Pakistan’s growing technology and banking sector offers many opportunities for MGN

Pakistan has recently jumped up several ranks to become an attractive global innovation hub and MGN recognises this potential

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.

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