x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Noor Islamic Bank's new branch that fits in your smartphone

The Life: Virtual banks and smartphone apps could mean that the days of the traditional, besuited branch manager are numbered.

Hussain Al Qemzi: the head of Noor Islamic Bank. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Hussain Al Qemzi: the head of Noor Islamic Bank. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Virtual banks and smartphone apps promise to make life easier for everyone - with the possible exception of the traditional, besuited manager of your local branch.

Numerous UAE banks have launched apps to allow customers to manage their accounts using their phones, reducing the need to visit branches in person.

Noor Islamic Bank, for example, is set to release its smartphone and tablet apps next month - and recently demonstrated how the virtual branch of the future could look.

Hussain Al Qemzi, the bank's chief executive, says the new generation of customers is shunning the traditional bank branch, as they look for easier ways to access their money.

"I'd like to see more customers doing business the easy way," he says. "Why would you go to the branch when you can do it at home?"

Noor's smartphone app, which it demonstrated on Apple devices at the recent Gitex Technology Week in Dubai, features day-to-day banking functions such as balance inquiries and transfers. Noor is also seeking approval from the UAE Central Bank to enable customers to scan and deposit cheques directly from their smartphones.

Many other banks operating in the UAE, including Mashreq, RAKBank and HSBC, have smartphone apps. But functionality varies: Emirates NBD's iPhone app has not met with great reviews as it does not allow customers to directly access their account.

Mr Al Qemzi says Noor will continue operating physical branches as long as its customers demand them. But in the future, virtual banking terminals - with 3D screens and video links to advisers - could further reduce the need for physical branches, according to Mr Al Qemzi.

"I want to do [personal banking] on Skype - so you can see them face-to-face on your mobile from anywhere in the world," he says.

"You're still going to maintain some kind of human touch. But maybe it won't be your well-dressed branch manager."