Hosted by top 5 banking and fintech influencer, Jim Marous, Banking Transformed highlights the challenges facing the banking industry. Featuring some of the top minds in business, this podcast explores how financial institutions can prepare for the future of banking.
The Inspirational Journey of a Financial Technology Leader
Being a leader in today’s banking ecosystem can be challenging when everything around us is changing so fast. The ability to pivot, be flexible and continuously evolve is a key to success.
These challenges are heightened when a leader is a female in an industry historically dominated by males. The balancing of work with the pressures of home and raising a family can change the path to success. But, the path is not impossible if there is focus, commitment to learning, and empathy for coworkers and peers around us.
I am thrilled to have Amnah Ajmal, Mastercard’s EVP of Market Development for Eastern European, Middle Eastern and African markets on the Banking Transformed podcast. She shares her leadership journey across multiple continents and why continuous learning is the key to becoming more future-ready.
Hello and welcome to Banking Transformed, the top podcast in retail banking. I'm your host, Jim Marous, Owner and CEO of the Digital Banking Report and co-publisher of The Financial Brand.
Jim Marous (00:22):
Being a leader in today's banking ecosystem can be challenging when everything around us is changing so fast. The ability to pivot, be flexible and continuously evolve is a key to success. These challenges are heightened when the leaders are female in an industry historically dominated by males.
Jim Marous (00:42):
The balancing of work with the pressures of home and raising a family can change the path to success and enlightenment. But the path is not impossible if there is focus, commitment to learning and an empathy for coworkers and peers around us.
Jim Marous (00:58):
I'm thrilled to have Amnah Ajmal, Mastercard's, EVP of Market Development for Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and the African markets in the Banking Transformed Podcast.
Jim Marous (01:09):
She shares the leadership journey across multiple continents and shares why continuous learning is the key to becoming more future ready.
Jim Marous (01:18):
With so many factors impacting the payments marketplace, Mastercard has made a deliberate effort to expand the diversity of their business model, finding new ways to deliver value to customers, partners and end users, both inside and outside the traditional payment space. This includes value added services like data analytics and cybersecurity.
Jim Marous (01:39):
Amnah, before we start, I'd like you to initiate our conversation with a little bit of a discussion around your extensive background in banking and your role at Mastercard today?
Amnah Ajmal (01:50):
Thank you so much, Jim, and thanks for having me. Well, super delighted to be part of a company that not only is driving digitization of cash, but also has a mission, which is around financial inclusion, which is something I'm very passionate about.
Amnah Ajmal (02:06):
And regarding my experience of working in different continents in my past life as a banker and now in the payment and technology company, I believe something that has personally inspired me the most and has constantly been helping me to remain relevant is surrounding myself with people that are smarter than me. Because in the world of technology and financial services, you really can't know all the answers, you should just know how to ask the right questions.
Amnah Ajmal (02:35):
And then constantly unlearning and relearning. And there's a huge power in unlearning because the way things were done in the past, you need to be aware that they may not be done like that in the future, and the same applies to the geography. The way things worked in Europe, I can't assume that's the same way they would work in Asia or in the U.S. or in the Middle East.
Amnah Ajmal (02:54):
And the last thing I would highlight is challenging the status quo. I think that is my biggest learning, and I continue to apply. So, actually in both my profession and personal life, and I wrote about it in LinkedIn, it's this famous story in a book by Paulo Coelho where he talks about a monastery where the monk actually, he had a cat sitting next to him whenever he was giving the lessons. And everybody used to attend his master's lesson, and they would actually be very happy with the peace that it would give to them.
Amnah Ajmal (03:32):
Eventually, this master passed away, the disciple took the place, and he kept the cat of the master in order to honor his memory.
Amnah Ajmal (03:39):
The next disciple came, and he replaced the cat with another cat. Eventually, a thousand years passed by, and people started writing theories about the importance of cat in driving peace and harmony in their meditation.
Amnah Ajmal (03:52):
And eventually, one master came, and he said, "Why is the cat there?" And he was allergic to animal hair, so he got rid of the cat.
Amnah Ajmal (03:59):
And then people realized over the next hundred years that actually the cat really doesn't play a role in meditation, and they're fine meditating without a cat. But it took 1000 years for someone to come over and ask, "Why is the cat there?" Because nobody asked that, it has always been there.
Amnah Ajmal (04:15):
And I think that example applies perfectly to the organizations at least in the two industries that I have seen. And moving across different countries, gave me that perspective because I could ask, "Why are we doing this like this? Why not, we could do it in a different way?"
