WITH 230 branches and deposits worth about SR 17,000 million ($4,500 million), NCB’s retail division was a giant the moment it was born on 1 June.

Its performance will be a key factor for NCB. ‘Over the next two-three years, earnings will be driven by deposits,’ says retail division head and deputy general manager Ahmed Banaja. His top priority is to keep the deposits that NCB already holds and win more of those that is doesn’t.

Replacing the regional system with a nationwide retail division is probably the most important and demanding element of the NCB re-structuring.

‘We are doing everything at once,’ says Banaja, a graduate of the UK’s University of Kent and the Citibank executive training programme. ‘Our major task is to re-orientate our branches towards customers. The branches have so far been involved in so much accounting and operations type of activities. We want to take this out of the branch networks and focus the branch towards marketing and sales.’

‘That is the priority for us: take the mundane business out of the branches and have the staff oriented towards customer service.’

Banaja is taking a close look at the branch network, Saudi Arabia’s second largest. ‘We are widely spread all over the kingdom,’ he says. ‘Some branches are well-located and in good condition and some are in a dismal condition. We have to work on the physical look and branch sites themselves. We do have major problems in some branches. We have to upgrade the physical conditions of those branches.’

Banaja says the number of branches is adequate. ‘What we need to focus on is how to serve the customer through other means, particularly automated teller machines, direct selling and point of sale,’ he says.

The number of drive-in ATMs is to be increased. ‘Our goal is to make our ATMs much more convenient to reach and to offer a wide range of services apart from just drawing money from the account,’ Banaja adds.

Branch managers are being put through a customer-service training programme. An independent firm is testing branches in a ‘mystery shopper’ programme. Says Banaja: ‘We have already made major headway. We have seen branches that were doing poorly for customer services now doing extremely well when measured against the competition.’

The programme is underpinned by performance pay. Managers of branches that score highly get bonuses. ‘We would like to see a big proportion of branch pay being on incentives rather than a salary basis,’ says Banaja.

A customer profile is being developed through market research. This will provide the basis for a customer segmentation programme that will create products required for each segment. The exercise will help NCB develop its modest consumer loan portfolio.

Banaja has set himself demanding targets. ‘I would like the market to say that this is the number one choice of retail customers in Saudi Arabia.’

‘Retail contributes at least 50 per cent of earnings. It is my personal goal that we should be contributing over 60 per cent,’ he says.