As the largest private bank in Sri Lanka, Commercial Bank of Ceylon Plc takes its role in the digital transformation of the economy and improving financial inclusiveness seriously. Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Commercial Bank S. Renganathan tells us about its pioneering digital and electronic banking products, its game plan to improve digital adoption among customers and how the bank approaches innovation and technology.
Can you tell us about your digital transformation strategy and some of the initiatives of Commercial Bank to transition to a digitally-led era?
Our digital strategy aims to improve inclusivity. It is a difficult task in a developing market. Culturally, people would still prefer to visit a bank branch than engage in a digital transaction. Different demographics require unique and customized solutions. The bank has adopted a two-pronged approach by focusing on products and services that are digital and electronic. Under these two segments, we have primary and secondary level products and services aimed at the different acquisition points of each customer segment. This approach allows us to acquire customers across segments whilst migrating them both vertically and horizontally as their IT literacy levels improve over time.
The digital approach includes investments in introducing revolutionary technology-based products and services. Few such products and services are ComBank Digital, a state-of-the-art integrated online banking platform. We also have ComBank e-Slips and ComBank e-Passbook, a first in South Asia; and ComBank Q+, the first QR code-based app certified by LankaQR, offering attractive options for retail customers and merchants. We introduced Flash Digital Bank Account, a revolutionary account with a complete suite of financial management and financial wellness tools in one seamless application. We recently launched Point-of-Sale (POS) machines issued by Commercial Bank enabled with QR code compatibility.
Commercial Bank is a pioneer in the digital payment space and spearheaded many initiatives and technological innovations, both for retail customers and corporate customers. We have covered every segment of customers with comprehensive digital solutions. Our corporate clients have access to bulk payment platforms such as Paymaster, where clients can execute all their corporate payments at a click of a button. We have market-leading Internet Payment Gateway (IPG) facilities providing superior payment solutions to the corporate sector.
Just recently Commercial Bank achieved the unique feat of being the first Bank in Sri Lanka to accept digital signatures from business customers using LankaSign operated by LankaClear.
In addition to a variety of Point Of Sale (POS) machines with multiple business features, we have considered the business needs of the SME and micro sectors and launched specialized payment solutions such as Simple Pay and Mini POS. Our strong affiliations with internationally acclaimed service providers such as Visa, Mastercard, UnionPay, WeChat Pay and Alipay also allow us to provide the best selection of services, wherever our customers are. We are committed to assuring the security of all our digital services and have obtained comprehensive security systems and engaged in constant upgrading of them.
The second aspect of our digital strategy is the focus on electronic products and services. These include ATMs, cash deposit and cash recycler machines, automated cheque deposit machines, and automated banking centres (ABC). We have set up Mini Digital Experience Zones to promote assisted automation targeting the late adapters, rural, and less tech-savvy customer segment.
The aim is to help customers gradually migrate into digital channels by first popularizing our electronic products and services delivery channels. The Mini Digital Experience Zones at selected branches is a more recent initiative, among many, to meet evolving customer needs. These zones are strategically set up inside the branch customer lobby area to attract the conventional customer. They have digital devices like touch screens that play product demo videos and smartphones and tablets with wi-fi access so customers can experience our digital offerings. We have dedicated Digital Assistants to guide customers through our digital services and facilitate handheld migration for customers. Commercial Bank has also set up automated banking centres, another industry first. These are electronic spaces to help customers adopt digital channels located at our branches and some stand-alone points. They offer the basics of digital services, including facilities for customers to submit loan inquiries and FD requests. We believe these initiatives in the electronic banking space are revolutionary, and over time, they will boost customer uptake and digital adoption.
What are some of the innovative products of Commercial Bank that created a significant impact in the digital banking arena?
In 2018, Commercial Bank launched Sri Lanka’s first Digital Banking Account called Flash, a complete suite of financial services and wealth management tools in one seamless application. Flash offers everything the tech-savvy generation enjoys from self-registration, account opening and doing all their banking on a single mobile app. There is more: Flash offers trilingual accessibility, insurance facilities, budgeting and saving tools, tools to measure your environmental footprint, group payment options, and so much more. Flash is not just another savings account that you can operate from your phone via an app.
We purposefully designed the Flash Digital Bank Account to bring convenient, fast, simple, and seamless banking experiences to Sri Lankan users wherever they may be. It offers never-before-seen personal financial management tools that encourage, empower, and embolden users to better engage with their finances, make wise choices about spending and saving and, in so doing, enrich their financial wellness. We are constantly looking at enhancing and elevating user experiences by introducing more convenient features to this unique account.
Similarly, the Commercial Bank Q+ Payment App was the first Quick Response (QR) based payment app launched under LankaQR, the National Quick Response (QR) standard for local currency payments introduced by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. Q+ could be used around the world and supports Visa and Mastercard QR Code payments and is the ultimate way to make digital payments securely and conveniently at a click of a button.
