Q&A with Suleiman Barada, Head of UABdigital & Sr. Advisor at the Union of Arab Banks

Media 7 | September 17, 2021

Suleiman Barada, Head of UABdigital & Sr. Advisor at the Union of Arab Banks, is an Independent Technology Business Strategist and at the Union of Arab Banks, he spearheads the inception of the Digital Transformation Unit with Ecosystem-wide vision and mission, and a mandate to leaving no financial institution behind in the Digital Economy within the Arab countries. Suleiman is an Ecosystem Architect with focus on value creation and practices a purpose-driven methodology to developing and executing Digital Business Transformation roadmaps while being entirely focused on Benefits Realization and the way they can be measured, attained, and sustained.

Suleiman has worked with a wide variety of technology vendors such as SAP, IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft, and possesses a thorough understanding of the global tech ecosystem and their characteristics. Certified Digital Transformation Advisor, Six Sigma Yellow Belt, and a Project Management Professional (PMP) since 2005 and cross-industry experience includes Defense, Government, Financial Services, Healthcare, Higher Education, Construction, Facilities Management, Telco, Utilities, and Retail sectors.

Ever since its inception, UABdigital has become an active contributor to the shaping of the digital future of the banking sector in the Arab region.



MEDIA 7: Would you like to share your professional journey with us?
SULEIMAN BARADA:
I am an Independent Technology Business Strategist, a Sr. Advisor at the Union of Arab Banks, and Head of UABdigital where I spearhead the ecosystem digital transformation arm of the Union, with an ecosystem-wide vision and mission, and a mandate to leaving no financial institution behind in the Digital Economy within the Arab countries. I am also Chair of the Advisory Board at the Arab Banks Innovation Council (ABIC). In that capacity, and reporting to the Secretary-General of the Union, I am leading a Pan-Arab digital banking agenda on FinTech Collaborations, Open Banking, CBDC, and other transformative initiatives affecting the Arab banking sector as a whole. I am an Ecosystem Architect with a focus on value creation and practices a purpose-driven approach to developing and executing Digital Business Transformation roadmaps while being entirely focused on Benefits Realization and the way they can be measured, attained, and sustained. I have worked with a wide variety of international technology vendors and possesses a thorough understanding of the global tech ecosystem and their characteristics.

He is the founder of S2E MEA, an affiliate of S2E Transformation Inc., a Strategy Execution consulting firm based out of New York, USA. I have acted in various capacities and have led and scaled several businesses in the region with a solid track record in significantly growing companies right from inception with evident turnaround capabilities. I am regarded as a trusted advisor to clients, partners, and peers and am adept at extending the most relevant advisory, independent of situation or industry. He is a certified Digital Transformation Advisor, Six Sigma Yellow Belt, and a Project Management Professional (PMP) since 2005 — collective credentials indicative of my commitment to leveraging best practices and applying standards to my advisory engagements. My cross-industry experience includes Defense, Government, Financial Services, Healthcare, Higher Education, Construction, Facilities Management, Telco, Utilities, and Retail sectors.


M7: How has UABdigital made banking more accessible?
SB
: UABdigital is the Ecosystem Digital Transformation arm of the Union of Arab Banks established in April 2020 with a mandate to elevate the state of digital transformation readiness and innovation across the UAB member-base. UABdigital executes on its mandate through the following sub-initiatives:                                                       

- UABdigital Institute: a capacity-building initiative that delivers practitioner education in the domains of digital transformation, innovation, and digital strategy execution

- UABdigital Online Banking Innovation Platform: a B2B platform that connects digital banking innovators representing the supply side of the marketplace with incumbent banks representing the demand side
                                                         
- UABdigital Launchpad: a collaborative multi-stakeholder platform that allows for incubation and acceleration of startups that are active in the digital banking space
                                                                  
- UABdigital Insights Lab: a research capability that produces market insights, benchmarks, and industry analyst views with a focus on the Arab banking sector

UABdigital advocates for financial inclusion “by design” and is influencing the ecosystem-wide innovation directions towards the fulfillment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


My advice is to start with identifying problems in the space first, problems that if solved will result in impact at scale.



