Sampath Bank: the tech pioneer transforming the banking industry

Nanda Fernando, Managing Director at Sampath Bank

Nanda Fernando, Managing Director at Sampath Bank, one of Sri Lanka’s largest private banks that pioneered the use of banking technology in the country, discusses how the bank is harnessing digital tech to transform the country’s banking and payments landscape.

Tell us about some of the bank’s latest digital banking and fintech products, and its impact on the lives of your customers post-Covid?

Sampath Bank has always been at the forefront of offering digital banking services in the country. In fact, we position ourselves as a tech company offering banking services, rather than a bank with technology-based financial solutions. As such, we have a host of digital products that are geared to offer speed, convenience, and safety to our customers.

Chief among these is Sampath WePay, a one-stop digital wallet which allows users to store all types of financial instruments from any bank and carry out real-time online transactions. It enables Social Share fund transfers; QR based payments; Sampath Bank and third-party fund transfers including bill payments and more. Our recently upgraded Sampath WePay will radically transform the way Sri Lankans conduct their day-to-day banking transactions.

We were also the first to introduce a Virtual Teller Machine (VTM) which is essentially a Branch-in-a-Kiosk that provides most key banking facilities including account opening, fund transfers, debit card issuance, and other standard services. The customer-bank officer interaction happens through video conferencing technology, with the bank officer at a central location. Our website offers a Chatbot facility, which is a Virtual Assistant, to customers with general inquiries as well as account balance inquiries, card balance inquiries, stop cards, and loyalty points.

We have a digital loan facility which offers online, real-time lending. Eligible customers will be notified via our internet banking facility, Sampath Vishwa, when funds are disbursed. Loans can be obtained simply by entering a few details into the system. Account opening can also be done online now via eMandate, our paperless account opening system. These are some of the key customer-focused digital initiatives the bank introduced, but we digitized several internal processes as well.

Our digital services enjoy high demand, particularly over the past year. During the COVID-19 related lockdown, we saw a large increase in the usage of WePay, especially for online payments for essentials, utility bills and eLearning systems. This was particularly popular due to WePay allowing both Sampath Bank account holders as well as non-account/cardholders to use its services.

When branch access was restricted due to the lockdown, our VTMs helped customers fulfil their urgent requirements while our Chatbot handled a considerable number of repeat inquiries. We also partnered with PickMe to offer a doorstep cash delivery service of up to Rs. 10,000. Even, during the Avurudu season, customers conducted Avurudu Ganudenu using WePay’s unique ‘Social Sharing’ feature which allows fund transfers via WhatsApp and certain other social media platforms.

Is it right to say that WePay best captures the future lifestyle and financial requirements of the people in this country?  

Yes, indeed! In addition to the standard features offered by any mobile wallet, WePay allows payments via QR codes and is compatible with LankaQR, the recently introduced national QR standard for Sri Lanka. It also allows social sharing as explained earlier and each WePay customer is given a virtual card which can maintain funds for their regular day-to-day requirements. This card can even be used on eCommerce platforms, in addition to QR and other payments. The main advantage of this virtual card is that it offers a dynamic CVV, meaning that a new Card Verification Value will be created for every transaction, thereby increasing the security of any payments made.

WePay is bank agnostic and we specifically designed it this way, as we see interoperability being the norm in the future. This means a person having an account or card in almost any local bank can use it. As the app grows in popularity, we will keep adding new features to support the day-to-day financial requirements of all users.

How was this fintech product conceived, and how has WePay performed since launching? 

Since our inception, we always strived to offer the best to our customers, and we strongly believe innovation is the key to do so. While evaluating future trends and customers’ evolving demands, we realized that people were adopting digital technology at a rapid pace, but there was a need for more simple-to-use offerings. Engagement with digital tools and social media was also growing. The WePay mobile wallet is the culmination of these current customer needs as well as some anticipated requirements they will have in the future.

Since its launch, WePay experienced steady growth with high acceptance during events such as the Colombo International Book Fair, Big Bad Wolf, Mataleta QR & Colombata QR. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was an extremely unfortunate situation, it has helped fast forward the country’s digital payments journey.

Any other thoughts, especially around how people are encouraged to think about out-of-the-box solutions in an era where e-commerce, fintech including mobile payment apps, and digital are making inroads in this market?

Sampath Bank has an innovation culture deeply rooted in the thought-process of every team member, hence managing change for innovation and technology is not a problem. Traditionally, we always think ahead in terms of technology. Sampath Bank was one of the first payment gateway providers in the country, but today we have converted over 96% of our transactions on to digital. We introduced ATMs to the country, and today have introduced VTMs, thus paving the way for completely converting transactions from physical to digital.