Islamabad, November 22, 2023 (PAKONOMY): In the realm of Pakistan’s financial sector, the advent of fintech and regulatory advancements, such as Raast, has illuminated a path of triple-digit growth. Noteworthy among recent developments are the in-principle approvals granted to five upcoming digital retail banks, sparking optimism within the financial community. Yet, before we delve into the promise of these newcomers, it’s imperative to scrutinize the digital footprint of existing banks.
Assessing Digital Readiness
Transaction Metrics: The True Indicator
When evaluating digital readiness, a meaningful proxy is essential. While the industry showcases MOUs and awards on social media, a deeper analysis is required. Transaction mix emerges as a pivotal indicator, considering that transactions constitute the core of banking activities.
To shed light on the digital landscape, we scrutinized four major banks – Meezan, Habib Bank Limited (HBL), United Bank Limited (UBL), and Alfalah. These banks, topping the Data Darbar Digital Banking Readiness Index, were subjected to rigorous evaluation using diverse sources, including investor presentations, direct inquiries, and third-party tools.
Meezan Takes the Lead
Unsurprisingly, Meezan emerges as the digital frontrunner. In the first half of 2023, it outpaced others with a staggering throughput of Rs5.36 trillion and 122.9 million transactions in mobile and internet banking, constituting over a quarter of the industry’s total. Boasting 2.3 million active customers across these channels, Meezan secured the highest digital penetration.
Transaction Volume vs. Throughput
While HBL surpassed UBL in throughput (Rs2.1 trillion against Rs2 trillion), the latter retained the second position in terms of transaction volume, recording 88 million transactions across mobile and internet banking. Alfalah, ranking fourth in both metrics, reported values of Rs1 trillion and 29 million transactions in 1H2023.
Deep Dive into Digital Channels
Web Traffic Dynamics
Examining website traffic unveils Meezan’s dominance with 7.3 million visits during the first half, as reported by the digital intelligence platform Similar web. HBL secured the second spot with 3.6 million visits, while UBL and Alfalah trailed with 3.2 million and 3.1 million, respectively.
App Downloads Race
In the realm of mobile applications, HBL took the lead with 805,000 downloads during 1H2023, according to estimates from the analytics platform App figures. Meezan, although a distant second with 490,000 downloads, outpaced UBL (395,000) and Alfalah (256,000).
The Tech Spending Dilemma
Unraveling IT Expenditure
An intriguing aspect of the digital landscape is banks’ investment in technology. HBL stands unmatched with an IT expenditure of Rs8.5 billion during 1H2023, constituting a fifth of the industry’s total. While UBL’s Rs3.8 billion placed it second, the bank boasted the highest total operating expenses on information technology at 11.8%.
Efficiency in Operations
However, the correlation between technology spending and operational efficiency is complex. Meezan, with a relatively modest IT expenditure of Rs1.98 billion and an IT/opex ratio of 6.65%, recorded the highest transaction volume. This challenges the notion that higher technology spending necessarily translates to superior efficiency.
The Quest for Deeper Insights
As we traverse the digital terrain of Pakistani banks, it becomes evident that a comprehensive understanding requires access to more data. Unfortunately, most banks refrain from disclosing crucial digital operation metrics, and the few that do adhere to no coherent reporting standards.
Data Reporting Challenges
Discrepancies in reporting formats hinder meaningful comparisons. Some banks combine throughput from various sources, inflating numbers and deviating from reporting conventions. The conflation of mobile and internet numbers further complicates analysis, neglecting the unique use cases of each channel.
Beyond Payments: A Glimpse into the Unknown
While our analysis has primarily focused on payments, the digital landscape extends beyond to services like consumer lending and investments. However, data closures in these areas remain scarce, reflecting banks’ limited familiarity with them.
In conclusion, unraveling the digital landscape of Pakistani banks reveals a complex ecosystem with nuances beyond surface-level metrics. As the industry moves towards increased digitization, the need for standardized reporting and deeper insights becomes paramount for stakeholders navigating this evolving landscape.