M7: How has UABdigital transformed the banking sector since its launch in April 2020?
SB:
Ever since its inception, UABdigital has become an active contributor to the shaping of the digital future of the banking sector in the Arab region. The initial efforts were invested in capturing the current state through surveys, interviews, and roundtable discussions amongst other high-level conversations with other actors in the sector. We have then drawn conclusions as to the existing gaps and what most banks in the region are struggling with to become digitally transformed. In order to remain relevant, we’ve developed an array of technical assistance options that member banks can avail, and in addition to that, we formed an ecosystem of global business partners that are aligned with our mission. Today, UABdigital, on one hand, acts as a trusted advisor to member banks and on the other hand drives through multi-stakeholder collaboration the most critical transformative movements affecting the banking sector in the region such as Open Banking, Central Bank Digital Currencies, Digital Banks Reference Architecture.


M7: In what ways has the global pandemic impacted your work in the FinTech industry?
SB:
Prior to the pandemic, the Union of Arab Banks’ activities in the digital space was primarily limited to events and training in addition to multi-stakeholder dialogues. It is the pandemic that has given birth to UABdigital, and it was only then decided by the Union’s leadership to become more involved in the journeys of our member banks and to establish the bridges between incumbents and the FinTechs for the greater good. The pandemic has accelerated several cross-industry digital developments and the financial services sector had the lion’s share. The pandemic has also increased the tendency of stakeholders to consider partnerships they never considered before. We now believe more than ever that businesses, associations, and governments are better off united when facing a pandemic, and digital has only made these partnerships more viable, feasible, and purposeful.


The pandemic has accelerated several cross-industry digital developments and the financial services sector had the lion’s share.



M7: What are some of the benefits of using the Insights Lab services?
SB:
The Insights Lab is a cornerstone capability that we have established at UABdigital to ensure relevance in everything we do. Initiatives often fail due to a lack of insights that will result in wrong decisions and lost opportunities and investments. We realized from the get-go that in a transitional phase that the entire sector is witnessing at scale we are required to constantly listen and gauge and to establish a closed-loop feedback from our member base into our capacity-building efforts, FinTech efforts, innovation, solutions, value proposition, and our strategic initiatives. UABdigital Insights Lab was precisely created to extend the necessary insights, data, analytics, benchmarks - combined with the wisdom of our analysts - to our member banks so they are fully informed and engaged in the most trending topics and movements in the industry both globally and in our region.


M7: Do you have any advice for young professionals who might one day enter the world of FinTech?
SB:
The FinTech space is certainly offering a great opportunity for young professionals to shape a rewarding career. My advice is to start with identifying problems in the space first, problems that if solved will result in impact at scale. A common pitfall that young professionals face is when they rush into design and innovation and they often end up looking for a problem for the solution they have invested their scarce resources to develop. The demand is there and it can be matched, the more thoughtful we are in defining the problem statement the more likely we are to promote our solutions at scale, therefore, grow in our careers and thrive with our startups.

ABOUT UABDIGITAL

The Union of Arab Banks (UAB) is an organization responsible for fostering cooperation between Arab banks, developing Arab financial business, and enhancing the financing role of Arab banks in the Arab World. The Union of Arab Banks was formed on March 13, 1974, and comprises more than (300) Arab financial and banking institutions representing the major and biggest Arab banks, central banks, and local banking associations in the 20 Arab states. This makes the Union the largest banking and financial consortium in the region and an efficient representative of the Arab banking sector. UABdigital is the ecosystem digital transformation arm of the Union of Arab Banks established in April 2020 with a mandate to leave no financial institution behind as the sector transitions into the digital economy through elevating the state of digital transformation readiness and innovation across the UAB member-base.