By Charles Habak, Principal, Financial Services at Booz Allen Hamilton

The banking sector in the Middle East & North Africa is entering into a period of mass digital transformation. This new era will positively impact financial institutions that adopt a top-down, concerted approach to the new digital era and, at the same time, hamper those institutions that do not effectively adapt to change. Five key trends expected in 2017 include:

Digital banking: Digital banking denotes an entirely new business model – it is not just about having a mobile app, but rather entails a newly defined business model that is powered through the digital space. Successful banks will launch and evolve new business models with stand-out value propositions and competitive pricing, while achieving lower operational costs. In the years to come, this will uniquely position them to gain market share and drive their brand into the digital era.

Big data and analytics: Big data has been the chatter of the MENA industry over the past years, with progress slower than initially expected. This has been due to erroneous or incomplete data, more limited public data sets, and a lack of internal capabilities. For instance, how many financial institutions can state that they have a strong team of data scientists, or that they have implemented analytics around their top customer-driven scenarios? Awareness is gaining traction, and well-managed banks are expected to start assimilating big data and advanced analytics into their most important customer journeys, and progressively adapt their management styles accordingly.

Cybersecurity: On the back of increasing cyberattacks and breaches in international and regional financial institutions, cyber security will, for the first time in the MENA region, emerge as one of the top priorities for CEOs and Boards of Directors. Financial institutions that are ahead of the curve and effectively embed cybersecurity into their risk frameworks will invest significantly in building the right capabilities and governance structures. These, in turn, will equip them to preemptively address incidents that could potentially damage their operations as well as reputation.

Advanced digital: Customers continue to expect more from their banks; they want speed, ease-of-use, limited cost and transparency. As a result, we expect to see opportunities emerging in more advanced areas such as predictive analytics, machine learning, wearables, robo advisory and customer support, to name a few, which have largely been nascent in the region to-date. Banks that leverage such technologies underpinned by sound business cases and clear customer scenarios will benefit in the short-term from greater brand recognition. In the medium-term, these technologies will help build a foundation for the required capabilities to capitalise on the next wave of customer demands.

Specialised job creation: Digital transformation in the financial services sector will also play a crucial role in job creation for specialized and more advanced digital skill sets. Personnel will be added and play an increasingly important role in areas such as data science, UI design, customer experience design, digital application development, digital payments, cyber security and digital governance.

The economic climate for 2017 will result in limited new initiatives by most financial institutions. Conversely, regional leaders and visionaries will double their efforts on high-priority digital initiatives. Those that will lead clear and targeted business initiatives will reap tremendous dividends in the years to come, while those that will focus largely on technology for technology’s sake will incrementally enhance their brand but will be largely disappointed by the results.