Integrating more digital platforms – blockchain, predictive analytics, big data and more – into the banking sector will enhance efficiency and therefore sharpen Egypt’s competitive edge. The country is currently ranked 94th overall out of 140 nations worldwide in the Global Competitiveness Index 2018 report, with the financial system representing a sweet spot; it is ranked 32nd worldwide. Leveraging these digital tools and others – automation, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) – will enable this respectable rating to climb even higher in 2019. There is no reason Egypt cannot aspire and achieve the top spot on the league table of digital banking in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Major progress is already underway. The government and the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) are focusing extensively on enhancing the banking model, which includes the launch of a fund for innovation and investment in talents and startups worth EGP 1 billion (approximately $59 million). Plus, HSBC’s wider innovations – such as the bank’s first trade finance transaction on blockchain this year – are being explored to directly enhance Egypt’s banking transformation over the coming years. The latter, for example, can shorten the timeframe of such a transaction from ten days to just 24 hours, or less.
Collaborations within Egypt’s banking sector, including with FinTech companies and digital infrastructure specialists, are integral to accelerating progress. Reinventing the wheel would be time-consuming and far riskier than learning and leveraging existing templates. Working together means HSBC has been able to improve its offering quickly, such as offering consolidated payments so that all customers in Egypt can pay their bills – utilities for example – in one location. This saves customers having to visit multiple locations to manually cash their checks; an effort that is at odds with today’s fast-paced lifestyles.
The benefit of stronger communication channels in Egypt’s financial community is already paying dividends. The country’s near-term growth outlook is favorable, supported by a recovery in tourism and rising natural gas production. The current account deficit is expected to remain below 3% GDP and the public debt ratio is expected to decline markedly by 2023, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
To sustain today’s rate of progress means addressing the need for more talent with vigor. Finding talent with both digital and banking expertise is a very tall order and becomes even more challenging as the number of emerging digital tools in the banking sphere rise. Blockchain has only emerged as part of the lingo in boardroom meetings in the last few years, for example. Today, staff must have digital fluency with multiple and ever-changing digital tools, rather than expertise in a single technology. This raises tough questions, such as: how to teach bankers digital fluency, or how to teach engineers banking expertise? Answering such questions is all part of the digital journey; together, we will keep pace.