Emirates NBD

 

Suvo Sarkar, EVP & Group Head of Retail Banking & Wealth Management at Emirates NBD (ENBD), has won a Lifetime Achievement trophy at the RBI Asia Trailblazer Awards in recognition of 31 years in the sector. He was captain during the mega-merger of the retail banking units during the creation of ENBD in 2007 and has navigated many other challenges during his career, such as the Asian Crisis in 1997.

ENBD was formed after the merger between Emirates Bank International (EBI) and the National Bank of Dubai (NBD) over a decade ago. It created a bank brand that is now valued at US$4bn, [according to their figures as online says AED500 billion (US$136bn)] doubling since its inception, despite the stormy waters of the 2007-08 global financial and property crisis.

Sarkar had been at NBD since 2004 turning its newly established loss-making retail banking operation around until it recorded a profit of US$67million, prior to the merger. Just as he’d steered that ship to safe habour he faced the challenge of merging the operations of two big Dubai banks into one, while the 2008 financial crisis advanced simultaneously with a credit crunch in full swing.

Sakar tightened credit policies, sectoral exposures, and the collections team was strengthened as part of a UAE-wide initiative to clear bad debt. This achieved in 2010, and the now merged ENBD retail arm operating successfully, Sarkar left to join the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) in the next Emirate over.

He spent two years at NBAD awaking the dormant lion of their retail banking arm, prior to their own later merger with First Gulf Bank, before returning to the fold at ENBD in 2012, where he remains to this day.

Impressive figures
Sakar picked up where he left off, creating a super brand for the Gulf and Middle-Eastern region and delivering some impressive results at ENBD, which now has a 20% revenue share in the UAE. For instance, his retail and wealth management businesses now contribute annual revenues of US$2bn and about 40% of Group profits. Additionally, his focus on cost efficiency and encouragement of cheaper digital and online channels has reduced the bank’s direct cost to income ratio to 29%, one of the lowest globally for a consumer bank. In terms of growth, over the last five years:

  • ENBD’s consumer banking business has seen revenues increase by 41%, with its latest compound annual growth rate (CAGR) metric at 7% per annum (pa).
  • Net profit is up by 36% (6% pa).

Liabilities book growth is up by 27% (5% pa) in a slowing market, which is manageable and the well policed loans portfolio is up by 43% (7% pa). These figures will obviously alter in the wake of the Covid-19 medical and economic crisis in 2020, but with Sakar’s experience the bank is confident he can navigate stormy seas once again.

Navigating stormy seas & early career
The Asian Crisis of 1997 was Sakar’s first experience of a full-blown emergency. But as ever he sought to find the opportunities in a crisis, correctly surmising when he joined Standard Chartered (SC) Indonesia that the best way to navigate the financial market and political turmoil that saw President Suharto fall the next year, was simply to focus on securely and slowly expanding the retail bank arm. He launched new products and services from the newcomer to grow organically. The process was helped by subsequent takeovers of Bank Bali in Indonesia and Nakornthon Bank in Thailand, adding to the regional strengths of SC.

Over his five year stint the strategy worked as the bank trembled its balance sheet and doubled its profitability in Indonesia. He worked in Jakarta and in the Singapore offices during this time, and this well travelled banker has also worked in India.

Indeed, Sarkar begun his career in India at Citibank NA in 1987 in a South Asian product management role. After three years he left for ANZ Grindlays to become a branch manager in India and later a regional manager. He first moved to the Middle-East in 1992 with Standard Chartered, prior to his Indonesian adventure, and moved with SC to Dubai in 2003. He has been in the UAE ever since.

Diversification
Since Sarkar rejoined ENBD in 2012 he has overseen a number of successful projects. The retail bank and personal account customers are his primary duty, and many of his main retail bank successes are detailed below. But he has also diversified the bank by developing product, service and channel propositions for three other key segments as well, across:

  • priority banking,
  • business
  • & private banking.

Partnerships & Digital leadership
The main personal account, card, and other traditional retail bank successes that Sarkar has been responsible for have accumulated from a variety of projects, such as:

  • An Emaar co-branded credit card, fastest growing in the region
  • Co-branded card with Emirates Airlines
  • & a co-branded card with Marriott Bonvoy Group, among many other such partnerships.

The Amazon co-creation of ENBD voice banking on Alexa was also noteworthy. It signalled Sarkar’s desire for digital leadership, as further evidenced in his second stint with the bank from 2012 onwards, by:

  1. A pioneering list of new services that included an early successful unveiling of a comprehensive Mobile Banking app that is rich with services, such as DirectRemit which helps customers remit money in 60 seconds, an important consideration for many of the UAE’s foreign workers. A Fitness Account rewards customers with higher interest, based on the number of steps they take.
  2. The Emirates NBD Branch of the Future was unveiled in 2016 showcasing the region’s first artificial intelligence (AI) based humanoid robot, Pepper, as well as many other innovations that have since gained further traction.
  3. The bank’s digitization programme took a giant step forward in 2017 with the launch of Liv., the UAE’s first mobile and digital-only bank aimed at millennials. It’s now the country’s fastest growing bank.
  4. The first voice-based virtual assistant in the region, EVA, means customers calling the contact centre can be assisted in conversational English or Arabic.
  5. The SkyShopper e-commerce launch provides a one stop shop marketplace portal that allows customers to shop across multiple categories with a single check out.
  6. The rollout of paperless product applications & services whether online, mobile or indeed in-branch mean that over 70% of all Personal Loans are now sourced via a digital process, supported by an instant Decision Management System. The customer convenience and efficiency of digitally-delivered digital services now extends to card, account opening and wealth products. For instance, a fully mobile-based account opening service was rolled out earlier this year and Smart Pass, a soft token to authorise payments, has been introduced to enhance payments security.

The bank has also led the way in its brand and marketing efforts on social media attaining 1.7 million followers across various social channels. Its corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts have also improved. Its ‘Together Limitless’ programme advocating financial inclusion, for instance, has delivered 115 workshops, plus accessibility and support for people with disabilities has been provided  since 2015 with 44 disability-friendly bank branches unveiled over the last three years. Volunteer community projects have reached 5700 deployments. Meanwhile, the ‘Bank Wisely’ programme seeks to educate and empower all customers to borrow, spend, save and invest wisely.

Staff training, knowledge and skills have been improved on Sarkar’s watch, with a central complaints unit enhancing customer service and experience, resolving any issues instantly to retain customers and attract new ones. Engagement levels at the retail bank have also gone up by 23 points since 2012 to reach 71% of highly engaged staff, according to an Aon Hewitt study, outperforming other regional and global players on the benchmark. A safe passage to a rich harbour seems assured.

See separate • Best Retail Bank: UAE & Internet Banking category write-ups for more information about Sarkar and his team’s latest projects.

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The Retail Banker International Asia Trailblazer Awards is an annual platform that celebrates the best in class retail banking institutions and individuals for their innovative service offering and commitment to customer excellence.

If you would like to share your incredible consumer finance journey, then register for the 12th Annual Retail Banker International Asia Trailblazer Awards 2021 and submit your entry!