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Wednesday December 8th, 2021

Nations Trust Bank: Reimagining the future of branch banking

Sheahan Daniel Senior Vice President- Branch Network at Nations Trust Bank

Sheahan Daniel, Senior Vice PresidentBranch Network at Nations Trust Bank, shares insights about the changes sweeping over the traditional branch banking model and how Nations Trust Bank is reimagining the future by placing customer expectations and needs at the core of a digital transformation.

What factors are shaping the future of consumer banking, changing the way banks approach their branch strategies?

Over the last two years, with the onset of the pandemic, the world has gone through drastic changes. Consumer behaviours across all industries have taken a new shape, compelling businesses to transform themselves. The banking industry was no exception. With mobility and physical contact between people constricted, banks had to reimagine new ways of engaging consumers and delivering services. In the early stages of the pandemic, banks were contemplating if the end-days of cash-led payments had dawned as people could hardly use physical cash to transact.

With consumers looking for alternate options, there was a shift away from physical channels as people gravitated to digital platforms that banks had already established pre-pandemic. However, the sector was unsure if the digital momentum would sustain itself in the longer run. What we saw thereon was that consumers who shifted to digital banking did not move back. There was a conversion from both the young and older generation equally.

All these factors indicate consumers will opt not to visit a bank branch because they have the convenience of obtaining banking services in the comfort of their homes. However, that would also throw new challenges at a bank, and we will have to look at new ways of engaging with consumers. We have made a lot of headway, but there is a lot more to do. I believe investments and innovation in these digital channels should continue as the sector needs to keep up with this new wave of change.

As Nations Trust Bank’s Senior Vice President overlooking its branch network, can you tell us how branch banking will evolve in this country?

Statistics show that number of branches opened by banks has dwindled in the last five years. Some argue this is the end of physical banking channels. However, no matter the expansion of digital banking, consumers would still expect the presence of a physical branch.

What will change is how a branch would operate and what customers expect from it. A bank branch would still carry the brand and be the frontline facing customers in a specific location. But consumers will also expect a bank branch to be a point for more advisory and consultancy services. Culture wise, we Sri Lankans prefer to talk to a person rather than interact with a machine.

To cater to these requirements, banks will have to change their operations. What they need to build on is developing long-lasting relationships with their customers. That is where the branch of a bank will play a vital role. Therefore, banks will need arrays of ancillary services and offerings to keep the consumer excited and engaged.

What is Nations Trust Bank’s approach to branch banking to increase customer reach and improve digital banking inclusion?

Nations Trust Bank was a Western-province centric bank. In 2013 we decided to move into the rural market, and today, we have a spread of 96 branches, 50 in the Western province and 46 across the country in optimal and strategic locations. We believe that our presence is adequate to cater to all these locations, and we have developed a loyal customer base in these areas.

From the bank’s point of view, there is a lot more value we can offer. We want to partner with our customers in their life journey, and we will introduce our digital platforms across demographics and geographies. Customers focus on the convenience factor, so that is what we will try to give. Along with that, we will try to enhance their lifestyles through our product offerings.

What will a typical Nations Trust Bank branch look like in the future? How is Nations Trust Bank influencing how the banking industry reaches consumers in a new age?

A physical branch of a bank has existed since its inception. Maintaining it is a very costly affair. Although consumer traffic at branches has dwindled, people will continue to demand more services. To gear to this, banks will have to invest heavily in technological and digital platforms.

Our digital platforms will absorb most banking services eventually, leaving only the consultation and advisory parts of the business that require deeper relationships. We will also see a downsize in branches. In time to come, banks will have a coffee shop atmosphere to it. Consumers will be able to do multiple things at one single banking point.

Can you take us through the bank’s suite of consumer banking products? How are they helping customers in a post-Covid environment?

Apart from the traditional current and savings accounts, fixed deposits, overdrafts and loan products, Nations Trust Bank has a wide range of other products and solutions like investment planners, high-yield saver, salary saver, and foreign currency saver accounts, and more.

However, Nations Trust Bank is a little different too. We have a lot of non-traditional products. We were the first to introduce a segmented approach to our customers. We have identified our unique strengths to carve out a niche in the banking space.

We have built propositions around these customer segments. Today Nations Trust Bank has Private Banking for high-net-worth individuals and the Inner Circle proposition for the mass affluent. These are unique tailor-made propositions that identify the specific needs of these consumer groups. We also have our Frimi proposition, the first digital bank in the country and Bank at Your Doorstep facilities. Our approach to product development centres around our commitment to delight our customers and engage them beyond their banking needs by enhancing their lifestyles and being a partner in their journey of life.

In a post-COVID environment, the country is turning to the banking community to facilitate the post-pandemic economic revival. That is something the bankers understand and want to be part of it. With the products and service propositions we possess, we are confident that we are well geared and positioned to revive the economy and improve the wellbeing of the people.