ISLAMABAD - The Nation has conducted the interview of Sharmeen Niaz, Head, Mashreq Global Network-Pakistan.
Q: A brief history of Mashreq Global Network in Pakistan and globally? When did the group begin operations in Pakistan?
A: Mashreq Global Network (MGN) is a wholly owned subsidiary and one of the leading innovation-led global excellence arms of Mashreq that was established to support the bank’s global expansion through digitalization, innovation, and seamless customer experience.
In line with the evolving customer requirements, at Mashreq, we developed a concept of a centralised innovation center backed by cutting-edge technology and diverse talent pool. As this concept was not new for us, we drew expertise from our world-class employees, across multiple locations, provided them with digital skills and best-in-class facilities. With this thought, our teams in India, Egypt, and Pakistan, collectively called the MGN uniquely collaborates with colleagues based in the Middle East and other countries of operations including global financial hubs.
MGN Pakistan was established in March 2021, with an overall aim to directly tap into the nation’s prestigious banking talent pool who are also well recognized globally. Today, MGN Pakistan continues to grow into a diverse group of the most talented banking professionals in the world. We are working with Mashreq teams across different business and functional groups towards building products and services that deliver an unmatched customer experience via market-leading innovation.
Q: Briefly compare Pakistan with the banking industry in the region and on a global scale.
A: Overall, the industry’s growth has largely been driven by economic recovery and rise in business. At the same time, we have witnessed a surge in investments, increased government support, rise in government securities and ourcountry’s sheer resilience to withstand challenges. As per a recent report by State Bank, the banking industry in Pakistan grew during the first half of 2022 with both assets and income registering a strong growth. Recently, the State Bank of Pakistan rolled out Digital Banking framework that saw huge interest from the international banks and investors. Over 20 applications were received from across the world showcasing huge interest in Pakistan’s banking sector. Amidst all this, Pakistan is also emerging as a preferred destination for innovation centers, fintechs, given its unique mix of an attractive workforce and the digital ambitions set by the banking sector with MGN taking a lead. With Pakistan’s massive potential, now is the time for multinational organizations to tap into the country’s vast pool of talented, English-speaking professionals, and to take advantage of the technology infrastructure that the country has been developing over the decades.
Q: Please elaborate what are the opportunities and challenges in the banking industry of Pakistan. How would you transform the challenges into opportunities?
A: A crucial challenge looming over the banking industry is that even today, Pakistan is largely a cash-based economy. Moreover, Pakistan has the third largest unbanked adult population globally with about 100 million adults without a bank account. For Pakistan’s economy to transition to a cashless and financially inclusive one,public-private partnership, newer technologies, positive government support and change in customer preferences is needed tofacilitate the shift. The challenges are somehow overshadowed by the overall growth potential and technology awareness and adoption in Pakistan. With a smartphone penetration at 82%, Pakistan is quickly becoming a mobile first economy. Moreover, with favourable support from the regulator like the Digital Banking license, digital onboarding of customers, RAAST etc., I believe that Pakistan’s banking sector is brimming with huge potential and is at the cusp of massive transformation. The move towards digital banking driven by technology, data and analytics is transforming Pakistan’s banking industry into an always-on one offering customers 24/7 on-demand services, and convenience. Mashreq has been quietly investing in the countrywith MGN, channelizing efforts to help bolster the economy by tapping into the local talent pool, bringing in cutting-edge digital systems and solutions, upskilling our employees to work with global clients. With Mashreq’s recent acquisition of NOC for digital banking, we will be further contributing to Pakistan’s banking sector and its transformation.
Q: What are your winning points to secure business in Pakistan?
A: Pakistan’s technology and banking sector has grown significantly in recent years and is poised for further growth offering many opportunities for MGN. To leverage Pakistani talent and their expertise in delivering services to global markets, several well-known multinational IT led firms including MGN have expanded their footprintin the country. According to the UN’s Global Innovation Index, Pakistan has recently jumped up several ranks to become an attractive global innovation hub and MGN recognizes this potential. Mashreq’s agility, enabled by many years of investment into the digitalization of our systems, has enabled us to establish ourselves in Pakistan. We believe we are a technology-led company with a customer-focused fintech mindset, and this translates to our huge focus on collaboration, innovation, and more importantly, diversity. Additionally, with 11% of Mashreq’s global workforce being Pakistani, both UAE and Pakistan share strong cultural ties and time zone, giving us an edge in the market. The current landscape, therefore, presents a win-win situation for us - where we know Pakistan has the right ingredients for MGN to propel its expansion in the region.
