Desert to Digital: Amer Rajkhan on Saudi Arabia’s Meteoric Rise in the Digital Realm
In the heart of the desert blooms a digital oasis, with Saudi Arabia at its epicenter. Amer Rajkhan, navigating this tech transformation, sheds light on a nation not just riding the digital wave, but sculpting it. Dive in to discover how age-old traditions meld with cutting-edge innovation, setting global benchmarks.
Chief Executive Officer
The key to striking this balance lies in a thoughtful blending of local and global perspectives. It's about making sure you're attuned to local needs and preferences while also being savvy enough to adapt global trends and best practices to your local market.
The Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, has seen a massive surge in digital adoption over the past few years. Can you describe how digital strategies has evolved in Middle East in response to these changes?
The Middle East, with Saudi Arabia as a shining example, is undergoing a transformative digital journey. This region is not just adapting to the global digital wave but is actively shaping it, setting benchmarks for others to emulate. The proactive approach of governments, especially Saudi Arabia’s, towards digital transformation has been a catalyst for change. Their vision of a digitally enabled nation has spurred institutions, including ours, to accelerate their digital strategies.
Our institution has been an active participant in this transformation, aligning our goals with the broader vision of the government. The emphasis on digital integration has been further magnified by global events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and strategic initiatives like Vision 2030. These events have underscored the importance of a robust digital infrastructure for sustained growth and resilience.
Saudi Arabia’s demographic, characterized by its young, tech-savvy population, is a significant asset. When combined with a government that champions innovation and digital growth, the result is a nation poised to lead the digital journey, making it not just a necessity but an exciting venture for all stakeholders involved.
How does digital strategy and development in the Middle East differ from other regions, and what unique challenges and opportunities have you encountered in this realm?
That’s an excellent question. One of the unique aspects of digital transformation in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, is the collective willingness to change. Unlike some other regions where the push for digital adaptation comes from individual organizations, here, the entire nation—across all sectors—embraces digital transformation. The youth of our population and the government’s proactive approach make this transition much easier.
Customer-centricity is another hallmark of our approach. Whether it’s the government or individual businesses, the end-user—be it a citizen or a client—is always at the center of our digital services. We always aim to understand what the customer needs and how to overcome their challenges with digital solutions.
Another advantage we have is our relatively low burden of legacy systems, particularly when compared to older economies like those in Europe. While we’re not completely free from legacy technology, our journey to adopt modern technology has been smoother, enabling us to scale and innovate more rapidly. This creates a competitive edge that allows us to swiftly transition from old to new technology platforms, providing more room for innovation and scalability in the future.
Europe has been a major player in the global financial ecosystem and has its distinct regulatory landscape and banking trends. How does you view the Middle East role and engagement in the European market, and are there any specific strategies or collaborations in place to strengthen ties with European financial institutions?
Europe, with its rich financial history and expertise, serves as a valuable reference point for global financial trends. Our engagement with European markets is characterized by mutual respect and a desire for knowledge exchange. We view this relationship as an opportunity to learn, adapt, and co-create strategies that cater to our distinct market dynamics.
While Europe offers a wealth of knowledge, it’s essential to recognize that not every European strategy can be directly transposed to our region. Our approach is to absorb the lessons, both successes and failures, from Europe and then tailor them to fit our unique market conditions. This ensures that our strategies are both globally informed and locally relevant.
Moreover, our vision extends beyond Europe. We are actively exploring emerging markets to ensure a diverse and holistic understanding of global financial trends. By combining European expertise with insights from other regions, we aim to craft a well-rounded and effective financial strategy.
Many traditional banks globally have started collaborating with fintech startups. Do you think it’s something inevitable or just another trend?
The evolving financial landscape is characterized by the synergy between traditional banks and fintech startups. This collaboration is not a fleeting trend but a strategic evolution that promises to redefine the contours of the financial sector. Fintech startups, with their agility and niche focus, complement the vast infrastructure and trust associated with traditional banks. These partnerships amplify the positive economic impact and redefine financial services. By integrating the innovative solutions offered by fintechs, banks can provide more streamlined, accessible, and tailored services to their customers.
This collaboration ensures that customers get the best of both worlds: the trust and reliability of traditional banks and the innovation and efficiency of fintechs. While fintech services might appear to be independent offerings, they essentially provide banking services with a unique twist. This collaboration broadens the reach of financial services, ensuring that a wider audience can access and benefit from modern financial solutions.
How do you cultivate a culture of innovation within Jeel, ensuring that you stay at the forefront of banking technology while maintaining the trust and reliability customers expect?
Cultivating a culture of innovation is a multi-faceted endeavor for us at Jeel. First and foremost, it’s about assembling the right team—people who are passionate, skilled, and driven to innovate. The human element is crucial for fostering a culture that’s open to new ideas and willing to explore uncharted territories.
