January 31, 2024
Meheriar Hasan, Chairman of BRAC Bank: Know Your Customers to Understand Their Needs
My special guest on this week’s Banking on Innovation podcast is Meheriar Hasan, Chairman of BRAC Bank in Bangladesh. Hasan has led a fascinating journey through banking, and I’m proud to call him my dear friend and personal mentor for many years.
With over 30 years of experience at prominent banks such as Wells Fargo and US Bank, and operating as a fintech founder and CEO, Hasan has driven breakthrough innovation and transformation in multiple ways. As head of digital banking at US Bank, he led the build-out of one of the largest and most successful digital banking channels in the country. At Wells Fargo, Hasan designed and developed one of the largest direct-to-consumer/digital lending channels in the financial services industry.
Hasan’s prevailing message is that the banking industry remains too product-oriented. As Chairman of BRAC Bank, he is striving to take a concerted customer-centric approach. He embraces a culture of deeply understanding customers’ behaviors and solving financial problems from their perspective.
Leveraging Customer Data to Personalize Bank Interactions
Hasan emphasizes the importance of leveraging data and understanding customers’ needs to deliver on his customer-centric philosophy. He points out, “Leveraging customer data for the true benefit of the customer, not just for the needs of the provider, is still a challenge. Customers are giving us information daily: who they are, what they’re about, where they are in their life cycle, and what their needs are. What do we do with this data? How do we use the data to personalize bank interactions in terms of communication, product development, delivery, and servicing? The data is all there and can be used.”
Empowering People in Bangladesh Through Banking
We discussed his role as Chairman at BRAC Bank in Bangladesh and the bank’s commitment to the principles of people, planet, and prosperity. BRAC’s mission is to empower people and communities in situations of poverty, illiteracy, disease, and social injustice. They are focused on the following areas:
- Financial inclusion, which requires reaching out to the unbanked and underbanked segments
- Small merchant enterprises (SME), which contribute 24% of the GDP of Bangladeshi society
- Banking for women, who make substantial contributions to the economy though this is largely unacknowledged
- Digital banking, which allows easy access for customers.
Knowing Your Customers Earns Trust and Helps Grow Both Their Business and Ours
Hasan shared the unique challenges faced in the Bangladeshi banking industry, particularly in addressing the needs of the underprivileged and those with limited access to banking services.
Hasan stressed that “knowing your customer” is a do-or-die concept for his bank, especially when 40 to 50 percent of their portfolio is non-collateralized loans. “Knowing our customers at the lowest level of detail: their local market dynamics, their cash flow, their suppliers, that informs the advice-based product we are offering, and product management is the secret sauce to our growth. Thanks to our detailed knowledge of the customers, we were able to achieve growth by focusing on the parts of Bangladeshi society that were ignored by other banks. Also, by digitizing our products and services and being aggressive with our pricing, our digital banking capabilities have given us the lowest customer acquisition cost of any bank in the country.”
The results have been promising: BRAC Bank deposits have increased by 24% and loans have increased by 28% over the past year, far superior growth to that of their competitors whom Hasan pointed out were more interested in profits.
What North American Banks Can Learn from the Emerging Markets
Hasan says that North American banks could learn a great deal from digital advancements occurring in emerging markets, particularly when addressing underserved segments. Emerging market customers don’t have the luxury of comparison shopping between multiple financial providers, he points out. To support their needs, a bank should be able to integrate the components of payments and e-commerce into the banking experience. He says that digital technology and mobile banking are providing opportunities for women-led small businesses and farmers in Bangladesh who haven’t had access to financial services in the past. BRAC Bank uses an agent-based model to bring more digitization and humanization to the process of interaction. Hasan added, “Our customers all have smartphones, and we are trying to empower the customer to share the information that they would share personally with an agent. By doing this, we create the capability for the customer to manage their cash flow while giving the bank a view into customers’ needs, which allows us collectively to manage the business.”
Where Are We Headed in the Next Few Years? Personalization!
Hasan cautioned that customers won’t accept generic treatment in the coming years; they will demand personalization. “Customers should be serviced according to their needs and where they are in their financial life cycle. They should receive personalization at every level: the product level, the pricing level, and marketing fulfillment.”
I hope you will find the conversation with Hasan inspiring, and admire his ambition to make a positive social and business impact on the world stage.
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Connect with podcast host Jody Bhagat on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/digitalbusinessgrower
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Jody brings deep operating experience in financial services – managing direct channels, launching digital ventures, and leading digital transformation programs. He was previously a Partner at McKinsey & Company, where he helped financial institutions define and execute digital transformation programs to drive customer growth and operating efficiency. Jody also served in senior digital operating roles at U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, and Providian. In these positions, he led digital sales and service functions and direct to consumer businesses to deliver organic growth and enhanced customer experience. Jody has an MBA from Northwestern University and a BS in Computer Engineering from The University of Michigan.