Q: What kind of workforce like top leadership (CEOs/COO), decision makers and/or board of directors are part of the ‘work from anywhere’ model at MGN?
A: Presently, all our employees are operating under a 100% work-from-anywhere model. MGN Pakistan focuses on collaborative culture and investment in people so that they are equipped with the knowledge, expertise, and tools to manage the upcoming demands of the business and deliver the best experience for our global clients. We are also in the process of setting up an office to offer hybrid work options for those who wish to take advantage of such a flexible system.
Q: What is your total workforce count globally and in Pakistan? How can the work from anywhere model benefit the bank and its clients?
A: In total, Mashreq Global Network employs over 1800 employees across India, Pakistan and Egypt with more than 250 professionals based in Pakistan. More importantly, MGN’s work from anywhere model enables us to tap into the Pakistani talent pool and allow them to work on newer technologies and global clients. Our distributed workforce model allows our people to collaborate effectively making the most of their time and serves as an opportunity especially for returning mothers andwomen who need flexible work options, directly contributing to our industry leading diversity score of 40%.
To ensure that we have the best technological infrastructure to help us run operations smoothly, we are partnered with multiple global technology companies that have supported us with robust digitization of systems and processes such as - HR (HR Connect), Risk (Prism), Fraud Management (Clari5), Compliance based processes (SOP) and hiring functional experts. Through these technologies, we have built flexibility and resilience into our own banking networkenabling us to offer cutting-edge, hyper-personalised experiences to a global client base.
Q: Your brief comment on IT/telecom infrastructure which supports MGN operations in Pakistan?
A: One of the biggest attractions of Pakistan is its investment in infrastructure. With over 61 million internet users, and a robust payments and security infrastructure already in place, it is easy to operate digitally in the country. This coupled with our robust technology infrastructure and distributed workforce module, has enabled us to offerflexibility of working and collaborating from anywhere with our global teams. Consequently, MGN Pakistan’s employees come from all over country and can seamlessly work with colleagues and clients based anywhere in the world.
Q: What is your Pakistan specific future plans?
A: For MGN Pakistan, growth is key in 2023. We are therefore looking to grow our numbers and capabilities by increasing focus on hiring, particularly the senior bankers and technology experts. We are also in the process of setting up a dedicated office space for enabling hybrid work options. In addition to that, Mashreq is all set to further deepen its commitment to the digital banking landscape of Pakistan. Additionally, we are focused on improving our diversity ratio from an already impressive 40% to 50% over the next 12-18 months. Alongside this, we are hoping to onboard more PWD employees and are working with various Pakistani organisations to enable this.
Q: How do you attract and retain talent at MGN? What sets MGN Pakistan apart from other GCCs in terms of the work culture and environment it has put in place for its employees?
A: As mentioned earlier, at MGN, we offer our employees the opportunity to shape the future of the banking sector. We provide an opportunity to network and learn from global leaders and work on solutions for global clients. We are here to create leaders who inspire the future generations in banking. As a frontrunner in banking globalinnovation center(GIC) space in the country, we’re hiring senior bankers from Pakistan’s top commercial and Islamic banksto build expertise and give us an edge towards creating world-class banking services organisation. Our WFA model and its flexibility gives us a unique edge to attract and retain diversely skilled talent based anywhere in Pakistan. We also offer one of the best benefits and compensation in the industry and have been amongst the first in the country to roll out Inflation adjustment increment in July. We further enhance the work environment by providing a solid foundation to our employees through a robust mentorship network and extensive training programmes. We also encourage feedback, maintaining a strong open-door policy for our workforce. All in all, MGN Pakistan is uniquely positioned for growth - thanks to a fair, collaborative, and non-discriminatory work culture.