Secondly, we’ve embraced a ‘startup mindset’ for our operational model. Every new idea is treated like a startup opportunity. A dedicated team works on developing, scaling, and integrating the idea as if they were running a startup. This approach has injected agility into our operations and allows us to pivot quickly when needed.
Research and development also play a crucial role. We’re continually scanning the market landscape for trends and insights that can be adapted to financial services. To ensure we’re not confined by our own perspectives, we regularly engage with industry experts through workshops to broaden our horizons and challenge our assumptions.
Experimentation is another cornerstone of our innovation strategy. We’re not afraid to prototype, test, and iterate. For instance, we dabbled in developing an offering for the metaverse. Although it was ahead of its time for the market, the experiment led us to create a hybrid experience that blends mobile apps and metaverse elements, offering our customers a next-level user experience.
Lastly, we’re disciplined in our approach. While we’re eager to explore all avenues of innovation, we also believe in maintaining focus. We have designated focus areas to ensure that our efforts are directed and impactful.
As the digital realm grows, so do concerns about data ethics, privacy, and user rights. How are you approaching these topics, ensuring both compliance and trustworthiness in its digital services and platforms?
Data ethics, privacy, and user rights are not just buzzwords for us at Jeel; they’re the backbone of our digital strategy. Fortunately, we operate in an environment that has stringent regulations on data security, cybersecurity, and fraud prevention, which means we’re always in alignment with best practices dictated by various regulatory bodies.
As we’ve moved to agile methodologies, security has been deeply integrated into our operations. We’ve transitioned from a DevOps to a DevSecOps model because we recognize that security cannot be an afterthought—it needs to be a part of the development process right from the beginning. This is especially crucial as we innovate and expand our services to touchpoints that collect various types of data from our customers.
Early on in any innovation or project, we start by classifying the types of data we’ll be handling—identifying what is private, what requires customer consent, and what can be used for internal purposes like analytics. This early focus on data classification and security is pivotal, even though it might increase the upfront investment. It dictates the direction of the project: whether we need to recalibrate our approach or can proceed as planned.
We have a dedicated team that specializes in security and compliance, constantly reviewing our processes and innovations to ensure they meet the highest standards. This focus on security also creates opportunities for us to innovate in the fraud prevention space. For example, we started with One-Time Passwords (OTP) delivered via SMS, then moved to hardware tokens, and are now exploring biometrics as an additional layer of security.
In essence, our commitment to data ethics, privacy, and user rights is integrated into our DNA. It’s not just about compliance; it’s about building a digital service platform that our customers can truly trust.
AI is rapidly influencing various sectors. How are you in Jeel leveraging AI in its banking operations, customer service, and other areas?
AI is an exciting frontier for us at Jeel. Interestingly, our perspective on the practical applications of AI changed significantly with the emergence of platforms like Chat GPT.
While I personally am not an expert on AI, its relevance and potential became more apparent to me after seeing what a conversational AI like Chat GPT could do. It moved from being a concept we “need to explore” to a technology we “need to integrate.”
In terms of operational integration, AI is already playing a role at Jeel in the realm of advanced analytics. We use machine learning algorithms to sift through vast sets of data to generate actionable insights. This forms the basis of several decisions we make within the bank. However, as the technology matures, we’ve taken a step back to reconsider how AI can be integrated even more deeply into our services.
Education has been a key part of this process. We’ve initiated a series of sessions with experts in the field to bring our team up to speed on what AI can really offer. This re-evaluation of our understanding of AI is a crucial step for its future implementation. The goal is to make AI as ubiquitous in our processes as security is today, embedded in everything we do. It can help us analyze customer behavior, offer intelligent suggestions, and even guide internal decision-making through predictive analytics.
When it comes to customer experience, however, we’re proceeding with caution. Any AI that interfaces directly with customers needs to be rigorously tested to avoid errors that could compromise trust. We’re exploring the best use cases for AI interactions with customers, and it’s an area we expect will grow faster than anticipated.
One immediate application we’re experimenting with is within our HR department. Not everyone has the time or inclination to read through lengthy HR policies. So we’re working on integrating chatbots like Chat GPT to serve as an interactive FAQ, answering employee questions about policies and procedures. This is a simple yet effective way to get our feet wet as we expand our understanding and implementation of AI technologies.
AI at Jeel is not just a concept; it’s an evolving practice that we’re continually learning about and integrating into our operations. We’re optimistic about its potential to revolutionize how we do business, serve our customers, and enhance our internal processes.
With advancements like blockchain, digital currencies, and more, what do you foresee as the most impactful trends in the future of finance and banking in the next decade?
