Sandeep Mohapatra, Head of Digital Transformation and Technology at Absa Bank (Mauritius) Limited, says that technological development and digitalization are among the most important pillars in the financial and banking sector’s progress. Sandeep, a Digital Transformation Leader, also discusses Absa Bank’s digital journey with Investor’s Mag.
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How has Absa Mauritius performed in 2022 in terms of digital milestones?
Over the last two years, Absa Bank (Mauritius) Limited has introduced several industry-first initiatives to bring possibilities to the lives of our customers, firmly asserting our position as an innovative leader of the industry. The launch of Abby, an AI-powered Personal Digital Banker in the form of a humanoid robot, led to a significant leap in our digital transformation. Its mission is to help our customers find new ways of getting things done through a 24/7 self-service concept. Abby, which is also present in the form of a digital kiosk at all our branches, is a unique digital innovation and a first in Mauritius – powered by artificial intelligence, facial recognition, voice commands, swift self-service and autonomous navigation. Since its introduction, the self-service concept has been easily adopted by our customers.
Abby’s success inspired us to pioneer yet another service; Absa Mauritius became the first local bank to introduce WhatsApp Banking. This was also stitched into our Digital onboarding solution in Mauritius across customer segments, be it for Corporates, SMEs or Retail (both onshore and offshore) to provide AI-based chat support, co-browsing and Digital KYC based on facial recognition. All of these initiatives were achieved in a couple of years, which shows that we, as a team, are brave, passionate and ready to do things differently, to deliver disruptive and game-changing capabilities which cater for the needs of our customers.
This year, our digital transformation efforts were rewarded with 8 prestigious international awards, reinforcing our belief in the ambitious digital transformation journey we have embarked upon:
- Best Transaction Banking Innovation Lab, The Digital Banker – Global Transaction Banking Awards
- Outstanding use of Digital Channels, The Global CX Awards – by The Digital Banker
- Best Digital CX – Customer Onboarding (Wealth Management), The Global CX Awards – by The Digital Banker
- Most Innovative Digital Banking Platform, Global Business Outlook
- Best Digital Bank – Mauritius, Global Business Outlook
- Best Pure-Play Digital Initiative, Highly Acclaimed – The Middle East and Africa Retail Banking Innovation Awards – by The Digital Banker
- Best Digital Banking Initiative – The Middle East and Africa Retail Banking Innovation Awards – by The Digital Banker
- Best Pure Play Digital Account, Highly Acclaimed – Global Retail Banking Innovation Awards – by The Digital Banker
From a digital perspective, what were the main challenges faced by the bank this year?
At Absa Mauritius, we believe in bringing possibilities to life through unique digital innovations. Therefore, we strive to become customer-centred by constantly pushing digital boundaries.
I wouldn’t use the word “challenge” but rather, a collaborative and collective effort was made throughout this year to champion the required cultural change within the bank to align to the digital transformation journey. Digital is no longer just a department within the bank, but rather a ‘mindset’ and an ‘operating model’. In order to accelerate the digital transformation agenda, co-creation with all required stakeholders is critical. Hence, we continue to focus on upskilling our employees through certifications and training via our Digital Campus, as well as building collaboration, co-creation, and self-service tools. To qualify as a digital bank, we must first inculcate the digital-first mindset or culture where the customer is placed at the centre. As a digital-first organisation, our ambition is to use technology and data to simplify and personalize customer experience, automate processes, improve risk and control mechanisms, while lowering operating costs and generating new growth opportunities.
What progress have you made on the digital front?
Apart from Abby in our branches (kiosks and humanoid) and on WhatsApp, there have been several major enhancements done on our digital channels and products. Key digital products and services launched recently:
- Digital Onboarding for Retail, Offshore Wealth International, Corporate and Business Banking / SMEs – powered by advanced technology 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 – whether a customer is from Retail, Business Banking or Wealth International segments, we want to help them experience banking-on-the-go, without the hassle to manage multiple apps.
- Absa Goal based Savings Account – our customers can set their financial goals on their Absa Mauritius App and save systemically towards their dream. With this innovation, monthly contributions to the Goal savings account can be deducted automatically without any paperwork. In addition, our customers can top-up to achieve their goal faster or redeem their goal amount at any time.
- Open Banking – a new open banking MauCAS framework was introduced, allowing Absa customers to link any bank account domestically and process payments instantly 24/7
- 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-in platform that allows corporate customers manage their finances with speed and intelligence. It offers a one dashboard experience that gives access to multiple products for greater visibility of complete business portfolio
- Contactless and Card-less ATM withdrawal – Use smartphone to make safe and easy withdrawals powered via QR code. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, we offer our customers the option of withdrawing cash from Absa ATMs without touching the ATM screen and keyboard.
- Contactless Debit / Credit Cards – The contactless cards enable fast, easy and safe transactions, without physical contact. Our customers could tap and pay over the contactless-enabled POS terminal to pay for everyday items without the need to enter a PIN, swipe their cards or sign a receipt.
How are digitalisation and financial technology tools improving financial inclusion?
Financial inclusion is the cornerstone of not only a fair, equitable society but also a thriving economy. Boosting financial inclusion and access to finance can make crucial contributions to economic development, by enabling social mobility and ensuring that the largest number of people can participate fully and effectively in the economy.
Technological development and digitalisation are among the most important pillars in the progress of the financial and banking sector. These have the ability to bring about fundamental changes in the structure of financial services by making financial services delivery more transparent and faster, besides making use of less expensive and safer ways. Digital transformation with new technology and innovation is an urgent necessity to keep pace with electronic development, transformation of traditional services and to reduce costs.
