Nations Trust Bank (NTB) has been a pioneer in digital banking innovation in Sri Lanka since its inception. As a new entrant into an industry already dominated by giants in 1999, the bank used innovation, digital enablement and unparalleled customer experiences to stand out. Over the last 20 years, the bank has transformed itself into Sri Lanka’s most progressive and digitally savvy bank. We sat down with Nations Trust Bank Chief Digital Officer Janaka Pitadeniya as he discussed the bank’s digital strategy and the state and future of digital banking in Sri Lanka.
Tell us about digital banking at Nations Trust Bank?
We use technology as an enabler to empower our customers to go the extra mile. Nations Mobile Banking, our digital banking app, is an excellent example. We have been consistent in the market since our launch in 2017. We were the first to include trilingual support and we have continuously refined the existing UX and UI.
Digital empowerment stretches across our portfolio and product offering from current and savings accounts to cards to loans and leases. Every aspect of our business is constantly being reviewed to see how we could better empower customers through digital enablement. This is then supported by our digital banking products such as mobile banking, FriMi, online banking, ATMs and CRMs.
Over the next few years, we are planning to transform our digital offering to be three things; simple, smart and inclusive. We want our digital banking services to go beyond transactional capabilities alone and progress into assistive services; making recommendations and helping customers in their day to day lives.
How are you planning to achieve this?
Over the last two decades we have created a culture of innovation from bottom to top and top to bottom. We are committed to working SMART, which is our mission meaning; ‘Speed’, doing ‘More’ with less, while being ‘Adaptable’, ‘Responsible’ and ‘Tech-savvy’. This means that no matter where you are in the organisation, whether at the lowest or the highest rung, you can equally contribute towards innovation. We want input from everywhere; from our customers, our own people and the public at large.
Being highly tech-savvy and integrated on social media also means that if we don’t bring our A-game to the table, our customers and the public will call us out on these public forums. We love this, because it creates a positive feedback loop that always forces us to be at our best. Our responsibility is such that we are constantly reacting to feedback and improving our processes.
An excellent example was when, in response to a Facebook post, customers pointed out that they would like a branch in a certain area. When we saw this, we did our research and found that this was a great idea. Now there’s a branch there. This is how receptive we are to customer sentiment and feedback. With our medium-size and legendary agility we can move fast and do amazing things and thus we are excited about the future and leading the transformation of digital banking in Sri Lanka.
How is NTB setting itself apart from others in digital?
Design-thinking and empathy are huge drivers for us. Poor CX is the result of a lack of empathy and thus we strive to cultivate empathy. We get our people to always look at things from the customer perspective. We need to understand what they’re going through to be able to effectively help them and this is intrinsically woven into
We devote unprecedented effort and resources towards customer experience and journeys, not only in digital but across our offering, this is a key differentiator. We don’t do things for the sake doing things, and we’re not interested in competing with others in the traditional sense.
We want to do it once and do it properly. We are obsessed with getting it right the first time. Take Nations Mobile Banking, from the get go it’s been the easiest app with the simplest layout; fund transfers are possible with just three to four taps.
In the digital space, we set ourselves apart by consistently delivering an unparalleled customer experience and by being the most responsive bank. We also don’t look to copy others, we do it right the first time and if others copy us, we don’t mind; we’re helping to drive transformation anyway.
We have many projects in the pipeline which will be game changers within the next few months and these will deliver such revolutionary experiences that people will ask the question, “how did we live without this?”, just like what happened when ATMs were first introduced.
What about data and cybersecurity?
We have world class checks and balances in place. Our systems are secure, and are certified and audited by reputed third-parties. This high-level of security has allowed us to link up our systems in such a way as to offer seamless connectivity. For example, we were the first bank to roll out online on-boarding, so say if you’re a Cards customer you can register for Mobile Banking online and if you’re a FriMi customer too, you can sign up for mobile or internet banking online; we’re creating a seamless omni-channel experience.
The Central Bank is also currently in the process of coming up with the equivalent of GDPR regulations for Sri Lanka and our systems are already compliant with these standards. All sensitive customer data is stored securely and audited by third-parties so much so that even bank staff do not have access without authorisation.
You’ve spoken about digital enablement for the customer but what about digital enablement internally?
