Tuesday, 31 January 2023

Liv – A New Model for Digital Banking in the Middle East

5 min read

By Richard Hartung

After more than a year in service, Liv developed an innovative digital banking solution for the UAE, but needs to evolve quickly to stay ahead of both domestic competitors and new market entrants.

  • Emirates NBD used a new model to launch Liv, developing a middle layer rather than using an expensive platform and also outsourcing many functions
  • Liv uses data analytics and AI to deliver recommendations to customers, such as suggesting free activities when they exceed their spending budget
  • It will need to evolve quickly, though, to stay ahead of both domestic competitors and new market entrants.

Introduction and the challenge (combined)

When it set out to develop a new digital bank, Emirates NBD took a different approach from traditional banks which often simply extend their existing services to a digital platform. NBD set up Liv as an app that changes the way it looks at its customers, with services designed around the customer’s lifestyle, education, finances, mental wellness and physical wellness.

Customers who log in can see their preferred activities and personalized feeds based on what they like to do. If customers are running low on cash because they spent too much last weekend, for instance, Liv may tell them about free events the next weekend.

And based on the success of Liv so far, NBD plans to take the model to three new markets over the next year.

The onboarding processes is straight through processed at the front and back office. Once the customer downloads the app, clicks on ‘Apply’, and fills information in a form, documents and photos can be uploaded through the app in the camera. For clean cases, customers are notified of the account opening immediately. The bank applies enhanced KYC using biometrics to avoid form filling and data are populated via API feeds from partners. Compliance and black list checks are done in real time.

Upon approval, a physical card is delivered to the customer the next day. At the time of card delivery, the Emirates ID chip is read, data on the chip is auto-populated in the systems, and the customer finger print is captured. This is possible via real time finger print validation with the government via a tablet, a service recently launched by Emirates ID Authority), a task that can be done by a delivery agent.

Faster Solutions at Lower Cost

NBD wanted customers to regard Liv as a brand and see it as helping them get more in life. It has thus striven to create products for digital natives, delivered in a way customers prefer.

Rather than selecting an account from a laundry list of products, for example, Liv focuses on giving customers an experience they can relate to and showing them how to get more out of what they do. Liv uses its transaction data to enable customers to track their spending, add a note about how they feel, take a picture of their receipt, and use Liv as a repository of their lifestyle events.

 Liv has been able to implement new services faster and cheaper by creating a middle layer connected by apps and APIs, that acts as a flexible platform for innovation, rather than installing an expensive new core system. Liv also outsources rather than using its existing platform for all services, enabling development of new products in 6 weeks rather than 6 months at a cost that it estimates is at least 20% lower than many other banks.  

To add greater value, Liv is building analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. It also uses Insider, a marketing tool with automated communications, and it is working on a chatbot with Kasisto. 

Liv currently charges customers based on spend rather than charging minimum transaction fees, though it does also charge for services such as international transfers. It has also developed new revenue lines based on being digital, such as receiving revenue from Google for content that it pushes out to customers. Liv also expects that it can earn revenue by providing insights to firms such Carrefour and by offering bundles of premium services for a monthly fee.


Between launch in May 2017 and May 2018, Liv acquired on average 10,000 users users per months, topping Emirates NBD’s average customer growth in the same period.  The bank claims that 86% of those are new-to-bank customers. Emirates NBD’s focus in the UAE is the Millennial segment, which makes up 26% of the total population in the UAE with $16 billion in annual spending power. The bank predictes that this segment will make up 66% of the UAE workforce by 2030.

To optimise results, Liv looks at how many customers are active on various platforms. When it finds services that are not used, it replaces them with content that people click on more often. The result is that about 70%-80% of customers are active as measured by one transaction within three months.

And while customers are currently active every other day, Liv wants them to be active every day. It is trying to increase active rates with solutions such as a “Wheel of Fortune” promotion that leverages gaming elements in the app to increase engagement.

Liv has also shifted its customer acquisition from having about 70% of customer acquisition through advertising when it launched to organic acquisition from referrals now accounting for about 60% of new customers.  

Global Comparisons

While Liv is has delivered innovative services that engage its customers, leading banks in other markets have perhaps gone even further.

Kakao Bank in Korea, for instance, offers low rates on loans and fund transfers as well as mobile services that include payments and music or games, leading to an active rate above 80%. In Europe, Revolut uses tools such as a community page to seek input from customers or AI to offer insurance when customers are traveling, and it provides free international money transfers.  

            Even big banks have become more innovative, with BBVA offering customers a payment history to see offers that are attractive and relevant enhancing its customers’ financial health by creating services such as a financial health score.

SWOT Analysis


  • Intense customer focus
  • Lower costs through outsourcing
  • High active rate


  • Narrower millennial market
  • Services behind other markets
  • Payments only business may not be sufficient to achieve profitability 


  •  Enhanced AI adds greater value
  • Faster implementation drives competitiveness


  • Competitors launch similar services
  • Non-banks offer a better value proposition 

The Asian Banker assessment

Liv has developed a market-leading digital solution that offers value through speed-to-market, customer-centricity and lower costs. It will need to evolve quickly, though, to stay ahead of both domestic competitors and new market entrants.

Keywords: Digital Bank, KYC, Biometrics, Technology, AI, Chatbots, Payments, Fund Transfers, Digital Solution
Institution: Emirates NBD, Carrefour, Kakao Bank, Revolut, BBVA
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