The banking sector is on the cusp of a transformative shift, with ‘Banking as a Service’ (BaaS) emerging as a pivotal trend. BaaS represents a departure from traditional banking models, where financial services were confined within the walls of banking institutions. Instead, BaaS envisions a world where banking functionalities are embedded within a myriad of business activities, from e-commerce platforms to social media apps. This seamless integration means that consumers can access financial services not just when they walk into a bank or log into a banking a more inclusive financial ecosystem. Traditional banking models, with their stringent requirements and often cumbersome processes, have inadvertently left out a significant portion of the population. BaaS, with its emphasis on accessibility and user experience, has the potential to bridge this gap. By integrating banking services into platforms and services that people already use, we can reach a wider audience, including those who have been historically underserved or excluded from the financial system. This democratization of financial services can lead to increased economic participation, fostering growth and reducing inequalities.
However, the journey towards a BaaS-dominated landscape is not without challenges. It requires collaboration between banks, tech companies, regulators, and other stakeholders. Data security, regulatory compliance, and ensuring a consistent user experience across different platforms are some of the hurdles to overcome. But the potential benefits — from driving financial inclusion to spurring innovation — make it a pursuit worth striving for. As we look to the future, it’s clear that BaaS will redefine the contours of the banking sector, creating a dynamic, inclusive, and customer-centric financial ecosystem.
app, but at multiple touchpoints in their daily lives. Whether it’s making a payment, applying for a loan, or managing investments, BaaS aims to make these services accessible, efficient, and user-centric.
This convergence of banking with other sectors is not just about convenience; it’s about creating
How Jeel is working towards enhancing financial inclusion in the Middle East, particularly in reaching underserved populations or those without traditional banking access?
At Jeel, financial inclusion is more than just a corporate objective; it’s a deeply ingrained mission that drives our every initiative and strategy. We recognize the transformative power of financial services in uplifting communities, fostering economic growth, and empowering individuals. However, despite the advancements in the banking sector, a significant portion of the population remains underserved or entirely excluded from the financial system. This disparity is not just a regional challenge but a global one. We’ve taken inspiration from successful financial inclusion models around the world, from mobile banking solutions in Africa to microfinance initiatives in Asia. These global models serve as a testament to the fact that with innovation, determination, and a customer-centric approach, it’s possible to bridge the financial divide.
Our commitment to financial inclusion is multifaceted. Firstly, we’re leveraging technology to create solutions tailored to the unique needs of those who have traditionally been left out of the banking ecosystem. This includes digital platforms that cater to individuals without formal employment records, simplified KYC (Know Your Customer) processes for those without standard identification documents, and financial literacy programs to educate and empower. We believe that for financial inclusion to be truly impactful, it’s not enough to just provide access; we must also equip individuals with the knowledge and tools to make informed financial decisions. Secondly, we’re forging partnerships with local communities, NGOs, and other stakeholders to understand the ground realities better and co-create solutions that resonate with the target audience.
However, our journey towards achieving complete financial inclusion is ongoing. We’re continually learning, iterating, and expanding our efforts. Challenges, both anticipated and unforeseen, arise, but they only strengthen our resolve. We envision a future where every individual, regardless of their socio-economic background, has access to a full spectrum of financial services. A future where financial empowerment is not a privilege but a fundamental right. At Jeel, we’re not just working towards this future; we’re passionate about making it a reality.
The global trend is moving towards sustainability and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) factors in business. How it should be from your perspective approached by innovator, especially in term of integrating sustainable practices in its digital strategy and overall operations?
At Jeel, sustainability and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) factors are not mere buzzwords or checkboxes to be ticked off; they represent a profound shift in how we envision our role in the global financial landscape. We see these principles as intertwined with innovation, offering us a unique opportunity to redefine banking for the better. In today’s rapidly changing world, businesses that fail to adapt and prioritize sustainability risk becoming obsolete. We’re determined not to be one of them. Instead, we’re embracing the challenges and opportunities that come with integrating ESG principles into our core operations. By doing so, we’re not only future-proofing our business but also contributing positively to the world around us.
Our journey towards a more sustainable and ESG-compliant future is characterized by continuous learning and adaptation. We’re investing in research, collaborating with experts in the field, and engaging with our stakeholders to gain a deeper understanding of the evolving ESG landscape. This knowledge informs our strategies, ensuring that our initiatives are both impactful and aligned with global best practices. For instance, we’re exploring green financing options, ethical investment portfolios, and community engagement programs that resonate with our sustainability goals. But it’s not just about launching new products or services; it’s about embedding sustainability into the very fabric of our organizational culture. We’re fostering a mindset where every decision, big or small, is made with its long-term environmental and social implications in mind.