Amnah Ajmal (04:33):
So, I just think that that mindset is just absolutely critical. And I just make sure that I hold myself to it, and I'm always doing that, and I don't become compliant, and I just don't see status quo as the way it should be.
Jim Marous (04:45):
You've been honored quite a bit over the years, being voted twice as a Top 25 women in Financial Technology globally, and a top 10 financial technology leader in America.
Jim Marous (04:57):
Even though those awards come, that does not come easily. And especially in an industry that's dominated by males, we sometimes underestimate the challenges of becoming an influential leader in financial services as a female.
Jim Marous (05:11):
What challenges have you faced over the years on your personal journey?
Amnah Ajmal (05:19):
Jim, thanks for asking that, and I think it's an absolutely critical piece to my journey. But I would say that my journey of being in a male dominant world started much before my professional journey, because I was born in Pakistan, and I come from a family where no woman has ever worked.
Amnah Ajmal (05:42):
And my mom was a mom at the age of 16, and I had a 32-year-old grandma. So, actually ruined the family average by getting married by the age of 35. So, challenging those norms and those traditions, which I really felt were not allowing me to have my own identity, gaining my financial independence.
Amnah Ajmal (06:02):
And at that time, in that environment, at the age of 19, when I had a dream that I want to live in these different countries, I want to experience the world, I want to work, I think that was a much bigger struggle because everything is relative in the world compared to what I saw later by entering into these industries.
Amnah Ajmal (06:21):
So, I would say, if I have to compare that part of my journey, it was a much bigger uphill battle compared to what I saw later. I would say in my 21-year career, what I see things now, oh my God, they're progressively different, massively different.
Amnah Ajmal (06:39):
It could also be because of social media, because of awareness, because of the way that technology has evolved, the pace at which the news is traveling, it's everything. It's a mix of all of that.
Amnah Ajmal (06:49):
But I do remember there were days, for example I was in my prior roles in my banking career. Somebody had come to meet me, and my title had said consumer whatever, head of this division. And when they came in, the person handed me over their coat because it's hot, I'm the assistant.
Amnah Ajmal (07:13):
And I took the coat, I just hung it on the wall at the hook, and then I went in, and I introduced myself.
Amnah Ajmal (07:21):
Not many years ago, actually I was talking to somebody on my team, and I was recommending him another person that both of us knew. And he said to me, "I don't think so, she's that ambitious." And I'm like, "Why do you say that?" And he's like, "She just had her third kid." And I was thinking, "Me, I have three kids."
Amnah Ajmal (07:53):
Now the difference in times is the person realized pretty quickly and realized that it was a mistake about what he said. I don't think so, that would've been the case seven, eight years back. So, I think the awareness is very high. I'm also fortunate to having worked in companies which support the diversity agenda a lot.
Amnah Ajmal (08:05):
I've been pregnant twice within my career at Mastercard, and both times I changed jobs, I changed continents. I came back from my maternity leave, and I was promoted. So, I'm very grateful for the organization.
Jim Marous (08:21):
There you go, with five more kids, you could be president.
Amnah Ajmal (08:26):
Yeah, that's what my boss told me. I was like, "Absolutely no way." I went from one to three, and that's it. But yeah, I understand, and I can relate to a lot of things that women talk about. And I think the best way I realized to come to terms with it, and maybe it's because I'm in my 40s and I'm no longer in my 20s, at some point in time, I was really bothered by it.
Amnah Ajmal (08:51):
At a certain point in time, you have to embrace it as you are being different. And yes, the world will come to realize that, and you need to just embrace that and positivity and move on from there. I think the more you remain stuck at that point, and you start letting it impact you negatively that's when actually you're letting it get to you.
Amnah Ajmal (09:14):
So, I think that was the key for me to say that "Yes, this is part of who I am, I do look different. I am different, and I have to embrace it." There's some things, Jim, they're like normal.
Amnah Ajmal (09:28):
For example, if I was pregnant, I could not stay in a meeting for four hours, I just had to go to the restroom so many times. Now, if that makes people think that, yes, it's a bit odd, so it be, that's part of who I am, that's the phase of my life that I'm going through.
Amnah Ajmal (09:42):
So, I think it's important to embrace that and just stay true to yourself as opposed to negating that or just giving energy to it that it really doesn't require and be focused on what you are doing.
