In Case You Missed It: From Thinkers to Makers, Digital Customer Experience Transformation with Al Baraka Bank

In Case You Missed It: From Thinkers to Makers, Digital Customer Experience Transformation with Al Baraka Bank by Mark Manning

In 1990, Al Baraka Bank was the first to bring Islamic banking to South Africa. Being first to market led to great success for this community bank, as Al Baraka has grown to a customer base of 60,000 in the region, managing R8,000,000,000 worth of assets.

However, over time, larger competitors have seen Al Baraka’s success and swooped into the region. Competitors brought great-looking, easy-to-use web and mobile app experiences to customers, experiences that Al Baraka was not equipped to match. An overhaul of their digital customer experience was the clear next step, but how to execute on that goal was much less clear. At Mendix World 2021, two Al Baraka colleagues, Hamzah Asmall, Development and Digitalization Manager, and Mohammed Kaka, COO, outlined why they chose a low-code solution with Mendix and how that decision enabled swift and effective change for their organization.

“Irrelevant and potentially extinct”

As Asmall outlined, “Digitalization, when you’re small, is quite difficult. It’s difficult to attract the right skills, and it’s difficult to get in place all of the institutional knowledge that’s required. We had just a small team of eight developers, where our competitors would have hundreds, and we had no prior knowledge of how to build an app.”

He also added, “We were swamped with a backlog of work arising from all of the regulations that came into play from post-pandemic COVID reporting, anti-money laundering, and other similar regulations.”

These combined factors left Al Baraka with a lot of large hurdles to overcome, including:

  • A desktop-only web experience
  • Outdated UI/UX
  • Vendor-managed services which led to siloing and difficulty getting tasks done across channels
  • A requirement for new customers to visit a branch for onboarding, which only became more difficult during the COVID pandemic
  • A resourcing deficit relative to competitors

Asmall noted, “We knew that if the pace of change inside the bank continued to lag the pace of change outside the bank, that we would end up irrelevant and potentially extinct.”

Low-code: Best of all worlds

As part of creating this new experience, Al Baraka knew they wanted to account for all of the following:

  • Cloud Native
  • Strong and simple UX/UI
  • Open API-ready
  • Native iOS/Android apps, ability to duplicate content across native apps and web presence
  • The ability to rapidly respond to changing needs

A SaaS solution would allow Al Baraka to get up and running quickly. However, that speed would come at the cost of flexibility and customization. On top of that, if any competitors used the same SaaS solution, Al Baraka would have little potential to differentiate their digital customer experience. A bespoke solution would enable them to create something truly custom but could be slow and potentially very expensive. Low-code offered both the benefits of speed and the ability to iterate toward differentiated experiences quickly, which were attractive to the Al Baraka team.

Al Baraka ultimately chose Mendix as a partner because of the speed and versatility they could bring on both a partner and platform level. Asmall reflected, “With Mendix Native and Mendix Web, we would be able to deploy once to both iOS, Android, and web, with large amounts of re-usability and massive flexibility. With Mendix Cloud, we would be able to deploy to the cloud at the touch of a button. With Mendix Data Hub and Mendix Integrations, we would be able to pull our disparate back ends together and get rid of silos. And with Mendix Security Certifications, we would be able to build with confidence.”

With that aside, the only question left according to Asmall was, “What will we make?”

Charting the “route to victory”

From the beginning, the relationship between the team at Mendix and the team at Al Baraka was a true partnership. Mendix worked with Al Baraka to help identify an implementation partner to supplement Al Baraka’s internal team. Al Baraka’s in-house developers went through a boot camp as part of the Mendix Academy. Kaka noted, “Our team [was] able to achieve a 90% plus aggregate rapid developer certification, and accordingly contribute to the overall team from [the] get-go, allowing our developers to work within this global implementation team.” This ensured that the in-house team would be ready to hit the ground running and create a great-looking and fully functional ecosystem from the first release.

Mendix and Al Baraka also put together an ambitious but achievable schedule with clear milestones and goals throughout. It charted, as Kaka recalled, a “route for victory.” This route included meticulous review and iteration at each stage while allowing flexibility to maintain Al Baraka’s desired launch date. The team at Al Baraka was ready to focus on making their big-time goals a near-term reality.

The team at Al Baraka expended substantial effort on design sketches so that when it came time to build on the Mendix platform, they were able to quickly translate their story into a useful and elegant user experience. As Kaka explained, “every demo left the audience with their jaws dropped.”

Key features built into the initial release were quick filters and search criteria, especially useful in large data sets, and the ability to share created PDFs through tools such as WhatsApp. These early features were previously unavailable to Al Baraka customers, and were an enormous leap forward in improving the customer experience.

Launching into transformation

After 8 sprints, 300 user stories, and 650 feedback items, the team rejoiced when their iOS app was approved on May 29, 2021. This approval was a significant milestone in Al Baraka’s journey.

The initial release covered about 80% of Al Baraka’s list of desired features, but those features were built and tested for 100% readiness, lending the development team the confidence to move on to build new features for future releases.

Kaka explained, “Six months ago, we were brick and mortar, [an] aged and rigid organization. Today, we have moved from onsite to cloud, from face-to-face and limited web to multi-channel.”

He continued, “I now know that SOAP is not something I use to wash my hands to prevent the Coronavirus. And REST is not something we do at the end of a hard day. But that’s the way our APIs interact between the core banking system and our Mendix customer portals,” reflecting on how low-code development has been a learning experience for the entire Al Baraka organization.

Kaka further considered how choosing low-code and Mendix as their solution allowed for the transformation of Al Baraka’s business: “Our investment in Mendix low-code…has allowed us to build beautiful and satisfying customer-user experiences within an environment that allows us to respond to rapid change and ensure that the pace of change inside our organization is as quick, if not faster, than the change outside.”

He concluded, “Mendix brings dreams to life fast.”

Author