments, but he simply wanted a change. Recently, therefore, Barclays Egypt introduced a new product, though which clients would have the option to make that change.

In addition to seeking out personal customer feedback, looking at market trends is also central to determining customer needs.

“If you look at banks both globally and within the region, he said, “the banks that are succeeding the most are the ones that can actually look ahead and identify those trends and then works backwards to say, ok, what do I do now to make that change happen in that one person’s life?

Just two years after launch, the bank boasts 360,000 customers. In January of this year, it had 10,000 credit cards in the market. Today it has over 100,000.

And while Sohail is mum on any immediate growth in infrastructure, he says that his current mission is to maximize customer numbers and satisfaction roughly given the existing infrastructure.

It’s with that aim that Sohail has implemented a fascinating level of flexibility, even from branch to branch, for how Barclays approaches its customers.

“There’s no point in being one size fits all.. We rely on analytics, rely on customer usage, rely on customer requirement, and enable our services accordingly, he said. Sohail is fond of talking about Barclays’ holistic approach to banking, wherein it looks to offer clients account options and lines of credit that will fill all of their needs. Allowing a bank in Upper Egypt to take a slightly different approach with its clients from a Cairo branch in an upscale neighborhood, he believes, will maximize the bank’s business potential.

For a man whose aim, at least in the abstract, is to move the retail bank from the consolidation phase to the optimization phase, tailoring a branch or a product to meet customer needs is central.

To cater to the high-end clients, Barclays just introduced the platinum card, which comes with a data chip to maximize security.

At the end of the day, Sohail is something of a matchmaker. Working to understand customer needs, he also says that having a well-trained group of employees is essential for the two sides to be able to do business – even if that means allowing the branches and divisions the flexibility to create their products to meet the needs of the customers.

With a tight focus on the mission of the bank, Sohail says that giving employees maximum flexibility to pursue clients has been and will continue to be a key to success for Barclays.

To read the other stories in our monthly special focus on Egypt s banking sector, click here:

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