Digitalisation is playing an increasing role in the overall strategy of banks, fuelled by the paradigm shift of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sandeep Mohapatra, Director – Digital Transformation and Technology at Absa Mauritius talks to Investor’s Mag on the ‘phygital strategy’ of the bank and how digital innovations will ultimately reshape the overall banking sector.
Featured in Investor’s Mag, 20th Edition, March 22 – June 22
What is the one thing that qualifies a bank as a digital bank/a bank with a digital mindset?
Digital as you rightly pointed out is a ‘mindset’ and not just a department within the organisation. We believe for a bank to qualify as a digital bank, it must first inculcate the digital-first mindset or culture where the customer is placed at the centre of everything. Digital-first organisations are hence those that use technology and data to simplify and personalise customer experience, automate processes, improve risk and control mechanisms while reducing the costs to serve and creating new opportunities for growth.
At Absa Mauritius, we believe in bringing possibilities to life through unique digital innovations to make the customer experience more fluid. Therefore, pushing digital boundaries to become customer-obsessed is at the core of our focus. We continue to embark on our bold and ambitious ‘phygital strategy’ – a truly cohesive hybrid of the digital and physical worlds to be able to serve our customers better.
What is Absa’s most significant achievement from a digital perspective to date (since it embarked on its digital transformation)?
Absa has recently introduced several ground-breaking and industry-first initiatives to bring possibilities to life for our customers, and we believe that has firmly asserted our position as an innovation leader in the industry. Last year, we took a big leap in digital transformation with the launch of the humanoid robot Abby: an AI-powered Personal Digital Banker, which has also been extended in the form of a digital kiosk-based banking in our branches. The objective was to help our customers find new ways of getting things done through a 24/7 self-service concept. Abby is a unique digital innovation and a first in Mauritius – powered by artificial intelligence, face recognition, voice commands, swift self-service, and autonomous navigation. Currently, Abby is deployed across Absa branches and is the first point of interaction at an Absa Mauritius branch. The self-service concept has been widely appreciated by our customers and has become quite the talk of the island.
The Abby project was further extended to WhatsApp, and we were the first bank on the island to provide WhatsApp banking. This was also stitched into our Digital onboarding solution in Mauritius across customer segments, be it Corporates (both onshore and offshore), SMEs or Retail to provide AI based chat support, co-browsing, and Digital KYC based on face recognition. All of these initiatives were landed in a matter of a year and this reflects our drive to deliver on disruptive and game-changing capabilities that hyper-personalise the customer journey and provide convenience.
“Digital-first organisations are hence those that use technology and data to simplify and personalise customer experience, automate processes, improve risk and control mechanisms…”Sandeep Mohapatra | Director – Digital Transformation and Technology | Absa Mauritius
In 2021, Absa Mauritius’ digital transformation efforts were recognized by several prestigious international awarding bodies : Best Bank in Mauritius – Global Finance, Best Digital Bank in Mauritius – Global Brands Magazine, Most Innovative Bank in Mauritius – Global Brands Magazine, Best Application of IoT (Internet of Things) – The Digital Banker, Best Digital Transformation Initiative – Global Business Outlook
On a scale of 1 to 10, where do you see the impact of digitalisation on your bank’s operations?
I would say the impact of digitalisation is quite high. Re-architecting capabilities and operations to serve customers in a phygital manner is not a question of choice, but of survival. The pandemic accelerated the march towards digital transformation, and banks will need to be ready for the fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour – that many consumers will take a long time to return to regular physical engagements, – and some may not even come back.
Yet, the physical branch network remains particularly challenging to shift online. However, we should not be tempted to believe that physical presence will cease to exist. The question, therefore, is in what shape and form should physical networks or bank branches exist. To be future- fit, the model of branch banking may have to be completely re-imagined and turned on its head in the COVID-19 era. We believe a hybrid of offline and online model may be the best way forward.
At Absa, we intend to combine the best of both digital and physical worlds to create a truly cohesive hybrid i.e. creating a truly cohesive ‘phygital’ customer experience. We believe that progressive banks will break out of the traditional branch model. They will move away from branches as transaction hubs to rather focus human energy on how to create new relationships deliver specific high-value transactions or physical interactions and experiences that can complement a digital banking core. In true complementary fashion, emerging digital technologies such as AI would be interlaced into a physical network to augment physical experiences and make services faster, secure, convenient, and round-the-clock.
What products/services recently implemented meet your customers’ expectations in terms of digitalisation?
Apart from Abby in branches (kiosks and humanoid) and on WhatsApp, there have been several major big enhancements done on our digital channels and products. Key digital products/services launched recently :–
- Digital onboarding for Retail, Offshore Wealth International, Corporate and Business Banking / SMEs – powered with advanced tech that enables Digital KYC, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) capabilities on National ID & Address proof and Chat & Co-browsing features for instant customer support.
- Absa Mauritius App – One mobile super-app for all customers, be it Retail, Business Banking, and Wealth International customers, to help our customers experience banking on the go.
- Absa Goal based Savings Account – Our customers can create their financial goals on Absa Mauritius App and save systemically towards their dream. This innovation enables auto-debit of monthly contributions towards the Goal savings account without any paperwork. What’s more, our customers can also top-up to achieve their goal faster or redeem their goal amount at any point in time.
- Digital Banking for Corporates with Absa Access: A connected digital experience that gives a holistic and comprehensive view of corporate banking activities. Absa Access is a single sign-on platform that allows Corporate customers to manage their finances with speed and intelligence. It offers a one dashboard experience that gives access to multiple products for greater visibility of customers’ complete business portfolio.
- Contactless and Card-less ATM withdrawal – Safe and easy cash withdrawals powered via a QR code model. In the backdrop of the pandemic, we offer our customers a safe and easy way to withdraw cash from Absa ATMs via their smartphone, without having to touch the ATM screen and keyboard.
- Contactless Debit / Credit Cards: Enabling transactions without physical contact in a fast, easy and safe way can tap and pay over the contactless-enabled POS terminal to pay for everyday items. There’s no need to enter a PIN, swipe the card, or sign a receipt.
“We should not be tempted to believe that physical presence will cease to exist. The question, therefore, is in what shape and form should physical networks or bank branches exist.”Sandeep Mohapatra | Director – Digital Transformation and Technology | Absa Mauritius
What is the trend you foresee in the banking sector in the coming 12 to 24 months?
We find various themes emerging that have the potential to fundamentally shift the way banking is conducted today. At a broad level, we strongly believe that digital will become mainstream and the new normal way of doing banking.
Some of the other key trends we see are as follows –
- Open Banking – The central bank has been progressive in transforming the digital payment ecosystem, and MAUCAS has paved the way for Open Banking, building an infra-light, open, low-cost, interoperable, and instant payment ecosystem.
- Digital KYC – A much awaited big game changer from the regulator. Once this is established, it will allow the sector to truly provide a digital banking experience without reliance on a physical branch network.
- Cloud Computing – A narrative much bigger than technology or just the way infrastructure is hosted. The cloud gives easy access to a broad range of technologies so that Banks can innovate faster and build nearly anything they can imagine. It allows banks to then interlace emerging technologies at scale and speed without having to lock high costs and time in disparate infrastructure and building in-house applications.
- Collaboration with Fintechs – They are driving new business models, and we are witnessing collaboration between banks and fintechs to offer a better customer experience and greater convenience at a much lower price.
- Big Data Analytics – Hyper personalised or mass customisation of customer experience is happening based on customer intelligence / data analytics through new technologies like AI and machine learning.
Each of these trends is likely to affect financial services companies, and they also present opportunities to get a competitive advantage.