Jim Marous (09:56):
So, you mentioned the fact that you've been in the banking industry for over 20 years, and as a leader in the payment space and in financial technology area, what do you believe have been the biggest opportunities and challenges in the financial services industry today? What have you seen that are having the biggest impact today?
Amnah Ajmal (10:17):
So, the biggest opportunity that I see is that the barriers to entry into financial services and many other industries are super low. That was not the case eight years back. When I was in banking and I was living in Asia and Singapore, and I met a telecom operator, and they wanted to become a bank.
Amnah Ajmal (10:39):
And we were like, "Who in their sane mind today would want to be a bank?" The whole Lehman Brother crisis had happened, most of the financial institutions were bailed out by taxpayer money. In fact, I would shy away from anybody asking about my profession, because saying that you're a banker would be a very tough thing.
Amnah Ajmal (10:58):
And at that time, it was difficult. But if I look at the time right now, you look at the payment facilitators, you look at the PSPs, you look at the fintechs, you look at the retailers. In my role, I see currently retailers entering into financial services, I see telcos entering into financial services.
Amnah Ajmal (11:18):
It's a massive opportunity because if your core business, that's your bread and butter, it's getting commoditized and the margins are decreasing, but you have the data, you have the trust of the consumers, you have the brand, you have the distribution footprint, then it's easy for you to leverage all these ingredients and enter into financial services. So, that is a massive, huge opportunity.
Amnah Ajmal (11:42):
Open finance is another huge opportunity because now it's no longer only the banks into the system. You add all other players, and that exchange of data, of course, with safety and security guardrails, that's another huge opportunity.
Amnah Ajmal (11:56):
The challenge, I would say, is twofold. One is trust, when you enter into financial services it’s different than buying a book or a piece of bread, you know what I mean? It's customer's money that they're trusting you with.
Amnah Ajmal (12:13):
And the second I would say is mindset. Mindset is internal. I think it's great to have an ambition that you could enter into financial services because you have these millions of consumers, they have the data.
Amnah Ajmal (12:24):
But the mindset that it's not about technology and it's about having a superior consumer experience going into the depth of those consumer journeys, I think that internal mindset needs to get more of a priority. That's why I say it's a challenge, as opposed to hiring a chief digital officer, a chief consumer experience officer. And yes, the problem would be solved because you have the funding and you would invest in technology.
Jim Marous (12:47):
So, it's interesting, I just returned from Amsterdam where Money20/20 was, and as you got a feel for the entire floor, it really had to do with embedded finance, open finance and payments. But really it had to do with the collaboration of a lot of different players in the marketplace.
Jim Marous (13:06):
At the end of the day, how do all these elements benefit the end user, the consumer?
Amnah Ajmal (13:13):
Yeah, great question. So, there was an interesting, fun fact that I read, and it's years back, that an average person in Britain, the relationship with the bank lasts longer than their marriage. So, there was a time, and there's still actually segments of our society, where banks have always been that one stop shop for all financial services.
Amnah Ajmal (13:37):
Now, with times that is changing because digital way of interacting, shopping, it has changed even our mindset, what we expect from our banks. My expectations from our banks are not necessarily driven by my experience with other banks, but they may be driven by the way I watch movies, or I consume products in the retail site.
Amnah Ajmal (13:58):
If you look at things like account opening, it used to be weeks, but now since it can happen in a minute, even if one player in a particular market is doing it, the expectation is very different for the entire industry.
Amnah Ajmal (14:13):
So, there could be plenty of use cases which can actually benefit the end user, but I am actually passionate about two of them. And I think one clear benefit is access to credit, which could be so faster and easier because many traditional institutions can now actually benefit from the access to APIs within this ecosystem where they're sharing the financial data and even something beyond the financial data.
Amnah Ajmal (14:40):
It could be, if you look at from mortgages to saving accounts, you are now removing the barriers between the firms and consumers because of this exchange of data. So, credit eligibility checks, historically they have been done about your income or the kind of data that the credit bureaus have.
Amnah Ajmal (14:59):
But just imagine if you actually start looking at small businesses in terms of their holistic payments that they're making, you could look into consumer through their social digital footprint, what they're doing on social media. Banks historically have never considered a social digital footprint of a consumer to grant access to credit.
Amnah Ajmal (15:18):
So, I think all of this, the bigger use case that I see is extending credit to segments that have historically been excluded in the traditional underwriting of the financial institutions.
Amnah Ajmal (15:29):
The second huge benefit to the end user is money management. All of us have multiple banking products. We have multiple apps, multiple logins. Of course, some banks have moved to biometric authentication.
