Navigating the storms of the new normal with digitalisation in the wake of COVID-19; a test case for indigenous banks
“No product is made today, no person moves today, nothing is collected, analyzed or communicated without some ‘digital technology’ being an integral part of it. That, in itself, speaks to the overwhelming, ‘value’ of digital technology.”
——Louis Rossetto, founder and former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine
The New Normal
The “new normal” is by far the most widely used phrase today as the behaviour of many has changed and will continue to be so even after the pandemic is over. This was a term used to refer to financial conditions following the financial crisis of 2007 – 2008 and the aftermath of 2008-2012 global recession. It has come to stay as we navigate our ways in the novel corona virus pandemic era.
Digitalization Pre – COVID-19
A number of indigenous banks made lowly strides in the use of technology to activate processes of their delivery to customers. Banks digitized (converted analog to digital) many of their products and services but were not able to fully digitalize (using digital technologies and digitized data to impact work flow) as they were impacted in many ways by varied circumstances. Banks implemented digital services in many ways.
- There has been employment of various digital services such as robust and easy-to-use mobile Apps to help transform customer services especially at the retail level.
- Some banks leveraged websites to enhance customer interactions with very friendly and transformed interface.
- Many banks increased Automated Teller Machines at bank premises, fuel stations, pubs and supermarkets in order to bring services to the doorstep of clientele.
- Online banking has been greatly enhanced to cater for short, medium and long term needs of customers.
- Point-of-sale terminals has also put lots of banks on the digitalization map as they get even closer to the doorstep of the millennial clientele
- Various Card offerings for diverse purposes have been made available to clients at various levels of transactions and relationships
- With enhancement of Mobile Money interoperability, banks have leveraged that to bring banking closer to cherished clients
Many challenges have however, bedeviled banks in fully digitalising, pre – COVID-19.
- Haunted by the ghost of legacy platforms:
For most banks, legacy infrastructure is the biggest challenge and highest hurdle to digitalization. Having been built up piecemeal over time, they allow banks to replicate certain parts of a given process online, but that is the limit to what they can achieve. They are the source of siloed information and siloed operations: the direct opposite of the agile, nimble digital processes banks now require.
Their complexity and old-fashioned architecture are the reason for such immense maintenance spends. Legacy platforms reach into almost every aspect of the businesses, and replacing them is not always the right thing to do. Re-engineering core systems and processes to be built upon a digital core foundation can be a smart solution.
- Finding the right people to transform:
Digital transformation is a complex process, and you need specialists to become a digital bank. Finding the right people, who can guide you through this transformation, is a real challenge for many banks.
Digital transformations are more about people than machines. Having the right individuals in place to lead the transition is a matter of honestly assessing your own capabilities and shortcomings. As technology continues to shape the way business gets done, placing your trust in people first will be your best strategy for success.
- Winning or maintaining customers` trust:
Trust is the essential prerequisite for widespread adoption of digital banking by customers; they must be sure that their identity will not be stolen, that fraudulent payments will not be made from their accounts, and that electronically-signed bank contracts retain the same legal value and validity as hard-copy contracts.
Just like legacy platforms, customers of a bank become fixated with traditional services provided by brick and mortar. This therefore makes it challenging to entirely change that with technology. In the event of retaining their clientele, banks will therefore tread cautiously on the digital transformation journey. They want to build a 100% trust for customers.
- Meeting regulatory requirements:
Banks must comply with increasingly stringent legislation associated with digital transformation. These requirements are instituted internationally and therefore pose challenges to indigenous banks who are already reeling under the tough internal regulations. They must also protect themselves from cyber-attacks, etc., to fulfill risk management obligations.
The challenge for banks to protect themselves against cyber-attacks and digital fraud is also a risk. Threats have become extremely advanced, and the attackers are smart enough to identify the kind of precautions that the banks can take, and they design their attacks accordingly. It’s something banks need to be well aware of.
You need customers’ data to improve their customer experience, but it can also lead to reputational damage as customers may feel that you have too much data. Privacy becomes increasingly important, so trust is key.
The Fintech advantage or competition?
If there is any form of threat in terms of realizing expected revenues and achieving the bottom line, fintech companies are seen through the lenses of some financial institutions in that light. Recently, when the BOG certified a fintech firm in accordance with the payment systems and services Act, 2019 (Act 987), it sent shivers down the spines of some financial institutions. This however, was an effort to further deepen financial inclusion.
The reality is that many banks already collaborate with other third parties to help deepen financial inclusion. There has been partnership in the area of advancing shot term loans to clients by the use of mobile technology. Although the partner institutions may not be seen as fully fintech firms, customers have been served well to an extent and the delivery has been nothing short of seamless and smooth.
