The story of Cairo Amman Bank (CAB) has been described as a corporate rebirth – one in which a small financial institution with humble foundations completely reinvented itself by tapping the potential in the Jordanian banking landscape to redefine its brand position.
In the 1990s, the prognosis for CAB's growth in the market was fairly poor, with a relatively small branch network and a financial foundation that was wavering under the weight of substantial non-performing corporate loans. Today CAB is a shining model of innovation and growth, thanks to the intelligent transformation strategies that the bank initiated in 1998. By focusing its attention on the Jordanian retail sector – at the time an under-serviced, untapped market segment – and by adopting a strategy in 2002 of cooperating with its defaulting clients instead of alienating them, CAB successfully reversed its fortunes.
Back then the ratio of the bank's non-performing loans amounted to 26.2 percent of its total portfolio – this has since dropped to an impressive four percent in an industry that averages 7.2 percent. In 2009, a year of marked transformation for CAB, the bank's net profits reached JOD 25.5m ($36m) – a 25.8 percent year-on-year increase. This was a particularly impressive feat because the industry's average for the same period had dropped 16 percent.
“The revolution that swept through Cairo Amman Bank over the last decade is more than just another corporate success story,” says CAB's General Manager, Kamal Al Bakri. Mr Bakri first joined the bank in 2002 as the head of its legal department and was a key element in its internal overhaul. After spearheading the process of settling the bank's financials, the bank's management quickly realised that he was just the type of executive they needed to steer the bank's aggressive reentry into the market. In 2006, he was named Deputy General Manager to Khaled Masri, CAB's Chairman and CEO. In 2008, he was again promoted to his current position of General Manager.
Repositioning the CAB brand required fundamental changes. Upon assuming his role as Deputy General Manager in 2006, Mr Bakri presented to the management his rather ambitious plan for reinventing CAB. The plan, which was eventually set in motion, identified key transformational pillars that would later allow the bank to make a true turnaround.
Building strong foundations
The first such pillar was human resources, which has always been a key focus for CAB. Mr Bakri's prime objective was to retool the bank's employees; to foster the morale and skills required to meet the bank's new objectives. He saw that the bank's entire culture had to change, and this called for younger, more adaptable employees and for grassroots capacity-building approaches. The result was the bank's famed Future Banker programme; an in-house, salary-paid, eight-month training programme that helped fresh Jordanian graduates find work anywhere inside and outside Jordan.
At the time, the local banking industry was calling back many of the Jordanian talents that had previously travelled to the Gulf, which ultimately resulted in a host of incentive campaigns designed by CAB to retain its most competent trainees. CAB has shown an unwavering commitment to invest in and develop its human resources, even long after recruitment, with a plethora of training programmes that help them realise their full potential.
Another integral pillar of CAB's development is its revolutionary IT infrastructure, which was also substantially overhauled during the bank's recent transformation. “I wanted to reestablish the bank as an IT and technology driven entity,” explains Mr Bakri. This approach culminated in the introduction of several infrastructural changes and technologies that would forever redefine both the way the bank operates and its corporate image.
Key examples of such services are CABfx – a powerful web-based currency trading platform – and IrisGuard, which facilitates banking transactions by allowing customers to validate their identities through on-site ocular scans. The latter was a pioneering achievement on a global level – up until that point, the technology had only ever been implemented in airports. The technology also spared customers the longstanding inconvenience of ATM cards and PIN codes, further underscoring the potential effect of technology on the conventions of banking.
“The recreation of CAB's IT infrastructure was crucial to its eventual turnaround in the market,” says Mr Bakri. “The technologies we introduced substantially influenced the way customers made transactions and the way they perceived the CAB brand.
“With IrisGuard, for example, we reduced client-identification time from three minutes or more to less than 50 seconds. Cutting edge technology is now an inseparable element from our brand image and will continue to be among our top priorities where future growth and development are concerned.”
Growing the brand
Of course, one marked area of transformation for CAB was geographical penetration. Today, the bank operates a total of 90 branches, 21 of which are in Palestine. This was made possible through an aggressive expansion campaign that saw the bank address the high costs and limitations of a network expansion by integrating manned points of sale in 90 post offices around Jordan. This allowed the bank to secure a presence at key public interaction spaces, not to mention reach remote areas in governorates nationwide. According to Mr Bakri, geographical penetration will remain an integral pillar of the bank's long-term development strategy.
Last but not least was CAB's relentless approach to product development, which was an area in which the bank had created a solid foundation over the years, particularly in the arena of retail banking. With a diverse product portfolio that caters to a multitude of consumer segments, innovation became CAB's central focus. This movement was perhaps rooted in the bank's earlier success with government salary transfers, having successfully persuaded the Jordanian government in 1998 to transfer the salaries of its employees into CAB employee accounts instead of paying them directly. This was arguably the retail turning point for the bank.
Today, roughly 65 percent of the bank's business comes from retail, which remains Jordan's largest market segment.
Pioneering online banking and cardless identity verification was only the beginning of a long streak of product innovation. Next in line was cardless access to ATMs, a service that allows a client to request cash via mobile phone. The client sends a text message to the bank, which automatically responds with a number to be keyed into any of the bank's ATMs – the client can then access their account and withdraw cash. “If you forget your wallet somewhere or lose it, you can still access cash through any of our ATMs around the Kingdom,” explains Mr Bakri. This innovation streak was further expanded with the introduction of CAB's instant loans via ATMs, which allowed prequalified customers to request instant automated loans via ATMs based on their credit worthiness.
This unwavering commitment to innovation fundamentally influenced customer experience and thus redefined CAB's brand perception. “Our transformation strategy was ultimately all about customers,” says Mr Bakri. “We simply wanted to improve our customer experience, and upon focusing on that singular objective, we found massive untapped potential in the industry that allowed us to innovate. We are fully committed to maintaining the streak of innovations we began with IrisGuard and to forever transform the global banking landscape.”