Amnah Ajmal (15:46):
So, the fact that my kid's name with 1, 2, 3, or my dog name followed by 1, 2, 3 password, that kind of problem is eliminating slowly, but still it's complicated for an end user to even benefit from the consumer experience or actually manage their finance.
Amnah Ajmal (16:02):
I think thanks to open finance, you could collate all of your data in one place, and given the consumer consent and the financial data from different accounts and financial institutions, if they're pulled together, just imagine how powerful the consumer experience can be.
Amnah Ajmal (16:20):
Because now I can be moving my money where the interest rate is higher. I could actually be saving money by transferring my balances and credit products to an institution that's offering me a lower rate.
Amnah Ajmal (16:35):
So, this can all be automated based on a click, today, that's not the case. If you are banking with three or four institutions, the whole experience around money management is fragmented.
Amnah Ajmal (16:43):
So, those are the two areas that come immediately to my mind. And I think it would also foster positive competitive dynamics in the industry because the one who has the best consumer experience, that's the entity that would actually win.
Jim Marous (16:58):
Well, it's interesting because Mastercard, really, it's at the center point of all these dynamics, all these changes in the marketplace because they're playing in the payments area, but they're also playing in the banking and financial services area, in the security area, and as far as identity things of this nature.
Jim Marous (17:16):
How is Mastercard continually innovating to stay ahead of the curve? And how is it pretty much reinventing itself to really change the business model for the future?
Amnah Ajmal (17:29):
Very good question. Other than the card, we still have Mastercard as a name, so that's interesting. The mean goal is to provide choice, flexibility and safety security, wherever a payment is happening anytime, anywhere.
Amnah Ajmal (17:47):
And I think that's applicable very much to the world today. Because if you look at it, I could start my purchase on a mobile phone, I could move to a laptop, actually finish it in a physical retail store. So, this entire payment journey has to be smooth.
Amnah Ajmal (18:01):
Now, you could argue it's just about the payment instrument, but no, there are plenty of value-added services that go behind it. It's loyalty, how you're recognized, it's the checkout experience, it's the safety and security. It's the, are you entering a card number or is it a tokenized transaction.
Amnah Ajmal (18:18):
So, I think that's why our story around diversifying to the things that surround payment, but staying true to making sure that payments are providing flexibility, choice and safety security to consumers on one side and to the merchants on the other side. Because without this ecosystem working on both sides, it just doesn't make sense for the industry to move forward.
Amnah Ajmal (18:43):
Now, if you look at who are our customers today compared to historically, my role exists because I deal with all the clients that are non-financial institutions, be it retailers, be it telcos, be it crypto houses, buy now, pay later players, airlines, online travel aggregators, because each industry has a different pain point, but at the end of the day, they're solving for consumer experience or safety security, or driving loyalty, share of wallet.
Amnah Ajmal (19:13):
So, at the end of the day, it may be at a different stage of maturity, it may be wanting to diversify its revenue stream in a different way versus another player. I have logistics player; their challenge is completely different. They want to digitize B2B payments which are moving from one part of the world to another.
Amnah Ajmal (19:30):
So, it's more about data reconciliation and transparency, but it's all around the same things that I talked about. So, it makes total sense for us to make sure that we are providing that end-to-end service and fostering collaboration among different players of the ecosystem.
Amnah Ajmal (19:44):
That's absolutely critical because no one can drive innovation alone today. So, you need the fintechs in, you need the PSPs in, you need the merchant side, you need the financial institutions. And I think that that's what I find it super interesting for my role and also what we are doing at Mastercard to diversify our services and products.
Jim Marous (20:03):
So, it's interesting, when I was over in Amsterdam, it was really a great experience to see how payments is viewed there versus how payments are really seen in the United States, we're lagging to say the least.
Jim Marous (20:15):
We're focused on speed of payments, while many observers continue to debate things such as the future of cash, plastics, and even identity. Do you see cash being replaced by digital currency? And if so, and even if not, how does Mastercard play into that whole new equation?
Amnah Ajmal (20:36):
So, in my humble opinion, I don't think I can answer the question whether the cash would disappear or not. But what I can say is there are countries like Norway and Sweden who are almost cashless with only, 3 to 4% of the total point of sale transactions happening in cash.
Amnah Ajmal (20:56):
Then I look at Africa, where actually cards never happened because it's mobile money. They're two times higher mobile money accounts, and actually the bank accounts or the plastics. So, they're very different parts of the world. I think that the digitization opportunities are still huge and have a long runway, but it is accelerated.
