Islamic banks turn to WhatsApp to engage customers

With about half a billion active daily users, Whatsapp’s global reach is a gold mine to businesses, and Islamic banks in the Gulf are taking advantage of the pervasiveness of the messaging service to create customer engagement.

In the last three months, two Islamic banks in the Middle East have introduced WhatsApp-mediated customer and banking services in a move to be more connected to their customers, leveraging on the popularity of the social messaging app in the Gulf. 

Al Baraka Islamic Bank Bahrain launched its Customer Care WhatsApp Service, enabling customers of the world’s largest Islamic banking brand to access a digital helpdesk which provides them with real-time solutions to any issues faced as well as transactional information globally.

“At Al Baraka Islamic Bank, we realized that the next best way to serve our customers is by giving them the opportunity to address their every enquiry on the go. And what better way to do that than through the use of the most preferred messenger app in the world right now, WhatsApp,” shared Fatema AlAlawi, the head of the retail banking at Al Baraka Bank Bahrain.

This follows an earlier move by Emirates Islamic in the UAE, which introduced its WhatsApp Banking service, allowing customers to conduct simple banking transactions via the social messaging service including temporary blocking or unblocking of bank cards, requesting new cheque books, checking account balances and requesting for credit card mini statements, among others. EI is the first fully-fledged Islamic bank anywhere in the world to launch such a service, and promises to deliver more robust banking services via Whatsapp in the near future.

These initiatives reflect how social media is no longer merely a marketing tool for banking, but also a viable channel for product distribution and customer acquisition. In the UAE for example, 97% of the population utilize WhatsApp, according to the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority. This makes it the most widely used social media platform in the Emirates, above Facebook, Skype, SnapChat and WeChat.

This is another feather in EI’s cap: the bank was the first Shariah bank in the UAE to roll out a mobile banking app and the first to integrate three major digital wallets, namely Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay. The Islamic bank along with its conventional counterpart, Emirates NBD have committed to channel AED1 billion (US$272.18 million) to support its digital transformation agenda including improving its mobile banking platform and enhancing user experience. 

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