The idea of utilizing breakthrough technology is nothing new to Kamal Bakri, who has fostered a global reputation for the bank he heads by boldly applying military technology to finance. In 2009, Bakri led Cairo Amman Bank (CAB) into an echelon of global innovators by deploying the world’s first ATMs enabled with iris-recognition technology. “If you are not an IT-driven bank,” Bakri’s motto goes, “you will be an obsolete bank.” Today, the CEO of CAB is taking the bank a step further by utilizing smart technology to foment financial inclusivity within the next generation of consumers.
The opportunity for financial innovation in Jordan is ripe, insists Bakri. “In the banking sector, the menu has been the same for over 100 years. We aim to differentiate ourselves from other banks by utilizing new technologies that are supported by tech-savvy employees. The challenge,” Bakri admits, “is that such projects require courage from the banker’s side.”
Arousing this type of courage at CAB has paid off. To date, the iris-recognition technology at CAB’s ATMs has enabled over 1.2 million transactions worth $422 million. The bank’s first-mover initiative attracted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to utilize the ATMs for financial aid dispersed to refugees. Through Iris Guard, a Jordanian company that manufactures the technology, ATMs are able to read unique cracks in our irises, eliminating fraudulent activity because, as Bakri jokes, “it hard to hack someone’s eye.” After the UNHCR deployed CAB’s ATMs, they were able to reduce the amount of illicit activities within their refugee funding program, which utilizes debit cards. “It’s estimated that 24 per cent of international funding for refugees has been misspent like this,” observes Bakri. “But with Iris Guard technology, each and every refugee must come to the ATM themselves.”
The next crisis that CAB hopes to tackle is more domestic. According to the World Bank, only 25 per cent of Jordan’s population is enrolled in the banking system – dramatically lower than the UAE, where 84 per cent hold active accounts. “There is a big issue in Jordan with financial inclusivity,” says Bakri. “The Central Bank of Jordan is working on including people into the system, and CAB plans to participate in supporting them.”
So far, CAB has covered impressive ground. The bank has signed 170,000 students through eight universities in Jordan onto its specially designed university smart card program, which incorporates 120 merchants in the country to provide student cardholders with discounts across a range of products and services.
“We have partnered with Orange Jordan to provide several new features and delivered our first 45,000 smart cards to the University of Jordan, with the rest of the students due to receive their cards by September,” Bakri announces. “These type of programs will bring in the next generation of banking customers by enabling them to purchase what they need most,” says Bakri. “That is how you appeal to the young, the previously unbanked.”