Amnah Ajmal (21:19):
It's accelerated because of regulators intervention, maybe pandemic accelerated that because payments which were non-cash, be it government disbursement, tax collection, they became a challenge. So, the regulator really pushed a lot of organizations to move into digitization.
Amnah Ajmal (21:37):
Consumer adoption is playing a role. So, our research at Mastercard indicates that consumer adoption of new technologies is significantly higher than it used to be pre-pandemic. That could be because you were in a way, forced to use technology because that was the only means as opposed to earlier when it was a choice.
Amnah Ajmal (21:55):
So, the second one would be consumer adoption which would accelerate this change.
Amnah Ajmal (22:00):
The third one, I would say, is the acceptance side of the house. So, even if it's a consumer, I want to pay in a digital form, whatever that digital form is, it's a digital wallet, it's a card, it's a digital currency. The acceptance side on the other side of the merchant or SME should be there.
Amnah Ajmal (22:15):
If I go to a few years back, the only possible way the SMEs could digitize payment was this heavy 10 kilo physical terminal. Which is costly, it's expensive and it's not something that every small business or even medium enterprises could get into.
Amnah Ajmal (22:36):
Now, with the smartphone penetration, my device is my acceptance device, my phone, I could instantly generate a QR code, make a payment, and even at Mastercard we have all these products. So, that means that the acceptance of digital payments is super accelerated now.
Amnah Ajmal (22:53):
So, if I combine all these factors, the acceleration towards the digitization of cash is definitely there.
Amnah Ajmal (23:03):
The last seven years compared to the next seven, it would be like quadrupling the growth rate that we are talking about. But it's still a long way ahead of us because as I said, different countries at different stage of maturity and regulators are in different state of mind. So, we'll have to work through all of that.
Jim Marous (23:21):
It's interesting because I go ways back to say the least. And there was a time when we actually thought Africa's payment system was nice and it was kind of digital. And we thought of that as being the beginning point of what digital banking was going to be and that we were far beyond it.
Jim Marous (23:41):
Well, when we look back, because really, it's all about the user experience and being there when somebody needs it. And looking back, I really see Africa as being the leader in the world as far as the applicability of banking as we want it, which is really almost invisible and part of everything we do.
Jim Marous (23:59):
But as you talked about it, you're talking about the digitalization of cash and payments. What type of technologies today are scalable to make this all happen, and what do we have to do still to really make digitalization of payments happen better?
Amnah Ajmal (24:17):
Sure, so I think now with a lot of data and research, which is available to be shared, you can easily see that countries that prioritized digital or digitized payment economies, they are significantly much better placed to fight the impact of unemployment, fraud, theft, cost of cash, corruption, you name it.
Amnah Ajmal (24:43):
Cost of cash is still estimated to be 3.2 to 4 and a half percent of country's global GDP. So, that's huge. So, I think there's more and more recognition about what a massive opportunity is ahead of us to continue to digitize cash.
Amnah Ajmal (24:59):
Now, this brings another interesting element, which is financial inclusion. So, if I just take the example of — and this stat part, the way holds true in any part of the world even if you look at U.S. Versus Asia or Europe.
Amnah Ajmal (25:14):
So, for example, in Middle Eastern North Africa, SMEs represent almost 96% of the registered companies and almost to about half of the employment of the region, with the account only for 7% of the banking lending.
Amnah Ajmal (25:30):
Now, SME’s at the backbone of the economy of any country. So, if they are not being financially included, and we do not enable their growth, actually, we're not helping the economies to grow. So, when you asked me that, what kind of technologies would scale, I would be very passionate about merchant acceptance technologies.
Amnah Ajmal (25:50):
Be it device becoming an acceptance device, as I said before, be it technologies like buy now, pay later, be it Blockchain provided the right regulations, and the governance frameworks exist because this is enabling the merchant to accept payments and grow their business in a cost efficient manner.
Amnah Ajmal (26:08):
But on the other side, it's also providing the consumer with choice, flexibility and ways of payment that actually provide convenience to them, as simple as that. So, I think that those technology which are enabling the merchant side of the house, but at the same time, giving consumers choice and flexibility and convenience would be great.
Amnah Ajmal (26:28):
And second, I would say is that artificial intelligence. I'm no expert on it, I'm still learning and trying to get my head around it. Some things about it I still find it strange to wrap my head around. But I would say that that could definitely play an important role in contextual real time personalization.
