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Tuesday August 16th, 2022

The bank with a heart: How Seylan is fulfilling its purpose

Kapila Ariyaratne Director and Chief Executive at Seylan Bank Plc

Kapila Ariyaratne, Director and Chief Executive at Seylan Bank Plc, outlines the bank’s approach to innovating banking products and services relevant to evolving customer needs and improving financial inclusion. He offers insights into Seylan Bank’s customer-centric digital transformation strategy and commitment to empowering customers to navigate economic challenges.

As the CEO of Seylan Bank, how do you see the debt crisis unfolding, and how will it impact the economy going forward?

Even belatedly, it appears the country has embarked on the correct path to address the debt crisis. Undoubtedly much more remains to be done to avert the immediate socio-economic crisis and place the country on a trajectory toward a sustainable recovery. Without this commitment and vision, we will only see history repeating itself. Therefore, establishing political stability is critical and all relevant institutions – the public and private sectors and individual citizens – come together to work towards extricating ourselves from this crisis. No one has any other choice but to work together to ensure this happens.

How is Seylan Bank mitigating risks associated with the unfolding crisis? How will you maintain sustainability?

The unfolding crisis has impacted the banks in a multitude of ways. Firstly, the multiple-level downgrading of the country’s rating, together with the sovereign debt default, the depreciation of the rupee and the steep rise in interest rates have all contributed to the erosion of the capital base that the banking sector had diligently built up over the past years. Further, the deterioration of the portfolio quality with customers across all industry segments adversely affected by the crisis has resulted in higher impairments and lower capital accretion. However, the buffers we had built have so far allowed us to absorb this impact. Apart from that, we launched several initiatives like shaving all discretional costs and moving to capital-efficient business models by focusing on capital-efficient products with the least possible impact on the services extended to our customers who need our support at this crucial juncture.

How can Seylan Bank help its customers get through the challenging times ahead?

Banks have the distinct challenge of looking after the interests of both their depositors and borrowers at this critical time when inflation and interest rates have increased steeply. We do our best to satisfy these contradicting demands by adopting fair practices and offering a suite of products and services tailored to meet their unique needs. Every economic agent is contending with unprecedented challenges, so this is not an easy task. However, we remain committed to deepening customer relationships by understanding their needs and proactively providing solutions that exceed their expectations. We also acknowledge that we have a national responsibility to do so. Therefore, despite the many constraints, we have prioritised serving our customers to the best of our ability.

How is Seylan Bank improving financial inclusion in the country?

From instilling the savings habit in our children with the Tikiri proposition to moulding emerging entrepreneurs into successful business leaders through counselling and our island-wide network of seminars and workshops, we are committed to improving financial inclusion in the country.

As the Bank with a Heart, this is something that we have traditionally committed to, a mission that unites and motivates our entire workforce. We have a strong presence in the less developed districts of our country and always look to reinvest depositor funds to improve and uplift livelihoods in the same areas.

In recent years, Seylan Bank has invested significant resources to ensure that customers, both young and old, individual or business, can reach and engage us anywhere and anytime by using any of our multiple banking channels convenient to them.

We have launched many products specifically aimed at micro and small businesses like Seylan Pay, Lanka QR and the Seylan Merchant Portal. In doing so, we enable them to sell their goods online without having a website or online presence and execute transactions without spending on expensive software tools.

Tell us about the digital transformation at Seylan Bank and its impact? How have customers responded to these, and how are you ensuring that more customers adopt your digital services?

Seylan Bank has always been at the forefront of digital transformation and has been a pioneer. Seylan Bank has always approached digital technology in a way that is relevant to our customers and boasts of several initiatives like palm-top banking, fully integrated remittance service via agents and services like CDKs and mobile banking.

However, there has been a renewed focus on upgrading and repurposing legacy systems in the last five years. These changes may not be visible to our customers, but they have helped improve customer onboarding and elevate service levels. It has also enabled fast delivery of products and services. To cite a few examples, it now takes two days to process a personal loan. Also, our merchant portal has transformed small businesses with impressive efficiencies, while our Harasara proposition for Senior Citizens and Seylan Investment Planner are helping people make the most of life

During the pandemic, we seamlessly transitioned most of our operations and banking functions remotely because our digital infrastructure was well-planned and geared to face crises. We have enabled work from home for our people across most critical functions, and the call centre manages customer interactions remotely.

We are also quite progressive on the social media front, and we can proudly say that we are ranked #1 in the Sri Lankan Banking sector in the use of social media, according to independent market research. We were also ranked #77 in the world by Financial Brand in social media in the banking sector.

Customers are generally always happy with our service standards. After all, we are the Bank with a Heart, and as such, our service delivery is from the heart. For example, through trying times of the pandemic, we reached our customers at home using our remote functioning capabilities and facilitated fund deposits and withdrawals securely and electronically for customers who could not, or were reluctant, to leave their homes.

We enabled customers to register for our internet and mobile banking portals remotely without stepping into our branches. We also made sure that customers who banked with other banks had the opportunity to withdraw money via our Mobile ATMs at various locations that we also deploy at events and factories where people cannot access banking services conveniently. In return, our customers have shown us gratitude for being there and supporting their interests by making us the number 1 in Customer Service amongst Financial Services for three years running.

What is your approach to product & service innovation and delivery of banking services?

We have always kept customers at the centre of our thinking. Hence, all our digital initiatives are highly user-friendly. We have appointed digital champions at each branch to handhold the customers in their first steps of the digital journey. Recently we launched our QR Pay proposition in Kurunegala. Our intention was not just to launch QR Pay but effectively connect the merchant and consumer with Seylan for an elevated, efficient and seamless payments experience.

This objective enabled us to attract a larger merchant community and introduced the public to the experience, ease and convenience of QR payments.

So, in other words, our approach to product development is always customer-centric. The inspiration for our innovation comes from our anticipation of what the customer would want and what would constantly add value to their interactions with us. Customers have appreciated the results and now champion our products, encouraging and motivating our teams to strive for excellence in our offerings.