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‘Pakistan is not lagging behind any of our markets; in fact, it’s one of the most important markets for us’

Michael Spiegel is the Global Head of Transaction Banking at Standard Chartered and a member of the Corporate, Commercial and Institutional Banking Management Team. He is responsible for the strategic positioning of the business and delivery of solutions across Cash Management, transactional FX and Trade & Working Capital Financing to corporate and institutional clients. He is also a member of the supervisory board of the Bank’s European Hub in Frankfurt, Standard Chartered AG.

Michael is a veteran transaction banking and client coverage specialist. His career spans more than three decades across Europe, the United States and Asia where he has held senior management positions in Global Transaction Banking and Client Coverage. Outside the Bank, Michael is a Board Member of Singapore’s Trade Data Exchange (SGTradeX), a digital infrastructure that facilitates trusted and secure sharing of data between supply chain ecosystem partners.

Prior to joining Standard Chartered in 2020, Michael worked at Deutsche Bank where he shaped the global trade finance and corporate cash management delivery and was a driving force behind the development and roll out of a fully integrated vendor finance solution.

Following are the edited excerpts of a conversation BR Research had with Michael Spiegel during his recent visit to Pakistan:

BR Research: How do you view Pakistan’s market among the developing countries for SC? What is the importance of the Transaction Banking Pakistan franchise in the overall scheme for SC?

Michael Spiegel: Pakistanis an important market for Standard Chartered, and we have seen substantial growth with continued innovation where we deliver best-in-class solutions for our clients. We have been leaders in addressing the operational needs and day-to-day transactions of our business, corporate and institutional clients. Our aim at the Bank is to empower the real economy through transaction banking products which offer a full suite of Cash, Trade and Working Capital solutions. In Pakistan, we are market leaders in the electronic payments space, processing six million electronic payments per annum, making us a core cash management bank for MNCs. Pakistan is the second market in the Africa & Middle East region to offer Straight2Bank Pay, helping collect e-commerce and in-store flows, and we are the only bank to offer Virtual Accounts for Collections and Payments which led to 26 implementations during COVID (2020 & 2021).

We are also the House bank for INGO’s such as UN and diplomatic missions; we offer them curated solutions for aid disbursements through mobile money payments. In addition, we were the first bank in Pakistan to launch the digital supply chain finance solution by securing special approvals from State Bank of Pakistan, providing SMEs with access to collateral free finance at competitive rates. We recently launched digital Shipping Guarantee solution and Digital Trade Counter in Pakistan, helping us migrate trade transactions to digital channels. Our digital initiation in trade stands at 68 percent, while cash payments are 98% digital.

BRR: Fintechs globally have disrupted the cash management landscape by challenging global banks in unprecedented ways. Does Standard Chartered view them as a rival, or a partner to co-create?

MS: We are proactive in our approach to investing in our platforms and technology and collaborating with Fintechs that complement our proposition. Today, banks and Fintechs are combining their strengths and collaborating for their mutual benefit. It is now more important than ever to collaborate and co-create. Therefore, we view them as partners. The positive impact of our partnerships is helping support the creation of new business models and better ways of doing business, with far-reaching implications for clients and markets.

Our Fintech partnerships in Pakistan, for instance, include our partnership with Haball which is a B2B Fintech that aims to digitise supply chains and bring efficiencies to business processes. This collaboration helps us build an enabling environment for our clients to increase the uptake of digital payments and collections using institutional vehicles, and will create digital financial inclusion in the distribution and retail space in Pakistan. For example, our franchise in Pakistan was the first bank to associate with Haball, to enable efficiency and growth in supply chains for large corporates with faster transactions.

In November 2021, we announced a partnership with FinLync to enable corporate treasury and finance teams to connect to Standard Chartered’s API offerings rapidly and easily. This partnership allows us to support our clients in making the shift to real-time treasury and significantly increase working capital efficiency.

So, these are important initiatives for us and we will continue to build partnerships as and when there is a use-case and where we can collaborate to bring more value to our clients.

BRR: There is a lot of talk about technology innovations like big data, artificial intelligence, block chain and other buzzwords. Are global treasurers ready to embrace this new wave? Or is everyone just trying to be on the bandwagon and figure it out by trial-and-error?

MS: This is a multi-faceted question. The accelerated evolution of technology and innovation allows us to offer new digital solutions to our clients. But this also requires banks to respond faster to changing client needs and companies will need to respond faster to the changing needs of their consumers. Therefore, the Silicon Valley concepts of ‘fail fast and move fast’ – which I would rather call as ‘learn fast’ are being widely used as these innovations are created and developed.