Amnah Ajmal (26:51):
So, you talked about Africa earlier, I mean, because of the fact that telcos are driving the digitization, it's mobile money accounts, they have geolocation data, which by the way is not hard to get, any financial institution can get it.
Amnah Ajmal (27:04):
So, the fact that the communication with the consumer is contextual real time and is personalized, that's super powerful because that can help even the consumer to embrace these technologies faster.
Amnah Ajmal (27:18):
So, financial inclusion, I would say contextual personalization and all the technologies that enable us to scale that would definitely drive the digitization of cash much faster.
Amnah Ajmal (27:30):
And also, last thing would be, I think the mindset shift. Because I think in large organizations when we are trying to drive a change, I would say not all innovations would pay off in the short-term. Some may not even pay off in the long run.
Amnah Ajmal (27:49):
And you need to have that mindset that, "Yes, this is a risk that we are taking. It may pay off, it may not pay off within the right parameters,” but we have to experiment with a lot of these innovations. Some may not scale, but the point is that you should have an ability to experiment.
Jim Marous (28:06):
It's interesting because it's that experimentation, it's being able to turn off something that doesn't work. But even moving forward and changing the way we've done things in the past, that's many cases the biggest hurdle we have in the industry is that many companies have a hard time embracing that change that's taking place.
Jim Marous (28:25):
So, let's just take a short break here and recognize the sponsor of this podcast.
Jim Marous (28:33):
Welcome back, I am joined today by Amnah Ajmal, EVP of Market Development for the Eastern European, Middle East and African nations at Mastercard. We have been discussing the transformation of Mastercard and Amnah's journey within the banking industry and at Mastercard.
Jim Marous (28:49):
So, you were talking about AI before the break and everybody's talking about AI and the application of all the conversational AI, but also just the deeper dive into how data analytics can really drive personalization.
Jim Marous (29:05):
At Mastercard, how are they looking at the change in market pace driven by AI, and how are they going to be at the cutting edge of that dynamic?
Amnah Ajmal (29:15):
Thanks, Jim. Yes, thanks to ChatGPT, everybody's talking about AI. It's interesting because usually when I want to study the future, I try to go into the past and I realized that the term artificial intelligence was coined in 1950s. 1956 was when the first conference about artificial intelligence happened. Yet it took us ChatGPT to happen to understand the importance of it.
Amnah Ajmal (29:40):
Well, I would say that I think there are millions and millions of use cases of artificial intelligence, and I still try to educate myself and keep up to speed so that I can enable my clients.
Amnah Ajmal (29:53):
I would say the few that come to my mind immediately and where we as Mastercard are playing a critical role, first is data. We have billions and billions of data points. If I go to a retailer where that retailer would only know or have data about what's happening in their specific shop, I would be able to tell them where else the consumer is shopping, of course, in an anonymized way, at a portfolio segment level.
Amnah Ajmal (30:20):
Now, this data historically used to be analyzed by actually having patterns and mining your databases, and you would have data warehouses. Now, thanks to artificial intelligence, if you really have to look and analyze the consumer patterns and come up with consumer engagement models, that's super, super powerful because that is your differentiation. How you are engaging your consumers.
Amnah Ajmal (30:48):
And I think that ability to mine this data, with keeping one thing in mind, the input actually determines the output. So, all the biases that are going into the input would also be coming out in the output.
Amnah Ajmal (31:01):
So, the human basically not should be used to mine the data now because the machines are doing it better than us, but actually to make sure how we eliminate those biases. I think that's super, super powerful to how to equip our clients with data that enables them to make better decisions and engage their clients better for a higher share of wallet.
Jim Marous (31:21):
So, as you view the banking ecosystem today, what stands out as the most important trend that you think is going to be changing in the industry?
Amnah Ajmal (31:30):
I very passionately believe that somehow other industries, even the hotel industries and all, they have taken such a leap forward in terms of personalization and servicing for consumers, and as banks, we still have a lot of catch up to do.
Amnah Ajmal (31:50):
So, the fact that, for example, it is very much possible in a very cost-effective way, but if I'm passing by a coffee shop from where I take coffee every morning, let alone that a bank sends me an email or an SMS, in real time while I'm entering that coffee shop, my bank could send me a WhatsApp or a text saying, "Your favorite coffee is on us today. Or talk to the merchant," and the merchant has launched, I don't know, a new muffin and say, "Just try this muffin, it's on us." They could actually do it while I'm entering at that shop, they have all the data to do so.