However, our commitment to sustainability and ESG goes beyond our internal operations. We’re actively engaging with our customers, partners, and the broader community to drive collective action. We believe that real change can only be achieved when everyone comes together, united by a shared vision of a sustainable future. Through workshops, educational campaigns, and collaborative projects, we’re working to amplify the message of sustainability and inspire others to join us on this transformative journey. At Jeel, we’re not just adapting to the changing world; we’re striving to be at the forefront, leading the charge towards a brighter, more sustainable future.
Personalization is key in today’s digital world. What is you approach to data analytics and other technologies? Do you think there is a chance, that the banking industry will play on the card of data forecasting?
In today’s rapidly evolving financial landscape, data has emerged as the bedrock upon which modern banking systems are built. It’s no longer just about numbers and transactions; it’s about understanding patterns, behaviors, and preferences. At the heart of this transformation is our unwavering commitment to redefine personalization in banking. We recognize that each individual’s financial journey is unique, and by leveraging data, we can tailor our services to fit the distinct needs of every customer.
The true potential of data lies in its ability to provide insights that were previously inaccessible. By harnessing this power, we’re not just offering generic financial products; we’re crafting solutions that resonate with individual aspirations and goals. Whether it’s a loan tailored to a young entrepreneur’s business vision or a savings plan aligned with a family’s future dreams, our data-driven approach ensures that our offerings are not just products but personalized financial companions. This level of customization was once a distant dream, but with the advancements in data analytics, it’s now a reality we proudly offer.
As we continue our journey, our reliance on data will only grow. The financial world is becoming increasingly complex, and the one-size-fits-all approach is becoming obsolete. Customers today expect more than just transactions; they seek experiences that align with their life goals. By continuously analyzing and interpreting data, we’re staying ahead of the curve, anticipating customer needs, and delivering truly bespoke financial products and services. Our vision is clear: a future where banking is not just a necessity but a personalized journey tailored to each individual’s path.
With the rapid evolution of the digital landscape, what advice would you give to emerging professionals in the banking sector who are looking to make a significant impact in digital strategy and development?
For emerging professionals in the banking sector looking to make a significant impact in digital strategy and development, I have a few key pieces of advice.
- Test, Revalidate, and Measure: The ability to quickly test and validate new concepts is essential. Establish a framework or capability where you can frequently refine and change concepts to ensure their effectiveness. Don’t just assume something will work; prove it through measurable outcomes.
- Embrace Research and Sharing: Never underestimate the power of research and development. Information sharing, both within and outside your organization, can significantly enrich your understanding and lead to better strategies. Whenever there is change, there’s often resistance. Knowledge sharing can be an effective tool for reducing this resistance and for aligning your team on new initiatives.
- Fail Fast: One of the most critical elements in any fast-paced industry, including banking, is the ability to fail fast. If something isn’t working, it’s better to quickly recognize the failure and pivot rather than persisting in a wrong direction. Embrace failure as a learning opportunity that gets you closer to the right solution.
Remember, the digital landscape is constantly evolving, so your approach needs to be agile and adaptable. Keep upskilling and staying ahead of trends. Listen to others, share your insights, and be willing to change course when necessary. That’s how you make a significant impact.
As the banking sector becomes increasingly globalized with international partnerships and cross-border transactions, what are your tips and tricks to strike a balance between catering to local needs and adapting to global banking trends?
Striking a balance between catering to local needs and adapting to global banking trends is indeed a challenging task, especially in the context of an increasingly globalized world. Here are some of my thoughts on how to approach this balance:
- On-site Collaboration: I completely agree that human interaction is crucial for understanding local needs and culture. While technology enables us to collaborate from a distance, there’s no substitute for being in the local environment. Understanding customer behaviour, preferences, and challenges firsthand can provide insights that remote observation can’t.
- Leverage International Skills: Bringing in international expertise can add immense value to local operations. It’s not just about having different perspectives; it’s also about having people who understand global trends and can apply them in a localized context.
- Reusability and Scalability: While innovation should be tailored to meet local needs, it should also be designed in a way that can be scaled or adapted for other markets. This approach ensures that you’re getting the most out of your investment in innovation and can quickly adapt to new markets or customer segments.
- Local Insights: Understanding the nuances of a local market, whether it’s customer behavior or regulatory landscape, can offer a competitive edge. Pairing these local insights with global trends can result in a balanced strategy that takes the best of both worlds.
- Customer Observation: I can’t emphasize enough the importance of observing your customer base. This could be as formal as market research or as informal as walking through local supermarkets to get a feel for local life. These observations can form the foundation for any successful localized strategy.
- Technology and Human Balance: While it’s tempting to rely heavily on advanced technologies like AI for customer insights, the human element should not be overlooked. Sometimes, the most significant insights come from simple human interactions and observations.
- Innovation Principles: When innovating, always consider how a particular product or service can be reused in different shapes, forms, or geographies. This focus on reusability and scalability ensures that you’re not just solving for the ‘here and now,’ but are also laying the groundwork for future expansion.