Kazakhstan's best digital bank 2019: Alfa-Bank
You get a bit of a sense of deja vu when interviewing bank chief executives in Kazakhstan. They all talk about digital, they all talk about SMEs, few of them care about investment banking. They all have an app to brag about and a story about how client acquisition has become ‘streamlined’.
Alfa-Bank, run by chief executive Andrey Timchenko, is no exception to any of this. It does much of what its rivals do; it is simply better at it.
Entering the top floor of the bank’s head office in Nazarbayev Street in Almaty is like walking into a stereotypical Silicon Valley startup: colourful sofas everywhere, break-out areas, young bankers wearing jeans and T-shirts. This could be nothing more than window dressing except for one key point: Alfa-Bank has the numbers to back it up.
The bank, a subsidiary of a Russian lender, reckons that roughly 1,500 entrepreneurs create an Alfa account every month, out of about 8,000 starting up new businesses. Some 95% of its client transactions are now done online or through a mobile app.
It joined Swift’s cross-border payment system at the start of 2019 and has since processed about $600 million of transfers.
Alfa-Bank’s customers no longer need to go into one of its branches to open an account. SMEs can open accounts online with nothing more than an ID card, a mobile phone number and a home address. After that, every client is assigned a dedicated account manager, so they’re always talking to the same person when they call up Alfa.
The bank is determined to make its digital offering help it acquire SME clients, a key growth market. Earlier in 2019, it launched a pilot programme bringing together 130 small stores and their five largest distributors, allowing the retailers to get instant loans to purchase supplies. The shop owners can then pay back these loans using Alfa-Bank ATMs or Kassa 24 machines, a series of bright yellow terminals dotted around the country.