Amnah Ajmal (32:26):
So, I think the old way of (and I used to be a banker myself), looking at revenue per customer through number of products, that's historically how we are wired. So, if I only have a card with the bank, can I actually have a mortgage? Can I have a saving account? Can I have a target for a wealth management? That is a very product centric view.
Amnah Ajmal (32:48):
And of course, ultimately it does drive revenue per customer. But if you just flip that lens into an experience view and have that belief that if you are providing a superior consumer experience, if the consumer is more engaged with you, automatically, the share of wallet with regard to number of products would go high. I just think that flip in mindset is critical. And today's technologies enable that.
Amnah Ajmal (33:12):
And if you don't want to build that technology yourself, you can collaborate with a lot of fintechs because fintechs and traditional organization, exactly want what the other one has. Every fintech I talk to wants scale. Every big organization that I talk to wants agility. So, they're a perfect match for each other.
Amnah Ajmal (33:34):
Gone are the days where you have to build everything by yourself. So, I that that's where, I would say the biggest opportunities, but followed by servicing. Servicing in financial services still has a way to go.
Amnah Ajmal (33:48):
A lot of institutions have experimented with the bots and it's easy actually to launch a bot, but the whole aspect of humanizing technology, because technology can be as human as humans are, I think that requires a more in-depth focus on consumer experience and journeys, and really a mindset that actually you're improving the consumer experience as opposed to you’re just launching a technology.
Amnah Ajmal (34:13):
Those two would be the areas that at least I would think can have a massive impact.
Jim Marous (34:19):
So, you write amazing content on your LinkedIn site regularly about the transformation of Mastercard, the disruption of the banking and payments area, as well as your own personal journey. Your personal posts are actually what I believe are the most inspiring and the most interesting for me to read.
Jim Marous (34:36):
What keeps your engines running as a leader and as a mother, not necessarily in that order?
Amnah Ajmal (34:44):
Thank you, Jim, thanks for your kind words. I feel I'm always more inspired by people's personal journeys, and I find it intriguing when I'm interacting with diverse people, like what's behind the sources.
Amnah Ajmal (34:58):
And I spend time with everyone from an intern to the female leaders in my organization to my senior leadership team, my clients, my children. And it occurred to me pretty late in my career, I would say around the 10, 12-year mark, that the most important thing is to show your vulnerability as a leader.
Amnah Ajmal (35:24):
And I was not able to do it for the first decade of my career because it's extremely hard. And I think as a woman, it's even harder because it's like, "Oh, what would people think about me? Does it make me less of a leader?"
Amnah Ajmal (35:42):
And as I started reframing my own journey and my principles and what kind of an impact I can have, and I reframed my story at the age of 18, I had a 15-year vision of my life and I was able to achieve that, then why can't I share my journey and help other people, especially women, but even men to achieve that.
Amnah Ajmal (36:05):
And I think when I started doing that, and I would get feedback and it would be such a simple thing that I would've said, and people would be like, "Oh, thank you so much, this had such an impact on me.” And I would be like, "But what exactly did I say?"
Amnah Ajmal (36:19):
And I think that just kept me going. I opened up after quite a while with my first kid. I went through postpartum depression, which I really did not understand at that time. Then I understood it and I went through therapy, and I wrote about it.
Amnah Ajmal (36:35):
And I was shocked, like the number of women who wrote to me that how nobody ever talks about it and nobody would ever talk about it, or very few would talk about it at a senior leadership position, because then one person also told me you could be passing a message that having a child for a woman means a difficult time period, and then you could not be performing your leadership responsibilities in the best possible way, so it was very brave of you to write that.
Amnah Ajmal (37:05):
And I thought to myself, it was a very natural experience for me, I would expect everybody else to embrace it. So, I just think that that inspires me to write more and share more. And I also have realized that once you share your vulnerability as a leader you are leading with your heart and empathy.
Amnah Ajmal (37:25):
So, that just makes me really happy that I can have that tiny little bit impact, even if it's on one person, it makes me sleep better.
Jim Marous (37:36):
What can leaders like yourself do to improve the industry? And what can the industry do to help leaders like you?
Amnah Ajmal (37:45):
Well, the industry is doing, by having people like you who are so vocal and talking about the change. I would say I always have to make sure that we challenge the status quo. And we make sure that actually we are nurturing the talent who are able to do that.
Amnah Ajmal (38:03):
Because as you work in larger organization and corporates, many times, you do tend to fall into the trap that, yes, this is the way it is, and you move on from there. And I think the world is changing around us so rapidly that having that ability and mindset to constantly change and question your processes. I see many times things that are being done before and they were set eight years back, so that mindset.