There has been collaboration with third party firms in other areas that include portals for payment of fees of various forms, payment of bills and making of purchases online or at designated points. The partnerships so far seem good with intermittent hitches but the future looks bright in this line.
Fintech firms should be seen as an advantage rather than competition, if banks can leverage well and deliver seamless services.
Some local banks have circulated messages on platforms to notify clients that: “Precautionary measures have been put in place to ensure the health and safety of our customers and staff. During this period, we encourage you to use any of our Digital Banking Applications……VISA Cards, Online platforms, POS etc. You can also contact your Relationship Manager or our contact centre on……”. This fairly represents actions taken by indigenous banks in the wake of COVID-19.
The message is clear that ‘Digital Banking’ is a sure way to drastically reduce physical contacts when one wants to transact with respective banks. The need for digitalization need not be overemphasised as the “New Normal” dictates the pace in activities.
Many banks have amongst others:
- Responded to the needs of staff to work from home. Data and computer with other required gadgets such as dongles have been provided for employees to get work than even at the comfort of their homes. In the case of reporting to offices, staff are made to alternate to ensure strict adherence to the WHO protocols.
- Enhanced their Automated Teller Machines with provision of extra ones at additional locations and also increased cash stocked in the ATMs at close of work. A few banks have either introduced or enhanced the use of Intelligent ATMs which reduce the cost of accepting cash and improves branch productivity to generate new revenue as well as provide 24/7 convenience and a better customer experience.
- Investment in chatbots on banks` website are amongst those employed to help meet customer needs especially at the retail level. Various information to help improve customer service are disseminated on newly improved and designed websites of the banks 24/7 and this helps greatly to curtail numbers visiting the banking halls.
- Improvement in the use of MoMo wallets. Some banks have initiated processes to connect MoMo wallets to the bank accounts of their clientele. This makes transactions seamless on- the-go and provides real time value. Transfers occur between MoMo wallets and bank accounts and this curtails physical presence of clients at various banking halls.
- Aside provision of moratoriums to customers, banks have enhanced their online services to make it flexible for customers to transact 24/7. All online channels are integrated to facilitate delivery in real time.
The need for digitalization of banking in the “New Normal”
The new normal is here with us and banks are expected to navigate and get accustomed to it with deployment of technologies and digitized data in different ways in order to stay in competition. Consumers’ desire for digital banking services will most likely increase, forcing many traditional financial institutions to fast-track digital innovation efforts. As a result, many legacy banks may look to fintech firms for assistance in bringing better digital banking solutions to the marketplace. The following can be considered:
- Greater investments in platforms supporting financial inclusion:
The digital economy is rapidly developing worldwide as the largest driver of innovation, competition and growth. Even though many people have been excluded, tremendous opportunities are available for the digital economy to support financial inclusion for sustainable economic development. Indigenous banks should by all means and at all cost invest strongly to make this a possibility in the new normal. Enough research should be carried out in this area in order to come up with the best innovation.
- Increased collaboration and investment in Fintech firms by indigenous banks:
Fintech has the potential to facilitate increased financial inclusion by enhancing access to financial services for those individuals and businesses that have been excluded from formal financial markets. Fintech companies are developing digital services that could result in millions of people having greater access to the banking sector and to new investment products.
Digital innovations across different areas of the financial sector have had a tremendous impact in enhancing the provision of financial services. Specifically, digital technologies have spread rapidly in many areas of the global economy, yet there is potential for increased use of these technologies. Indigenous banks should see Fintech firms` partnership as an advantage rather than competition at any given time and space. Collaboration is a must in this direction.
- Omni-Channel customer interaction:
A digital channels approach removes the dependency on physical contact and lets banks interact with their customers in a way that suits them best (mobile, online, Cards, etc.). Customers are also enabled to start an application online and continue it on another channel if they prefer. This multi-channel approach allows banks to extend the same strategy across business lines and geographies to create a consistent, reliable process that delivers the greatest customer satisfaction in these times and beyond.
- Developing a robust digital payment system:
A number of indigenous banks are already creating value in this space but a lot more should be done in the new normal. Reiterating the words of Bill Gates, “Digital payment systems can do more for equality in poor countries than they can do anywhere else, and we would like them to emerge there even if it takes longer in richer countries. We`re not waiting for it to trickle down as we do for many advanced technologies. That`s not good enough.”Surely indigenous banks must take the bull by the horn and get this in place to cement status in the new normalcompetition.
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Ebenezer ASUMANG (CGIA) worked extensively in mainstream Banking & NBFIs. He is a Chartered member of the CGIA Institute, USA, a Google Certified Digital Marketer and an Author.
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