Putting customers and staff first: CIB’s response to Covid-19

When Covid-19 struck, Commercial International Bank's adoption of digital technology and well-thought-out response plan meant that the leading Egyptian bank was already ahead of the game, as CEO and Executive Director Hussein Majid Abaza explains.

How did CIB deal with the challenges thrown up by the pandemic?

The Covid-19 pandemic is a global public health crisis and when dealing with a very dynamic yet disastrous situation with direct impact on the health and safety of people, there is no option but to be proactive, plan for the worst, get priorities straight and lead a timely response.

Since 2014 CIB has maintained a comprehensive Pandemic Response Plan that has been regularly updated and communicated to response teams to ensure their full awareness of their roles during a pandemic. In addition, Crisis Management and Crisis Communication plans were in place and were subject to annual review, which allowed CIB to respond smoothly and in a timely manner.

Our Business Continuity Plans were key. We concentrated on our employees and customers and our financial position. So, we instructed half our employees to work from home, prioritising those at greatest risk, as well as pregnant women and mothers with young children. We also set up a 24/7 hotline for staff to report coronavirus symptoms and get help.

For customers, we created ways to perform more transactions through online and mobile banking. Meanwhile, hand sanitiser dispensers were installed at all our ATMs. Finally, we remain in compliance with all regulatory ratio requirements.

Our asset base is composed of almost 50% sovereign investments. We are at a capital adequacy ratio of 29.5%, which puts us in a solid position. CIB has a Contingency Funding Plan to manage liquidity and we have minimised market risk. The Bank’s Assets and Liabilities Committee is monitoring market developments.

Though the coronavirus crisis has been disruptive, would you agree that it has also created opportunities for banks in the digitalisation process?

Definitely! We’re proud that CIB’s business model has proven its resilience. Our early adoption of digital banking was a crucial advantage as a high number of customers were already using our digital products.

We didn’t launch new digital products during the pandemic, but enhanced existing platforms to accommodate the influx of new users. We created offline requests to allow clients to perform more transactions through online and mobile banking services, waived fees, and in-person transaction requirements, significantly reducing the number of customers in our branches.

We are continuing to develop payment services through CIB Smart Wallet, a mobile application that allows customers to pay bills, buy from merchants using QR codes and send money. CIB is currently ranked number one for domestic digital transfers and government e-payments and its Mobile Banking app is one of the most downloaded financial apps in the market

Do these steps represent a continuation of a long-term strategy to become more customer-centric?

These steps to make our services more accessible are part of our long term digital transformation strategy. In line with this, we have embraced the alphabet of the future: ABCD – artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud, and data. The future is digital and remote banking, which directly impacts our ability to enhance our customer service. We utilise data science and analytics to better serve our customers and provide them with tailored products and services that cater to their ever-changing needs. This crisis has stressed the importance of accessibility. We have addressed this by creating innovative, easy to use, remote tools for customers of all ages, and educational and social backgrounds.

Has the timeline for digital transformation changed?

CIB is leading digital change in the Egyptian banking market. Advances in big data, artificial intelligence and process automation are enabling us to become a more lean and efficient organisation while deploying our people where they can make the biggest difference. More thinking with and for our clients. More time spent cultivating and deepening relationships. Much less time doing work best left to machines.

We have repositioned to ensure we are agile, able to harness shifts in technology and respond to clients’ evolving preferences. Our growing network of branches serves those who want face-to-face contact and our easy-to-use online and mobile banking solutions are ideal for those who want to take charge of their financial future from their handset, tablet or laptop.

We have long supported the Central Bank’s efforts to promote digital solutions. For the post-Covid world, we will continue to expand our digital offerings. I think several, if not all, Egyptian banks will expedite their digital transformation because this crisis has shown the importance of these tools. In day-to-day business too, banks will use video conferencing and other remote connection tools and rely less on physical meetings.

Despite the pandemic, CIB became the first Egyptian bank to venture into the Kenyan market. Can you tell us about the deal?

In April 2020, CIB successfully acquired 51% of what is now known as the Mayfair–CIB Bank Limited in Kenya for $35.35 million. The partnership combines both entities’ strengths – CIB has technical expertise, know-how and a vast correspondent banking network; Mayfair has local knowledge and can navigate via its existing shareholders.

How does the Kenyan deal fit into CIB’s growth and expansion strategy?

When we looked to expand our presence globally, we looked no further than Africa. We identified growth opportunities in the African market, mainly the young population and low bank penetration. The bank’s management formulated a strategy to seize these opportunities and enable Egyptian customers to benefit from regional integration efforts across the continent. We looked at African countries, especially Kenya, pioneering the use of digital banking and launching easy-to-use solutions to increase financial inclusion and reach the underbanked or unbanked segments of their populations. These tools help channel funds from the informal economy into the formal one and translates to national economic growth.