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Innovation and technological advancement in the top five banks of Pakistan

Pakistan’s banking sector is passing through a phase that is both challenging and exciting. While challenges emanate from low interest rate scenario, maturity of high yielding government securities, rising cost of doing business, lack of broad based growth in private sector credit appetite, rising undocumented economy with high unbanked population and changing regulatory framework. Currently, there are robust growth opportunities in the retail segment across the country including rural areas and continuing opportunities for digital transformation led by technology and telephony services.

The banking industry is undergoing significant transformation and the pace of commotion in the industry is accelerating. More and more of competition is coming not just from other banks but from non-bank newcomers to the market, putting a significant portion of bank business and revenues at risk. This transformation of the competitive landscape through new entrants has been facilitated through digitization of banking services and propulsion of e-Banking and e-Commerce. Provision of an effective payment solution, that is diverse and wide ranging, has emerged as the basic ingredient for growth in today’s digital era. Progress in this rapidly evolving scenario lies in cross-industry collaboration, as none of the value chain participants alone can deal with the challenges involved in cash minimization and digitization.


Various initiatives were rolled out towards achieving the digitization and innovation objectives of HBL through establishment of a robust governance structure. The internet banking platform has been strengthened, key customer issues were addressed and a bill payments module was developed and deployed. Given the pivotal role that data is expected to play in HBL’s digital evolution, work was also initiated towards developing the data strategy of the bank. In-house capability for software development has been enhanced and the signature success in 2016 was the launch of HBL Mobile, initially with an Android version, followed by an IOS version in 2017. This was especially significant as it was Pakistan’s first biometric authentication based Banking App. The mobile app is proposed to be rolled out to all international locations this year.


UBL retains its strong focus towards digitizing its operations and building its lead in providing innovative solutions to its clients. In 2016, UBL laid the foundation of its digital strategy which has a three-pronged focus: continually improving client experience, investing in technology that will enhance that experience and staying at the forefront of cybersecurity. UBL also won the ‘innovation Award’ for launching QR code based payment solution ‘UBL Master Pass QR’ through collaboration with Master Card. UBL has also enabled card less ATM transactions that utilize biometric technology for authentication.

At present, UBL owns the largest biometric ATMs network spanning over 530 ATMs. In the area of net banking, they have deployed two factor authentication mechanisms for new sign-ups, SMS alerts for online activities and swift onboarding process with increased transaction limits. In 2017, UBL also pioneered the launch of first ‘digital branch’ at IBA campus.


NBP continues to make significant improvements by deploying new technological advancements and adding more delivery channels to its domestic network. The bank has the second largest branches network with a total of 1,450 plus branches. Making further growth in ATM network, NBP has a universe of over 1,300 ATMS with 6 ATM centers. Over 130 ATMS are installed at different off-site locations to cater customer needs. This is in addition to over 300 smart lightening, energy saving devices and solar powered ATMs. World’s highest ATM has also been installed 4,700 meters above sea level at Khunjerab Pakistan-China border by NBP.

A separate e-Banking Unit has been set up which is instrumental in building multiple digital financial service platforms like launch of pre-paid card, branchless banking and cash management, multiple strategic partnerships with international entities like UnionPay, MasterCard, PayPal etc.



Digitization is a major area central to the growth of the bank. The bank’s website has been redesigned to provide more personalized experiences with simpler navigation both in English and in Urdu, making it easier for customers to interactand bank with MCB, via smartphones, laptops or other mobile devices. MCB Mobile and Internet Banking customers have crossed the 1 million mark, a 25% increase over prior year, and they carried out 8.78 milliontransactions in 2016 worth over Rs. 23 billion. Their branchless model MCB Lite, has started gaining traction after a re-focusin its strategy in 2016. During the year, 170,000 plus ‘Liteians’ conducted 834,000 transactions worth Rs. 2.6 billion. Withover 2.1 million active Debit Cards, payment volume growth of MCB Bank debit offerings remained significantly higher thanthat of the industry during 2016.

On the digital front, MCB has the following product offerings:

  • MCB Visa Debit Card
  • MCB e-Gate
  • MCB ATMs
  • MCB Mobile
  • MCB Internet Banking

Expansion in footprint to assist financial inclusion of unbanked population remains key area of focus of ABL. During 2016, the Bank expanded its vast branch network to 1,150 branches. Focus was also made in enhancing Alternate Delivery Channels with the addition of 139 new ATMs to reach 1,150 ATMs in total; enabling ABL to achieve milestone of 1:1 with respect to branches and ATMs stipulated by SBP.

ABL entered into an agreement with Mobilink – country’s largest Mobile Network Operator for gradually enabling JazzCash domestic remittance services and signed a memorandum of understanding with MasterCard, a leading technology company in the global payments industry.

Under this partnership, both Allied Bank and MasterCard will collaborate and launch MasterCard Premium Cards, Digital Payment and Remittance products. During 2016, Allied Bank achieved key milestone of being fully compliant on EMV (Europay, MasterCard & VISA) standards for issuance of chip enabled Debit Cards and accepting chip based transaction on ATMs; becoming one of the first bank in the industry to have EMV capability on both Debit Cards issuance and ATM acquiring side of business. During the year, ABL also pioneered launch of debit cards under PayPak – domestic Payment Scheme owned and operated by 1LINK Guarantee Ltd; enabling customers to carry out ATM transactions along with execution of retail/purchase transactions across Pakistan.

The writer is a Karachi based freelance columnist and is a banker by profession. He could be reached on Twitter @ReluctantAhsan

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