Ask an expert: Mohamed Roushdy, technology advisor to the CEO, Bank Al Bilad

Heba Hashem

Friday 22 April 2016

Think Progress Gulf talks to Mohamed Roushdy – technology advisor to the CEO of Saudi Arabia’s Bank Al Bilad – about the strengths that make a CIO successful in the region’s fintech industry.

It is clear to most that the Gulf’s banking industry is on the verge of digital disruption. As financial services organisations continue to embrace technology and undergo digital transformation, CIOs will need to equip themselves with new capabilities and take on broader responsibilities.

We spoke with Mohamed Roushdy – who is credited for leading an IT team on the first-ever transformation of a conventional bank into an Islamic one – about the current state of the Gulf’s fintech industry and the skills some CIOs are still lacking in the region.

What are some of your biggest achievements as a CIO in the Gulf region?

Over the past few years I’ve been involved in launching four financial services startups: three banks and one financing firm. We are very fortunate that our region, the GCC and wider MENA, has the ability and appetite to launch such types of startups, which requires a great deal of resources and expertise as well as significant capital.

The first transformation of a bank from a conventional to an Islamic one was a major milestone in my career. The first adoption of cloud computing in financial services in the GCC and the use of the OPEX model, which included all office needs from hardware to software in one startup, was another great achievement, being the first time for such a model to be used in banking.

What are the key strengths a CIO needs to be successful in the Gulf region?

CIOs in the GCC need to be dynamic and open to the world since our region has created a great platform for companies from all over the globe to showcase their solutions and best practices. In addition, GCC governments are very advanced in their use of technology compared to well-developed nations, and infrastructures in the GCC are among the best in the world.

All of these circumstances give CIOs an environment to innovate, but they must stay focused and have a clear roadmap for their organisation, keeping an eye on market changes.

They should be able to adjust their plans if the market evolves, and spend enough time with their business peers. Many CIOs do a great job on the technology front but lack skills in business alignment, which is the most important area for a CIO’s success and the organisation as a whole.

What are your views about the current fintech scene in the region?

The region’s current fintech industry is still being developed. One area witnessing better development is the sourcing of customers or getting leads for banks in the retail segment. Banks without a big sales force of their own are starting to utilise fintech to make the most of social media and increase interaction with customers over the internet. We have several organisations in the GCC that are doing very well in this space.

If we look at remittances, another fintech area, it has been well developed for a long time in the GCC as most expatriates in the region utilise exchange houses to transfer money to their home countries.

Can you explain the IT plan and system build you implemented for the first-ever conversion of a traditional bank into Islamic one?

I was the first executive to join the organisation with the chairman, so there was the challenge of setting the roadmap and selecting the right systems. In such challenging situations, the CIO should innovate in the way he/she does things. Sometimes, the normal change-management process does not work and CIOs should break the rules and find innovative ways to do things while keeping a level of control and governance in place.

What tips would you give executives looking to use technology to enact change in an organisation?

I went for parallel streams for different activities in the selection of core systems, utilising the great pool of expertise that we have in the GCC within different areas of banking and technology, using strategic technology vendors who can supply the bank with most of its requirements, and reducing the time spent on handling vendors. The process also involved engaging the top management of these strategic vendors to gain their commitments to our board.

It was harder from a knowledge point of view as no one had done such a change before, so we had to study our systems carefully and see how we could transform them to meet the new Islamic systems. We had to depend on ourselves, develop a new system on top of our existing one, and make sure we could utilise the existing system too.

The set-up of the whole bank with all systems took less than six months and I presented a case study across conferences with the title ‘Achieving the near-to-impossible’. That said, each change has its own unique set of circumstances and the one-size-fits-all approach cannot be used.

What holds back CIOs and tech teams?

Understanding business needs, language and priorities (business-IT alignment) is the biggest challenge for CIOs in my opinion. The fast pace at which technology is moving is another challenge.

Looking to the future, what are the opportunities and obstacles for CIOs and IT teams?

The next generation of computing, which has been termed by some consultancies as the ‘nexus of forces’ or platform three with cloud computing, as well as robotics, mobility, IoT, 3D printing, big data and advanced biometrics, all open great doors for innovation and will change the way we use technology.

These represent opportunities as well as challenges, because we still have lots of legacy systems and data silos, so we need to work on upgrading or retiring them very fast. Quite challenging!