Israel at the forefront of the fin-tech revolution

An interview with Bank Hapoalim President and CEO Zion Kenan.

Zion Kenan (photo credit: Courtesy)
Zion Kenan
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This is the fourth year that Bank Hapoalim is sponsoring a contest to encourage Israeli startups.
What is it about the technology field that so attracts the interest of the bank? Israel is one of the smallest countries in the world. Despite its small size, Israel has always been considered a unique economic phenomenon. It is not due to an abundance of natural resources. Notwithstanding some of our recent gas finds, we do not have the kinds of natural resources that have brought such enormous wealth to many countries in our region. But necessity is the mother of invention.
Our small size and the absence of easy wealth from natural resources place a premium on the need for innovation and ingenuity if we want to compete and contribute on the world economic stage. It is in this realm that Israel thrives and is why we have well earned the accolade of “start-up nation.”
Israel has again been ranked in a Deloitte survey for the fourth year running as the second most attractive country in the world for venture capital – second only to the United States. Israel has the highest number of start-ups per capita, double that of the US. As Israel’s largest bank, we feel strongly that as a matter of both good corporate citizenship, furthering a key national objective, and growing the bank’s business, it is critically important that Bank Hapoalim be actively involved in championing Israel’s hi-tech field.
In what way is Bank Hapoalim involved in the tech field on an ongoing basis?
Bank Hapoalim has played a central role in the Israeli hi-tech world since the infancy of the industry. We view the hi-tech industry as both partners and customers.
As partners, we adopted the principle that “you don’t build it for them, instead you build it with them.” The bank’s efforts are resulting in extensive partnering and investing efforts with hi-tech and fin-tech start-ups that represent the voice of a new generation – powering the bank’s digital journey to provide people and businesses with the best and the most relevant experience that addresses their daily financial needs. Teaming with entrepreneurs and the most innovative minds in the hi-tech sector to create win-win business models will ultimately deliver a better value to the bank’s customers.
Through Poalim Hi-Tech, our bankers provide hi-tech company customers with financing, advice and support via specialty branches throughout the country. We recognize that hi-tech companies have special needs, speak their own language and have particular characteristics that are different from traditional companies. For this reason, we seek to adapt ourselves to the needs of the industry, through our broad geographic locations; specialized internal training; our flexibility; and the use of technological tools to enable us to provide the highest quality of service to hi-tech firms at all phases. We will continue to be actively involved in servicing and guiding Israeli start-ups from the preseed stage, and continuing all the way through the revenue growth stage.
Are there any new areas in hi-tech of particular interest to Bank Hapoalim?
Recently we have reached an agreement with Technion Institute of Technology, whose reputation is world renowned, jointly collaborating in the hi-tech space for the establishment of our innovation lab. Our partnership with the Technion is just one example of our strong belief in the power of data.
Big data analytics is having its impact everywhere, including the financial industry. Utilization of transactional and behavioral data are crucial to our abilities to understand and anticipate our customer’s needs and deliver a unique customer experience when and where they need it.
Partnering with the Technion in this area accelerates our transformation from transactional bank to an information bank.
When will the bank’s customers start seeing the fruits of some of these innovations?
Many of our customers are already using advanced technologies and applications that have greatly increased the number of interactions between the bank and its customers, while significantly reducing the number of times a customer has to actually come to a branch. We are now starting to revolutionize the customer’s experience when they have a need to come to a bank branch, with the opening by Bank Hapoalim of Israel’s first digital branches. These new branches will provide our customers with the opportunity to conduct their banking using new technological tools compatible with the digital revolution, in addition to existing digital banking tools that we already offer on the Internet and mobile devices.
We are confident that, just as Israel is a world player in technologies related to communication, medicine and the environment, Israel will also be at the forefront of the fin-tech revolution.
And Bank Hapoalim is extremely proud to contribute to this national objective.
The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, a prestigious forum where some 400 ambassadors, ambassadorial spokespeople and military attachés from around the world will convene, takes place at the Waldorf, Astoria Hotel in Jerusalem on Wednesday, November 18. The conference, featuring an array of speeches from Israeli newsmakers, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will be broadcast live on