At Absa Mauritius, we have introduced Absa Digi Account – a digital-only account with a unique Customer Value Proposition of zero balance and no minimum maintenance fees. We are constantly digitalising onboarding of existing traditional products and also creating the ‘Digi’ proposition available only digitally with low pricing to promote financial inclusion. The Digi segment is meant for customers who onboard digitally and choose to stay digital.
We are also witnessing rapid regulatory transformation in driving digitalisation with a measure to continuously improve financial inclusion. In order to facilitate seamless, instant & low-cost payments in the island, the Bank of Mauritius (BOM) launched the MauCAS platform based on an open banking framework, enabling all financial institutions to be part of an interconnected network. The platform drives inter-bank instant payments, merchant payments through a National QR code and a local switch for routing domestic card payments. BOM is also very close to launching a pilot of the Digital Rupee (Central Bank Digital Currency – CBDC), which only a few advanced regulators across the globe such as India have adopted.
With all of this investment in digitisation, how do you ensure that employees and customers adopt these innovations and get the full economic benefit from them?
Transformation is ‘change on steroids’ and is probably the toughest type of change. It is not incremental but a meaningful departure from the old to the new. That is what makes it so hard internally.
While digital transformations make customers’ life much easier and an adoption curve eventually follows, internal transformation is often much harder. Digital transformation isn’t optional for most organisations in the current context. It’s a ticket-to-the-game as the competitive landscape evolves rapidly and is more agile. Those who don’t invest in their digital capabilities are left more vulnerable.
You may have a great digital transformation strategy, for some, you may even go to the extent of executing the strategy, but if you do not have the right culture and the required new operating model within the organisation, the results may not follow through. Overhauling your company’s performance through new digital platforms takes vision, patience, technical expertise, and new operating models/structure but the most critical factor is employee buy-in.
Within Absa, one of the key pillars in our digital transformation strategy is to create a digital-first culture and to democratise digital across the organisation to create a thriving bottom-up digital transformation environment. We believe that our employees should be the brand ambassadors of the digital initiatives and not just colleagues in the customer facing channel. This will not only ensure right customer adoption but also help the bank get the full economic benefit from the investments made in digitization.
Bank-customer interaction is considered one of the largest challenges for banks in the digital age. What challenges has Absa Mauritius encountered with regards to digital banking?
Again, I wouldn’t use the word “challenges”, however, in the digital era no bank or organisation can ever say it’s done or completed. It is always evolving right immediately since an initiative is launched. Post the launch, it becomes very critical for any organisation to gather live insights and feedback from the customers and then implement & release. This is again an iterative & cyclical process.
At Absa Mauritius, based on our various past learnings, we launched an initiative to gather real time feedback from the customers across various customer touch points which not only includes digital channels but also our contact centres and relationship management teams. This has helped us understand customers better and recover services faster, thereby creating an environment for continuous improvement. Another learning that we got from our previous experiences is the necessity to have a similar experience across various customer touch points. Customers may switch from one channel to another, but if they are not aligned or similar, it might lead to customer friction. Hence, having an omnichannel experience is extremely critical and for Absa, this has been very much embedded in our digital transformation strategy.
What is Absa’s plan to accelerate investment in banking digitalisation in the coming years?
Looking to 2022 and ahead, we are looking to take our ambitions even further by focusing on five key building blocks:
- Onboard Digitally: Provide an intuitive and fully device responsive digital onboarding access to our customers across all existing banking products and business segments to provide delightful customer experience and to grow our business organically. We will continue to build on a unique segment agnostic ‘Digi’ customer value proposition – available only digitally for customers that want to operate only digitally.
- Product Innovation: Diversify by building new products and revamp/ reimagine existing banking products that are tailored to the future and relevant to the market. While we will go divergent in our suite of offerings and provide a wide bouquet of differentiated products and services, we would go convergent in our core digital channels keeping the customer convenience at the heart of everything we do.
- Reimagining payments: Go beyond cards and POS terminals as an issuing and merchant acquiring payment strategy. Build new digital operating models for both domestic and international payments that are low-cost, real-time, infra-lite and interoperable to provide a superior retail customer experience while also building a thriving merchant payment ecosystem.
- Superior digital channels: Continue to build a superlative omnichannel customer experience in line with our “phygital” strategy. Provide self-service low/ no-touch experiences, interlace digital technologies into the physical network making them more compact and continue to use emerging tech to provide humanised experiences and process data intelligently.
- Digitalize Internally: Re-engineer business processes to provide a ‘Service Promise’ to our customers across all banking products and services. Leverage on digital tools and technology including robotic process automation, simplified digital forms, workflows, micro-services, or API gateway etc. to reduce delivery turn-around time by either automating/ streamlining back-office or through straight-through processing.
To execute our ambitious digital transformation strategy under these pillars, we understand that we need to build an enabling environment that remains rooted in strong governance and a great customer experience. We are therefore also developing our capabilities across four key enablers — Culture, Technology, Data and Operating Models, and ensuring they underpin everything we do, will help us create truly differentiated customer and employee experiences, strengthening our position as a global leading digitally-powered Bank.
What is your outlook for digital banking for 2023?
We find various themes emerging that have the potential to fundamentally shift the way banking is conducted today. On a wider level, we strongly believe that digital would 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 set the rails of Open banking Building an infra-light, open, low-cost, inter-operable 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 you easy access to a broad range of technologies so that Banks can innovate faster and build almost anything that they can imagine. It allows banks to then interlace emerging technologies on a large scale and quickly without having to lock significant costs and time in disparate infrastructure and building in-house applications.
- Collaboration with FinTech – They are driving new business models and we are witnessing collaboration between banks and fintech 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.
- Blockchain – May disrupt the way people bank today while reducing dependency on cash, lower transaction costs, reduced settlement risk etc.
Each of these trends is likely to affect financial services companies and they also present opportunities to gain a competitive advantage.