Emirates NBD is currently undertaking one of the largest and most accelerated digital transformations globally in its drive for innovation as a global player based in the Middle East. As the company unveils two of its new digital banks, Richard Morton, Associate Vice President for Legal at Emirates NBD, details how the company is at the forefront of Dubai’s competitive edge. Before Emirates, Morton worked for DHL from 2000 to 2012, starting out at the company’s IT headquarters in San Francisco. His role took him to Brussels and, not long after Deutsche Post bought DHL, the company opened a state-of-the-art data centre in Prague where Morton relocated to lead the legal team. From there he went to IBM in 2013 and, at the start of 2019, moved to Emirates NBD in order to assist with its digital transformation and, more specifically, digital banking and the GDPR transformation.
One of Morton's critical responsibilities is to ensure that the company's technology transformation is viable in the market from a regulatory perspective. "For example, we have an initiative for electronic transactions with a significant real estate company here in Dubai, and the courts that have jurisdiction over these particular transactions has agreed in principle to the structure of the proposal. Part of our responsibility is to ensure that we liaise with the relevant Ministries to ensure its viability even though the transaction structure may not be explicitly provided for in the relevant statutes.” Emirates wins numerous awards every year, often for technological advancements and innovations, and Morton attributes this to the radical overhaul of the company's infrastructure. "CIO Miguel Rio Tinto has been running full-speed ahead for the last two and a half years on completely transforming the infrastructure. We're expecting to complete this prior to Expo 2020 and this is a significant milestone for us," says Morton.
Becoming ‘the tech company that offers banking’
The philosophy at the heart of Emirates’ vision can be encompassed by a phrase often said by CEO, Shayne Nelson: “We shouldn’t be a bank that does tech, we should be a tech company that does banking.” To build upon this ethos, Emirates NBD created two new digital banks: Liv, a digital lifestyle banking app for millennials, which was launched in 2017; and E20, which launched at the end of September 2019, designed for SME enterprises. “These were created because there was a demand for them,” says Morton. “It was a very deliberate choice to make Liv and E20 separate brands from the ENBD. The idea is to provide a user experience that provides a much wider platform than traditional banking. Liv and E-20 accommodate younger generations that are more attracted to the variety of services on these platforms, and the ease and speed of digital banking.” As Morton states, the need for banks with which users can personally identify with is the future, and this approach has clearly been successful as Liv already has over 300,000 clients, with that number rapidly rising. “This shows us that there was demand and we are meeting that demand.” Both of these platforms harness AI and Big Data to better understand customer behavior and to provide a more tailored experience, but Morton notes that there will of course always be regulatory challenges around this. “GDPR is a huge variable when looking at various platforms, and companies should be very cautious and deliberate about how they access these platforms and the use of the data on those platforms. AI is a great tool and it will only become more interesting as its analytical capabilities become more advanced, but GDPR needs to be embedded into the DNA of the company because the risks are enormous. The sole purpose of AI and the use of Big Data is to improve the client's experience, and we certainly invest a lot of time and resources into ensuring an excellent client experience, but we also invest a lot of time and resources into cybersecurity, privacy and confidentiality.” It is this passionate drive to cater to customer demand and its diligence with regulatory challenges that Morton believes gives Emirates NBD its competitive edge. The same cautious approach is applicable to cloud capabilities. “There is still concern around the cloud and how information is secured, even more so for a bank,” Morton explains. “It’s important for us that the legal department compliments the facilitation of new ideas. Tech moves much faster than law and we have to ensure that the risks are well analysed, documented and mitigated, but they will never be eliminated.”
With such a large transformation underway, it is unsurprising that change management is being carried out with great care. “When you’re dealing with the huge number of changes that we are going through, it's important to have great leadership, not just from the top down, but at all levels,” he says. “The first step to change is that there is a belief that this is the right thing to do and, on the ground level, that we all believe in it. Everyone here understands that the banking industry is changing fast and is under threat at every level.” Echoing the sentiments of CEO Shayne Nelson, Morton says: “we are upgrading the company on a granular level. From the sign-up process through to terms and conditions; everyone is empowered to do what needs to be done to become more relevant, more flexible and more future-proof.”
The vanguard of the Middle East
Morton has been particularly impressed with the speed and accuracy of the transformation. “Miguel has worked incredibly hard and the results show: it has been profound across the landscape.” Morton also commends the management of Liv CEO, Jayesh Patel, and Evans Munyuki, CDO and founder of E20, both of whom Morton describes as “really carrying the innovation of future banking.” As Morton and Emirates NBD move forward, they anticipate the growth of E20 and Liv and the role that both will play in Dubai’s drive to going paperless. “The government in Dubai has been incredibly innovative and supportive in its promotion of new technologies, and its drive to be the first truly paperless city,” explains Morton. “What’s most compelling about the future isn’t just the bank, but the entire region and its regulatory landscape. We’ve been given the opportunity to serve our customers in entirely new ways.” Morton considers Emirates as “the vanguard of the Middle East” and believes that the bank is well on its way to become one of the world’s most innovative banks. “We are at the tip of the iceberg; going paperless is just the beginning, because the fact is that once you really take the physical world out of the equation, you're dealing purely with digital worlds. In the digital world the capabilities are endless, the opportunities to serve your client’s in new and innovative ways are infinite, and this is only going to grow as a trend.” Emirates remains a corporate stronghold in the Middle East and, with its shared vision with the city of Dubai, it will evolve this role into the digital space as a leader on an international level.