Q: The Jordan Kuwait bank was the first region’s bank to launch contactless biometric cards using Thales tech. What have been the other key achievements and evolution of the Jordan Kuwait Bank in recent years?
We’re a 45-year-old bank now and we have around 67 branches. Historically, we looked more at the corporate side of lending element and many higher end salary customers on the private sector domain. We decided that back maybe in 2018, and prior to that, maybe even that we needed to diversify more into the retail and SME sector. As you know, Jordan has quite a bit of challenges on the employment side. And today, the SME sector is really the largest in terms of number of companies in terms of being the largest employer and we thought that we needed to tap into that market for more than one reason, one being a diversified portfolio, and two as well being an active, positive influencer to the economy.
Earlier this year, we signed an agreement with the EIB (European Investment Bank) where we took a facility of around $120 million that would be utilized for lending to the SME sectors and in specific sectors that were negatively affected by COVID to have a more sort of active role in trying to push back the economy. So contactless and other digital products, I think, are the way forward in terms of evolving and moving towards a more customer centric, seamless customer experience.
We’re completely revamping our mobile banking platform, our corporate banking, digital platform, and doing a significant number of investments on the digital side. But we can’t ignore the importance of the core side of lending and providing the commercial banking services to an SME sector in specific. Of course, the regulator back in the beginning of COVID, so from March, April 2020, came out with mechanisms in terms of feeding and assisting sectors with getting installments of restructuring and what have you. And we played an active role in that to try and assist customers not from defaulting during the tough lockdown periods.
Q: The global pandemic situation forced many businesses to get loans and credits to keep their business open after the lockdown, to get a clear view, would you share with us how the situation has been handled by the Jordan Kuwait Bank and what are the expectations for the next year?
With every challenge and negative situation, you have the silver lining for the banks, and dealing with this was the ability to grow your digital offering in all honesty. With the lockdown, people realize that they were completely cut off. And customers that didn’t really pay attention to mobile banking or doing their transfers, paying their bills, doing their corporate commercial business online. We realized that they needed to have that and quickly we had huge growth in terms of customers coming and utilizing these online services.
I think it was managed well initially. First of all, this pandemic affected the whole globe, it wasn’t only Jordan, it was everywhere, everyone saw that it was a global chaos.
At the same time, when everyone’s going crazy, there’s that sense of calm that it’s not just us it’s everyone else that is going through that problem. I think the digital side was one side, we were well pleased what position as a bank, we were the first Jordanian bank maybe 15 years ago to be acknowledged as having the best internet banking service, then continue to evolve that service. I think most banks in Jordan have done well when it comes to the digital e-channel experience. The challenge is that Jordan is a relatively limited resource country with that and the government didn’t have the ability to subsidize sectors that were closed or subsidized sectors that were affected. What was done was a fund under the management of the central bank was available to them cheap funds to assist these companies to weather the storm. But in the end, we’re lending, they were not that handout that we saw in many countries that help the economic cycle of spending going on.
Q: What are the other Corporate Social Responsibility actions taken to help and improve the community?
We adopted a small one, which is sort of on the way to the Dead Sea on the left-hand side over there. Jordan has some of the most southernmost pine forests in the world. Things like women empowerment and women in the workforce, whether it’s acknowledging the importance of the gender gap within the bank, and putting a target to reaching a 50% representation for the genders and addressing the importance of empowering females within the executive management and onboard representation. And going further towards segmenting and analyzing customer base because a lot of times, banks in the end, historically looking at if I’m going to lend somebody all I want to make sure is I get back and you don’t really analyze your customer base in terms of their commitment towards sustainability to the environment, to woman empowerment, to gender equality and what have you today. These are things that we start looking at and seeing that these customers are responsible customers, are responsible citizens and themselves. It takes time. But I mean, that’s something that we are starting to incorporate within the bank’s ethos as well. In terms of where we align ourselves and CSR, our main hitters are usually youth training and capacity building, health and environment so we’re one of the biggest contributors to a fund that was established a year ago to assist in easing the impact of covid on different sectors. And we continue every year to sponsor underprivileged students that don’t have the ability to pay for university and sponsor or some people that need to have attention going to hospitals.
Q: In which main sectors are you currently working with US and UAE companies?
There’s a lot of Emirati UAE based investments in Jordan. So today, we have a number of clients that have investments in Jordan, that deal with Jordan Kuwait Bank, rather more than us financing or having a relationship with companies that are based in the UAE, we have a few clients out of Cyprus where we assist in the UAE because I’m not allowed to lend out of Jordan. But today projects like for example, the St. Regis Hotel and residents, that’s a customer that we are their main bank. We’ve financed that from the beginning and that’s a completely UAE owned company there are others in the development side.
Q: What is your final message to all our readers about the Jordan Kuwait Bank benefits?
I think today, it’s extremely important in today’s world to realize that, in the end, customers want a bank that is more than just a bank. And the banks are many and plentiful and then most of them offer the same products and services. Whether it’s on the lending side, whether it’s on the trade finance side, whether it’s on the deposit side.
There are customers that are quite sensitive and look for cheaper loans. And there are customers that look for good customer service and a good customer experience. But I think more and more we’re seeing the global citizen be it corporate customer or individual customer realizing the importance of dealing with the responsible bank, the bank that is a responsible citizen, be it on the CSR side be it in terms of addressing their responsibility towards the environment, their carbon footprint, gender equality and that today in terms of the level of reporting and transparency, I think is all about it.
A responsible corporate client that wants to make their choice, would choose Jordan Kuwait Bank based on that.