Founded in 1930 and headquartered in Jordan, Arab Bank is one of the oldest banks in the Middle East. Operating out of 28 countries, we’ve earned our customers’ trust with a prudent approach to operations and respect for the cultures and customs in the region.
With a few exceptions where cloud providers have hosted their datacenter in a Middle Eastern or North African country, the banking sector, in general, in the region has been slow to adopt cloud technology for a number of reasons, including concern about data security, maturity and security controls of cloud services (PaaS and SaaS), and regulations in place. But on the other hand, we saw the opportunity to accelerate our development and testing using the cloud, as well as to partner with the fintech community and digital service providers to integrate their solution in the banking ecosystem. We needed more flexibility to connect with the outside world, and a more open architecture to help us drive our internal innovation at a faster rate with the help of the fintech industry. By collaborating with Google Cloud, we reached those goals and accelerated app development and testing through products like Apigee and Anthos. We’re now offering innovative apps and services to our customers and employees that leverage new technological capabilities to give more agility and flexibility, and to optimize our workloads.
Embracing the cloud in a regulated industry
To get started with the cloud, we needed to create internal awareness about cloud technology, the API layer, containers and their benefits amongst our leaders and staff. Google helped us educate and get buy-in from key functions by organizing open technology demonstration sessions and discussion panels. When considering potential cloud providers we had four decision criteria: maturity of security controls, ease of use, cost, and scalability / agility for new deployments and continuous innovation. This last factor was critical, and we were impressed by Google Cloud’s innovation roadmap, both via direct conversations and at Google’s Next conference, where we met a lot of people passionate about technology, innovation and building something new.
Going back to our journey, given the above-mentioned regional limitations, we started to develop a hybrid cloud approach. This helped us continue to operate on-premises for a number of services in production, particularly those that have personally identifiable information (PII) or other sensitive data attached, and to leverage the cloud for development, testing and production workloads that don’t contain customer data.
In the short term, we didn’t anticipate that our many jurisdictions would allow data to be transported to other countries. But cloud tools will allow us to tokenize or anonymize customer data while maintaining customer data on-premises. This applies to many digital journeys such as customer onboarding, credit facility online applications, or marketplace navigation. In the coming years, we predict our API integration with partners will accelerate and enrich the overall digital value proposition of our business segments, namely consumer banking, small and medium-size businesses and large corporate and institutional clients.
Building connections and cornerstones in the cloud
The first move in our digital transformation was to implement Apigee, Google Cloud’s API management platform, to connect to the world’s digital banking ecosystem. Apigee provides the security, sharing, mediation policies, and developer portal capabilities for us to successfully meet Open Banking standards while focusing on innovation.
On the back of the Apigee implementation, we created an accelerator program to incubate Fintech ideas that can, in turn, integrate into our digital platforms and be offered to our customers. We also developed various banking APIs, all designed and documented in accordance with PSD2 and Open Banking regulations, and made them available to our partners. These APIs exposed on our API development portal offer the needed code structure for fintech companies to design creative solutions around them.
Next, we adopted Anthos, Google Cloud’s managed application platform. Anthos has become a cornerstone of our operations because it works across hybrid cloud, offering integration of microservice containers and fueling collaborative opportunities with external parties. Our current Anthos infrastructure includes several hundreds of microservices now running on containers in Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) and on-premises. We now use the cloud for collaboration, development and testing, but not for production, which is done on-premises.
Along the way, Google Cloud’s Professional Services Organization (PSO) helped us through the entire cloud setup process, and with the adoption of Anthos. We originally built on the cloud tools through an iterative process, learning from our successes and errors along the way. Now that we have a better sense of how Anthos operates, we’re building a fresh infrastructure atop a sound, stable, and resilient foundation that will let us scale easily as we work to transform Arab Bank into a digital-first enterprise, that is our ambition.
Currently products running on Anthos include customer acquisition and onboarding via mobile apps, and our Arabi-Pay app, which allows customers to instantly pay each other via WhatsApp or other messaging platforms. Leveraging Anthos, our instant loan service for Arab Bank salaried employees can grant and disburse loans up to $7,000 in less than seven minutes.
In addition, we’ve built a number of digital journeys for our Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) customers, such as our SME client digital onboarding process and paperless SME lending platform.
While some may think that digital adoption in this part of the world can be slow, as customer contact remains anchored in our customs, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital banking services and electronic payments, inspiring more confidence to buy and pay online. Thanks to our rich and user-friendly banking app that relies on Apigee and Anthos for critical customer journeys, over 90% of new-to-bank customers are using our mobile apps. Within the next 18 months, we predict that number will be closer to 100%.
Of course, with higher customer adoption comes the challenge of potential service interruptions. A single moment of downtime can be highly visible to many digital customers. But Google Cloud’s Anthos and Apigee give us the flexibility to resume processes at a fast rate, so any interruptions are almost invisible to our customers. In fact, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, though our branches could be open only for limited hours each day, our consumer clients in particular were able to take advantage of our digital services in a very self-sufficient manner. Being well positioned with Google Cloud, we could also keep our internal teams and external partners connected and productive. Without Google Cloud, continuing the digital transformation of the bank at the pace we wanted would have been a big challenge.
Collaborating across borders and time zones
With Google Cloud, our ability to collaborate and partner has transformed significantly. We operate 24/7 now because our developers are scattered across multiple geographies and different time zones. Because testing and deployment can run around the clock, including on weekends, we currently deploy a new digital journey in a few weeks, faster than ever before. This has given our organization a spirited mindset that prioritizes innovation, and raised the bar in terms of our operating model.
Another consideration about Google Cloud tools is the elimination of inefficient processes typically seen in a software development lifecycle. We now build in a completely agile manner, from design squads until deployment in production. Compared to where we were two years ago, when we had an annual maximum of two systems releases in production, we now have close to monthly releases of our digital packages. In addition, we also supplement those monthly releases with additional ad-hoc releases and fixes in between. As a result, we have removed internal silos and improved tremendously the collaboration between the product and sales teams, operations, IT Dev Factory and Infrastructure, as well as our supporting functions.
Through the agile process facilitated by APIs, we introduced Design Thinking workshops involving external customers and prospects early on to understand their true pain points better and emotions during the existing journeys and how to make new digital journeys frictionless. As a result, the relevance of our products for various customer personas has improved tremendously.
With Google Cloud, we can offer our customers so much more than just banking. We’ve become more digitally relevant to their lives. For example, we recently launched a mortgage app that helps customers all the way from home selection through mortgage negotiations and closing, and even to getting the home decorated. It’s an end-to-end journey in which API integration with key regional players was a cornerstone to our success.
For other digital products, we have an extensive roadmap of lifestyle-based solutions relevant to each segment and age group. We’ve only scratched the surface of the services we can provide, and we see the cloud as the future for everything we want to do.
Read more about Google Cloud’s Open Banking solution to learn how you can simplify and accelerate the process of delivering open banking as required by PSD2. You can also view our video on Open Banking, powered by Apigee API Management.
By: Eric Modave (Chief Operating Officer, Arab Bank)
Source: Google Cloud Blog