Both banks and companies have to be very clear about their priorities and then look at how to get there. New technologies are very supportive and enabling - but they don’t typically drive strategies. Data is another growing and very important area that is very widely explored and used both by corporates and banks. It is used very prominently and has been for a long time in retail for marketing/product development, and now increasingly in wholesale banking and across the industry; look at IOT (Internet of Things), the use of data for credit scoring, buy-now-pay-later (BNPL), financing schemes on platforms. The list goes on.

BRR: During the global financial crisis, trade banks found it difficult to provide finance to the market like they did in the past. Since then, many banks have largely focused on core relationship business. Is this the new norm? What lessons have been learned?

MS: I would like to say that we continue to deepen our existing client relationships. In parallel, we continue to explore and identify new areas of growth, especially in the emerging industries and sectors that we are targeting across wholesale banking such as New Economy, Technology, and FIs etc. To do that, we are developing product propositions that cater to these new industries and sectors that we are targeting. Our focus is on developing easy-to-bank, digital and sustainable solutions that are scalable and that offer our clients an exceptional experience.

BRR: The regulatory landscape is also shifting significantly. State Bank of Pakistan is very proactive in bringing a digital innovation and financial inclusion in the cash management landscape in particular. How agile are banks today to match the regulatory expectations?

MS: The State Bank of Pakistan is indeed very proactive in adopting digital innovation and this provides fertile ground for digital innovation - we are working very closely with the State Bank of Pakistan to introduce new solutions that drive digitisation in the country.

Another area that the State Bank of Pakistan is focusing on and is very proactive is the Financial Inclusion Programme (FIP). Through this programme, the regulator is introducing policies, such as the Banking Equality Policy, to transform the financial market in Pakistan and provide equitable and efficient market-based financial services to the otherwise excluded poor and marginalised population including women and young people. We are very proud to support this initiative and our franchise CEO, Rehan Shaikh, represented the Pakistan Banking industry at the inaugural launch event of the Banking Equality Policy at the Presidential Palace at the end of last year.

BRR: What impact has COVID had on global trade finance, and how has Standard Chartered responded to it? Where do you see it going since the pandemic has subsided in most markets?

MS: We supported our clients throughout the pandemic and continued to extend vital support for businesses to continue to trade and exchange goods and services globally. Due to the supply chain disruption that was caused by the pandemic, clients started setting up new supply chains of goods and services. This is driving the growth and development of new and emerging geographies and trade corridors such as the South-to-South corridor, the Intra-Asia Regional corridor and the Intra-ASEAN corridor. Our footprint and strong capabilities across the world’s most dynamic markets, where the flows of tomorrow will grow and expand, positions us well to harvest the opportunities.

Another area which the pandemic has accelerated was the adoption of technology and the digitisation of banking services – For example, Digital Pakistan Policy and the SBP’s micro payment gateway RAAST that has been rolled out here which aims at accelerating digitisation in Pakistan. We are working closely with the regulator to integrate this gateway with our digital banking platform (S2B) for corporate use.

Our aim is to offer a superior digital client experience; therefore, we continue to invest in our digital platforms, globally and in Pakistan too.

BRR: Could you tell us some of the products you are working to bring to the Pakistan market which can enhance the Cash and Trade landscape to the level where some of your other markets operate?

MS: First, Pakistan is not lagging behind any of our markets. We offer the same product suite that we have in other markets tailored to the needs of our clients here. In fact, and as I mentioned before, Pakistan was one of the first markets in this region to introduce some of our newest solutions, such as S2BPay, Virtual accounts for Collection and Virtual Accounts for Payments. One of the propositions we are proud of, is our mobile wallet payments solution that enables aid disbursements to remote areas in Pakistan.

We will continue to invest in our product proposition and platform capabilities here, notably in the areas of digitisation where we continue to roll out our digital banking offering for corporates to offer our clients a superior and consistent digital client experience. These include S2B Next Gen, our award-winning and refreshed digital banking platform for corporates and Trade Express, our Easy2Bank digital trade finance platform.

Secondly, we will continue to focus on sustainability to help our clients meet their net zero targets. For example, last year, we introduced the Sustainable Supply Chain Finance solutions in Pakistan, and we will soon introduce the Sustainable Account, a sustainable cash management here too.

Last but not the least, effective working capital management is now more important than ever and we are further building our proposition in this space to offer our clients differentiated solutions that are powered by our network and digital platforms. More to come soon.

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