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FEATURE INTERVIEW WITH DR. BERND VAN LINDER, CEO, SAUDI HOLLANDI BANK

Saudi Hollandi Bank (SHB) experienced a net profit income increase of 21.3 percent in 2014. What do you attribute to this success?

There are three key drivers of our success: efficiency and capital strength, investment in our core businesses and a single-minded focus on our customers; together their impact has ensured that we continue to grow and to broaden our market presence.  We are already a force to be reckoned with in corporate and institutional banking and are growing our retail presence steadily and surely.

DR. BERND VAN LINDER, CEO, SAUDI HOLLANDI BANK
DR. BERND VAN LINDER, CEO, SAUDI HOLLANDI BANK

In serving our large corporate, institutional and small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) customers, we have diversified our portfolio, further improved our service efficiencies and expanded our range of products and services, helping us to achieve record growth in both assets and income while registering ever higher levels of customer satisfaction.  Of course, the positive economic environment in the Kingdom is helpful and we continue to benefit from the government’s investment in infrastructure projects, participating in the financing of a number of high profile transactions.

We are particularly proud of the strides we have made in serving SME customers and continue to make significant investments in supporting this essential sector of the economy.  Pleasingly this has been recognised in a number of industry awards. Similarly, although we have not traditionally been among the bigger retail banks, we have grown our profile in this segment fast as well. By focusing on providing the right solutions for retail customers, we have become a leading provider of home finance, and are growing quickly in other retail banking products.

SHB is a strong supporter of small to medium sized businesses. Can you tell us more about some of the support services you offer SMEs? How does the support offered to SME clients differ from the needs of large corporations?

SHB new branch design
SHB new branch design

SMEs are important customers to us and our experience working with them over the years shows that they have their own very specific requirements, which are different from those of both large corporates and of retail customers. Getting the service offering right is critical and we have developed specialist skills in this area to support them, viewing this as an area of strategic importance for the bank.

We understand the unique characteristics of SMEs and acknowledge that access to financial services for many of these businesses remains severely constrained. We therefore offer easy, straightforward and quick solutions that address this segment’s specific banking needs. For example, we have developed a specialised risk acceptance framework for assessing SME credit, which helps us to better serve these customers in a prudent yet progressive way. We know that face-to-face dealings are important for the owners of these businesses, so we have broadened our outreach by opening SME business centres right in the centre of SME ‘clusters, like those we see in the Balad area of Jeddah, for instance.

SHB is a leader in internet banking and recently launched “The business owner toolkit”, a new internet microsite for SME clients. Why is incorporating technology into banking key? What challenges has it brought?

Beyond the obvious visibility of social media, technology is also enabling the growth of mobile banking and customers are embracing the use of their smartphones and tablets to handle transactions. The demand for applications that are both useful and easy to navigate is growing fast. Smart phone penetration in Saudi Arabia is already close to 75 percent and the potential to broaden the usage of this channel and to place it at the heart of customer relationships in retail banking is huge.

When we launched a mobile banking app, over a quarter of our existing internet banking users registered almost immediately without any direct marketing efforts.  Digital transformations like this give banks an opportunity to provide customers with ever more convenient services, and can also play a major role in building customer loyalty. Many new loyalty programmes in retail banking are now built around approaches that allow product managers to more deeply understand customer behaviour and needs. Technology is allowing the analysis of data that in turn helps to formulate offers and rewards that strengthen bonds and enhance customer experience at the same time. SHB has realised the potential in this digital transformation and has evolved its loyalty programme proposition to its customers accordingly.

SHB participation in Cityscape
SHB participation in Cityscape

Over the past 2 years SHB has increased the number of branches in the Kingdom. Do you have any further plans for expansion?

Having a significant physical presence throughout the Kingdom is a key part of our strategy to support businesses and families wherever they are based. We know that customers appreciate being able to meet with our professionals face-to-face and we encourage an environment of open, friendly and straightforward service as part of our culture. To that end we increased the number of branches by 20% last year and boosted the number of technologically advanced ATMs to 382 and we have plans to open another 80 branches within three years.

Family business IPOs in the Saudi market were extremely active in 2014. What do you attribute to this and do you expect it to continue in the upcoming year?

The growing economy and new regulatory initiatives are expected to drive investor confidence and bring liquidity to the market, while government spending on infrastructure and the diversification of the Kingdom’s oil-based economy is creating more opportunities for the private sector. These developments are likely to lead to more companies wishing to raise capital from the market.

Reflecting this, the Capital Market Authority is continuing to focus on measures to encourage IPOs, including the streamlining of listing rules, which willed courage many family-controlled firms to launch IPOs, in turn provoking a much-needed deepening of the equity markets in Saudi Arabia. The growing number of planned IPOs in the upcoming year is testament to this approach and we are seeing investor confidence on the rise.

What is SHB’s banking strategy for 2015?

We will continue to operate under the strategy I outlined earlier, allocating capital and resources in a rigorous process to support the growth of our core customer businesses.  Whether corporate, institutional, SME or retail customers – we work hard to become the bank the Kingdom always chooses.