Amnah Ajmal (38:26):
And I think for the industry, there's a lot of focus and there's a lot of content on technology right now, and I think that is driving the innovation in different industries.
Amnah Ajmal (38:38):
But I think it's just important to cut through the hype of different technology and put the focus on changed leaders and the people that are required to drive that change.
Amnah Ajmal (38:50):
As such, I always say you could pick up two things and say, "You know what, in the next seven years, no matter what happens, I'm going to focus on these two technologies. I don't know be it artificial intelligence, be it buy now, pay later."
Amnah Ajmal (39:00):
Then you go down to the use cases because technology is nothing, it's just providing you a means to an end. You need to define what that journey is.
Amnah Ajmal (39:06):
So, for example, if you say, "I would transform credit underwriting and my goal is to have 10% people more included in financial services, which previously I did not include," it's a very tangible goal and it's a clear customer experience journey that you want to improve, then you go for the technology, which technology can help me do that?
Amnah Ajmal (39:28):
So yeah, I at times read articles about on metaverse you could have children. And then I have friends whose kids wanted a pet, and my friend bought them a cat on metaverse. These things are like … I can't comprehend despite the fact that I would say I'm an open-minded person willing to learn.
Amnah Ajmal (39:47):
And it's easy to get just overwhelmed with all of this that's happening. So, I think it's just important to understand what are the two, three areas that you would focus on in terms of new technology? What are the use case? And then how would you leverage the technology? So, cut through that noise and hype, I would say.
Jim Marous (40:03):
So, what is the most important lesson from your journey that you could share with others?
Amnah Ajmal (40:10):
I would say courage is a very must quality for leaders, especially in today's times. Continuously learning, asking questions. I see many times people would say in a meeting, "Sorry for a dumb question," no, no, no, no question is dumb. So, having that courage is important.
Amnah Ajmal (40:34):
I always look at my children and the way they can ask me questions, I was like just wish I could be like them. Yesterday I was on a call and my twin boys came to me on both sides of the study table, and I put the video off and they're like — this is the bedtime I had to go to put them to bed. They're like, "Who's this?" I'm like, "Oh, this is this person." I told them the name. "What does he do?" And I'm on mute, camera off.
Amnah Ajmal (40:58):
I'm like, "He's a lawyer." "What do lawyers do?" I'm thinking he needs to go so I can talk. I'm like, "They talk." He's like, "Well, I talk also, can I be a lawyer?" I'm like, "Yeah, sure, you can be a lawyer." And he is like, "But why aren't you a lawyer then?"
Amnah Ajmal (41:12):
I said, "No," because I was like … but you know what I mean, the essence of it is that they just keep on going and drilling down because they have just no filter. And that spontaneity just helps them to grow, and there's so much of science around it. So, I just wish as leaders, we could have that same ability that I observe in my kids.
Amnah Ajmal (41:31):
And the second thing I would say, perseverance is the key that can open any door. I passionately believed it as it worked in my personal life, it works in my professional life.
Jim Marous (41:44):
That's a great place, thank you so much, Amnah. I really appreciate the conversation and really understanding more about your personal journey as I look back on, it could be pretty close to eight or nine years that I met you in New York City.
Jim Marous (41:58):
I remember you as a dynamic smaller woman who nothing could stand in your way. And your passion for what you do and the life you live is really infectious, and it's something that I hope more people can take lessons from.
Jim Marous (42:14):
So, again I recommend that everybody follows on these LinkedIn posts. They're quite inspirational and informational and that you can continue to follow a journey because it is by far from over. So, thank you so much for being on the show today.
Amnah Ajmal (42:31):
Thank you so much, Jim, thank you so much for having me.
Jim Marous (42:35):
Thanks for listening to Banking Transformed, the winner of three International Awards for Podcast Excellence. If you enjoy what we're doing, please take 30 to 45 seconds to show some love in the form of a review. It helps us to continue to get great guests like today.
Jim Marous (42:50):
Finally, be sure to catch my recent articles on The Financial Brand and check out the research we're doing for the Digital Banking Report.
Jim Marous (42:57):
This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thank you to our senior producer, Leah Haslage, audio engineer, Sean Rule-Hoffman, and video producer Will Pritts.
Jim Marous (43:07):
I'm your host, Jim Marous. Until next time, remember, the arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday is sufficient for tomorrow.