Our mantra of “simple, smart and inclusive” applies internally as well. If you take digital channels, we have two sets of customers, internal and external. In fact, we were recently discussing a solution for corporate banking; they came to us with a problem, and we designed a solution for them. These may be simple solutions we can provide in-house or more complex ones that require us to approach a third-party vendor.
When we implement these solutions, we make sure that it is fitting with our current systems and culture. We rely heavily on machine learning and robotic process automation to automate manual processes. We have monthly discussions on how we can improve our processes. Through this, we are empowering our internal customers through digital technology.
We have three goals when solving a customer problem, whether internally or externally; enhance the top-line, work on the bottom-line and go to any length to create an amazing user experience.
What is your vision for digital banking in Sri Lanka over the next five years?
We are already saturated with “banking 1.0” applications and we need to get ready for the future. The next step is value added services; integrating other services into banking apps. This will start small but move on to bigger things. The future will be a convergence of ecosystems and increased integration both horizontally and vertically.
We are not in the money business anymore; we are in the facilitating business. It’s crucial that all banks realise this. Look at Uber, it’s not in the transport business, it’s a transport facilitator. This is the model we need to adopt. The bank’s function will be removing friction between transacting parties and providing seamless platforms.
Also, with the fourth industrial revolution now in full swing and revolving around things like IoT, blockchain and other emerging technologies, the landscape is changing and organisations are migrating towards Open API architectures.
Nations Trust Bank is proud to be the first bank in Sri Lanka to rollout Open API Banking and we’re already transacting with our customers and partners using our open banking framework. If we are to embrace the future and thrive, we have to step out of the transaction mind-set and look at how we can integrate seamlessly with our partners and provide them with the ability to interact with our infrastructure without having to worry about compatibility or security.
Initiatives like Nations Open API Banking provide that necessary structure and are constantly evolving. We’ve been the pioneers in this endeavour in Sri Lanka because we see the value of integrating with other ecosystems and moving beyond transactions alone.
With fintech and digital advancements, how will the role of the bank change?
20 years ago we had tellers, now we have ATMs. Five years down the line, people won’t want to handle cash unless absolutely necessary. Personally speaking, I haven’t made a cash withdrawal in over a month and a half. That’s because I don’t need cash anymore since I have FriMi, our digital banking proposition, Mobile Banking and electronic cards to transact whenever and wherever I want.
The branch is also undergoing a transformation from a transactional point into a touch point. People will come to branches not to transact but to get advice and for a human touch. The bank will become a financial facilitator.
How branches function will also change and this is already happening. Take our self-service kiosks, for example. Our analytics have found that the majority of our customers prefer self-service and interacting with digital portals for transactional banking. Thus, we go through a lot of pain whilst designing
People are also conscious about the environment and reducing waste and through digital we can positively contribute towards a cleaner environment. We want to make our customers as comfortable as possible in our kiosks and we have designed the experience so that it is seamless and in-line with the experience you get at a branch. This then stretches to our digital offering such as online banking and mobile banking. Through this we are achieving seamlessness and drawing closer to the goal of true omni-channel banking.
Even our off-site ATM network performance and activity is monitored and we are constantly striving to respond to changing demand and provide our customers with a best-in-class experience.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
Our partnerships with global brands like American Express and MasterCard, provide our customers with nationwide and worldwide acceptance and accessibility. In fact, we are the single largest issuer of credit cards in Sri Lanka and the sole acquirer for American Express in Sri Lanka. We have achieved all of this in just 20 years, which is a significant achievement. This has only been possible as a result of our responsiveness to our customers coupled with our digital progressiveness and agility.
As far as the digital fintech revolution is concerned in terms of banking, Sri Lanka is not the earliest guest at the party. However, adoption rates are growing exponentially and we believe that, if things continue as they do, we could surpass regional markets in terms of penetration and accessibility.
There are some constraints we face due to our regulatory and legislative framework not being fully ready for this revolution, but we are extremely happy to say that the regulator and the government are working in liaison with the industry to quickly remedy these issues and enable the country to go forward.
As an industry, we will also need to look at information sharing amongst stakeholders, which will help customers and the banks at the same time, in terms of accessibility for customers and risk management for banks.
I am pleased to say that the future for digital banking in Sri Lanka is very bright and Nations Trust Bank is looking to lead the way, staying true to our spirit as Sri Lanka’s banking pioneers.