COVID-19 accelerates Bahrain banks' digital transformation


MANAMA — Bahrain Association of Banks (BAB) stressed that the Bahraini banking and financial institutions were able, in a short period of time, to provide many additional digital services to customers to meet the precautionary measures of social distancing imposed by the pandemic COVID-19. The association added that this would not have happened so quickly without the great investment implemented by those institutions over the past years in digitization.

Dr. Waheed Al Qassim. CEO of Bahrain Association of Banks said that the efforts taken by Team Bahrain led by Crown Prince have been tremendously effective to move the country to a more cashless society and reducing physical interactions for the safety and wellbeing of the citizens. As a result, the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) has increased the NFC (contactless) card payment limits, deferred installments, and prompted e-payments and digital banking solutions.

“All Bahraini banks continued their work and services without any interruption, and customers didn’t witness any delay in completing their transactions, and at the same time maintained the highest levels of electronic and cybersecurity, as the pandemic of COVID-19 was another opportunity that prompted banks to provide digital services more quickly and reliably,” Dr. Al Qassim added.

“One of the successful examples of the impact of the pandemic on the payments sector is BenefitPay. This application has witnessed a substantial increase in its digital financial transactions reaching up to 1,257% compared to 2019 and worth BHD103 million, that is in addition to 43% increase in its QR code payment feature.

“Furthermore, this application in collaboration with Bapco has introduced fuel payment option for customers, where they can pay for fuel from their app without the need for cash, physical card, or even scanning a QR code,” Dr. Al Qassim said.

The head of the Society’s Digitalization and Cyber Security Committee Ahmed Albalooshi said, “The circumstances that were imposed by the pandemic led to restricting physical interactions with customers and decreasing the use of cash. These have resulted in increasing the traffic to existing digital banking channels, introducing new digital banking services, and increasing digital transactions by customers.”

Albalooshi noted that the common digital trends in banking that the Bahraini market witnessed are the introduction of digital branches by banks, promoting digital customer on-boarding features, providing Intellectual Teller Machines (iTMs), as well as offering open banking services.

Meanwhile, from the back-office perspective, he said, we have seen banks empower their employees to work from home using different digitalization tools and started to automate most of its back-office processes, to enable serving customers remotely and ensure sustainability of the financial services provided to its customers.

"This pandemic has certainly changed the banking sector forever and in the coming days, we might see more digital transformation initiatives by banks and new financial services offered by non-banks (FinTechs). This change will also increase the importance of cybersecurity and anti-fraud capabilities that banks will need to consider the most moving forward.” Albalooshi said. — SG