- Banks are facing greater pressure than ever to provide their customers with the services they need
- Many will be in ‘survival’ or ‘continuity’ mode
- The Union Bank of the Philippines is confident it can turn the disruption to its favor with risk-averse thinking
For traditional banks, particularly those with bricks-and-mortar branches, COVID-19-related restrictions and economic uncertainty have made current times a challenge, or at least, not quite business as usual.
Not only are banks now faced with huge financial demands – such as more requests for loans, credit extensions and support for government initiatives – they must support their own staff who can no longer work in branches, and meet unprecedented customer service expectations without a physical presence.
But for the more agile-thinking in financial services, earlier digital transformation efforts and investments are proving to be bearing fruit. The Union Bank of the Philippines (UnionBank) is certainly optimistic.
At its Annual Stockholders’ Meeting held on May 22, UnionBank President and CEO Edwin Bautista, said the bank was in a strong financial position to weather the huge disruption and outlook caused by the health crisis.
As reported by Manila Bulletin, Bautista claimed that the bank’s digital transformation investments could even secure it a digital advantage amid the disruption, with both individual and business customers quick to transition to its online services and solutions it already had available.
“Due to the ECQ [enhanced community quarantine], most of our customers resorted to using our digital channels to continue banking with us.
“Because of this, we achieved record highs in the month of March in terms of digital account opening in our UnionBank Online app, as well as corporate enrollment into our platform, The Portal,” Bautista said.
Further, because the bank had already undergone a large chunk of its digital transformation, some 80 to 90 percent of UnionBank’s team were able to continue operations and support a hike in customers’ support requests remotely, from home.
Rather than entering into ‘continuity-mode’, Bautista said that the COVID-19 outbreak would instead accelerate the bank into the next phase of digital transformation.
“We have learned a lot from this situation, and so we aim to use them as we carry on with Phase 3 of our digital transformation strategy, which is the year of commercialization and monetization of the bank’s initiatives,” he said.
That next phase, the CEO continued, will see data analytics and AI become “critical cornerstone-technologies,” which will likely be led by world-leading data scientist David Hardoon, who joined the bank in April.
Not only that, UnionBank fintech subsidiary UBX is seeing early success just a year after being launched. It has already launched platforms including one in digital payments and logistics, BUX, and i2i, which connects rural banks to the country’s main financial network.
“As we navigate through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are building our business model cognizant of certain megatrends, which our strategic scenario planning has identified as opportunities only if we ‘dare greatly’,” UnionBank Chairman Justo Ortiz added.
Businesses across every industry should take inspiration from those words, especially coming from the banking industry, where established players are often accused of being risk-averse, and slow to adjust and innovate, UnionBank is showing how to seize on current conditions and turn the odds in its favor.
This forward-thinking approach may be in the bank’s genes, having created the first bank website in the Philippines and launched the first electronic savings account in the country.