By Thomas Shambler
Khalid Elgibali, Mastercard's Division President for the Middle East and North Africa, says successful businesses must innovate above all else
So far this year, the banking industry as a whole has seemed rather resilient. Would you agree?
I think on the heels of the 2008 and 2009 crisis, the banking industry and financial markets have really bounced back and shown a lot of resilience. Locally, I think there was a lot of strategic vision put in place, and that has led to reform across the industry. In fact, it is still happening as we speak. We're seeing a spate of smart consolidations, with several more in the pipeline. I feel this is all with the objective of ensuring that the financial sector – represented by the main players, banks and the like – remains resilient. It has to, as it needs to support the grandiose visions of the UAE more generally, and Dubai specifically.
What's the biggest challenge facing your industry today?
The single biggest challenge – but at the same time, we all know that any challenge is just an opportunity in disguise – is that the traditional means of doing business, the kind that we have enjoyed for the last ten, twenty, even fifty years, is not going to be the same over the next five or ten years. I know that I'm stating the obvious here, but it's important we recognize that and have a plan for these changes so that the big players don't go obsolete.
The basis for this is that consumer behaviour is changing and evolving quicker than ever. I recently attended a two day workshop, and there was a futurist speaking. He was saying – and I agree with him – that the baseline for generations (from when you would say, "This is the start of a new generation") is changing at an unprecedented pace. What do I mean by that? Well, my sons are ten and eight years old. If I showed them today an icon of a telephone with a rotary dial, they wouldn't recognize it as a telephone. To them, a telephone is a tablet with a touchscreen. Not even a flip-out mobile, or a traditional button keypad. When they think telephone, all they have known is a touchscreen device.
So that baseline is very different than from not just other generations but from people ten years their senior. Another example, computers used to be mainframes, then they were desktops, then laptops and now they are iPads and smartphones. Computers are handheld now; mobile phones are considered the computers of today.
One of the results of this rapidly changing consciousness is that these young adults are entering the workforce with vastly different definitions of things they do. They speak and behave very differently. If for example, you wanted to facilitate payments to this generation, they'll accept it. But their expectations of how you would go about that would be very different. They want to do everything they need and want to – including payments, including banking and financial transactions – via their mobile phone.
Most people will use a computer when it comes to mobile banking. What your saying is that the next generation still does that. However, their definition of 'computer' is that of their mobile phone?
Exactly. In this part of the world specifically, when compared to Europe, almost 70 percent of the population is willing and wanting to carry out financial transactions on their phone. That number is around 38 percent in more developed regions like Europe. And that's grown out of those quickly evolving habits that I mentioned before, but also the proliferation of technology.
Keeping up with that rapid change, that's a problem. But it's also an opportunity for those willing to participate actively and create solutions that might not be traditional ones, per se.
For example, we talk a lot about chat bots today – that's a technology-based solution that ensures a customer maintains a one-on-one relationship with a service provider. Chatbots provide a custom-solution to a particular consumer – of course, this technology is built off something we call advanced predictive technologies and span demographic and psychographic profiles. But this is just one type of solution that is being developed right now, and we build many more of these solutions ourselves at Mastercard. Changing technology is both a challenge and an opportunity. You just need to be willing to participate in these new ecosystems and help develop them continually.
How would you describe the culture at Mastercard?
It's extremely collaborative. Most organizations will say they are all about teamwork and support and those buzzwords, but for us, collaboration is built-in to the ethos of the company. We're very lean; I think globally we are around 12,000 employees – which seems quite large until you realize that we are a multi-billion dollar company spread across every region around the globe and that sustainably delivers success. The only way to do that is to see it as a team sport. We don't rely on a meeting once a month, or a presentation with the entire company every six months or anything like that. We have those types of interactions on a daily basis, in the corridors of our offices all around the world, in discussions and chats over coffees. Everything is quite seamless, and our creativity stems from how we interact with each other.
So companies should ditch meetings?
Of course, we have meetings. There are forms, and committees and every organization has that. But what I am saying is that a lot more happens outside those built-in business interactions. I think if I were to give one piece of advice to anyone joining Mastercard it would be to talk to people. Discuss, ask questions and be inquisitive. That's part of the very DNA of our organization.
Don't assume something can't be done. At the end of the day, we're a technology company, and you can do anything with technology. If we have to create something entirely new that no one has seen before, we can do that. How long it will take or how much it will cost, that is a different consideration, and obviously, businesspeople will take into account that before bringing anything to market. But don't assume. Don't be straight-jacketed by what can and cannot be done. The sky is very much the limit because it has to be considering how fast the world is changing.