Financial innovation

The Middle East’s smartphone generation

In the Middle East region, digital technology, including smartphones, is fast reshaping behaviours and attitudes

In the Middle East region, digital technology, including smartphones, is fast reshaping behaviours and attitudes, particularly amongst the young.

A decade ago, there were just 19 million mobile connections across the Arab states – by 2012 that number had skyrocketed to 391 million, according to research by Deloitte for GSMA. Only in Sub-Saharan Africa did mobile connections grow at a faster rate during the period.

In the UAE today, three in four people own not just a phone, but a smartphone, making it the country with the highest smartphone penetration rate in the world, ahead of South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, according to Mashable.

Young people in the Arab world increasingly conduct their lives online on mobile phones

Not surprisingly, the smartphone adoption rate in the Middle East is highest amongst the 18 to 34 age group, according to a recent survey by Cisco. This young generation of Arabs has different expectations of products and services than previous generations who accessed the internet only from their desktops.

Vastly different from their parents, young people in the Arab world increasingly conduct their lives online on mobile phones, socialising with their friends and browsing online for products and services. As evidenced by the events of the Arab Spring, they also increasingly upload videos to express their social views and political beliefs and broadcast local events for the entire world to watch via their social networks.

Banks need to invest in their digital capabilities

Companies are adapting their products and services to the Middle East’s changing consumer habits. CNN International’s re-launched Arabic language portal, CNNArabic.com is now a socially integrated and smartphone-friendly site. The Amazon of the Middle East, souq.com, recently introduced their shopping app via Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

For banks, the change in behaviours and lifestyle means investing in and broadening their digital banking capabilities. Ubiquitous connectivity, networked devices, social media, near-field communication and mobile payments are some of the powerful forces shaping the banking ecosystem across the Middle East, as elsewhere.

Mobile technology gives banks in the Middle East the opportunity to rethink how they engage with their customers

The young generation of Arabs expects the full complement of digital banking capabilities, and is more likely to move banking provider to find them. Globally connected, tech-savvy and on-the-go 24/7, these young consumers demand banking that is quick, simple and easy, available anytime and anywhere.

Mobile technology gives banks in the Middle East the opportunity to rethink how they engage with their customers. With internet browsing from mobile devices set to overtake that from desktop PCs, mobile is now pivotal to ensuring that banks fit into the on-the-go lives of the digital generation in the Middle East.

Getting design right is crucial

It’s not just about harnessing the latest technology, but about creating a more unified experience for customers who, quite rightly, expect to have a seamless and convenient interaction with their bank, whether online or offline.

Getting design right is crucial to creating a better customer experience. Banks that fail to get design and usability to work in tandem risk frustrating their customers or, worse, fading into a blur of sameness and causing customer apathy. By contrast, outstanding design in service delivery may help banks to differentiate themselves from the competition and, ultimately, redefine what banking stands for.

Given the growing smartphone generation, banks must run faster to keep pace with changes in customer demand across the Middle East. Remembering that the customer comes first – and that banking is about helping customers to go about their daily lives and reach their life goals – will be essential.