ComBank Digital is another innovative solution offered through a responsive web application and two native mobile applications which enable access across all devices such as desktop and laptop computers, tabs, and smartphones. It consists of internationally recognized user security features with accepted industry standards and a vast range of services.
ComBank Digital features a range of built-in options that allow customers to self-customize their digital banking preferences without the assistance of a bank agent. ComBank Digital has many benefits and features like checking balances of current accounts, savings accounts, investments, loans, and credit card accounts
Customers can execute and monitor transactional activities like applying for fixed deposits, making instant payments across the banking network, execute share trading settlements and more in a fast and secure manner. ComBank Digital also supports bill payments to more than 68 entities in nine categories: telephone, electricity, water, credit cards, insurance, pay-TV, education, schools, and rates.
Also, Commercial Bank introduced both WhatsApp Banking and Banking with Viber services in Sri Lanka for the first time. These feature a versatile range of very quick and easy to operate banking options, which is how banking will look like in the future.
How does Commercial Bank continue to differentiate and capture market share in a digitally-driven and competitive financial landscape?
As explained earlier, our vision is the inclusion of all consumer segments into a digital economy and continue to be a leader in the digital space. One would realize that just how deep we are in this strategic direction by looking at the vision and mission statements of Commercial Bank which focuses on achieving excellence through digital leadership.
Over the years, Commercial Bank has not spared any effort to research international trends and case studies to understand digital success stories in similar markets. Our vision is to build a digital economy where each customer is engaged, at their level of techno literacy, rather than trying to force each one to adopt a platform that they may or may not be comfortable using. We have embedded this vision within our banking business culture, encompassing both internal and external operations.
Even our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives focus mainly on grooming the future generation of this country into tech-savvy citizens by bridging the digital divide through IT education. We have developed a sustainable IT education journey that started with donations of IT laboratories to schools and evolved into a host of full-scale national level online education initiatives.
How has the pandemic impacted the banking sector, and what changes are likely to last in a post covid phase?
It is encouraging to see the growth momentum continuing. Commercial Bank saw growth across all our digital touchpoints such as Flash Digital Banking account, ComBank Digital Banking App, Paymaster corporate payment portal and other merchant based payment systems. The demand was so heavy that several additional teams had to work around the clock to cater to the varied needs of customers. We are delighted and encouraged by many customers who are not typically tech-savvy increasingly taking up our digital and electronic banking products and services.
We expect the uptake of digital services to increase even in the post-pandemic “new normal”. Also, the spending patterns, consumption patterns of retail consumers and business processes and investments, and risk appetites of corporate customers have changed substantially; and at least some percentage of it are bound to be permanent. All these will have an impact on the banking sector.
Despite the surge in customer onboarding due to the pandemic, we are not resting on our successes. We will continue to innovate and improve our digital and electronic offerings considering the emerging realities post-Covid. We will persist with our strategic and sustainable process of onboarding customers to our digital platforms.
Changing customer expectations and emerging technologies will force banks to look at new business models. They will have to adopt strategic directions that are customer-centric to stay competitive and relevant. How will these trends reshape the future of banking in Sri Lanka?
The banking industry worldwide, including Sri Lanka, was already going through a digital revolution when the pandemic broke out. It is fair to say that Covid-19 pushed customers towards rapid adoption of digital services, creating a demand that some of the banks struggled to cope up with the existing operating environment at the moment. Rather than changing business models, since we still operate in a developing market where branch banking is still required, to some extent, Commercial Bank is looking at evolving, changing, and shifting its operational model as and when necessary.
We will focus on converting customer mindsets to embrace banking from anywhere rather than creating heavy footfalls at branches for simple banking transactions. As digital banking systems grow in sophistication, we will keep pace with the technology upheavals by strengthening security protocols. We can assure customers that our secure banking systems will protect the integrity of their data and information.
Commercial Bank has always focused on introducing technology that matters in the lives of our customers. We are mindful that any technological enhancement we make should create a significant change in the lives of our customers.
Commercial Bank strives to create value for all our stakeholders in everything we do: from committing substantial investments in the latest modern technology to upgrading systems to support sophisticated online channels or improving internal systems to streamline processes.
What new product innovations are on the horizon—and what will this mean for your employees and customers?
We are committing considerable investments to acquire the most advanced and relevant technologies, including systems infrastructure, cyber security, Artificial Intelligence (AI) based data analysis, robotic automation, customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence (BI) systems. We will spare no expense in training and developing the expertise of our teams. Our digital road map is purposeful and well-thought-out, so we have accounted for the ROIs of all these investments. Every one of our stakeholders understands that digital technology is a dynamic and evolving area. Technology sat at the very core of our business since inception, and it remains a vision shared by all our stakeholders.
Operating environments could drastically change, and technologies may become obsolete overnight as the rate of innovation accelerates. The advantage of adopting a strategic process rather than an ad hoc one is that Commercial Bank is better prepared for such possibilities and is in a position of strength to absorb market disruptions and shocks.