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Digital banking: Where are we and where are we headed?

Shiv Kumar Bhasin, Chief Technology Officer, State Bank of India, talks about how digitisation is helping the country’s largest bank grow by leaps and bounds. By Shweta Gandhi

Manning the technology department of the country’s largest bank is not a small feat—it requires constant up-keep, modernisation of IT systems and simplifying business processes for customers. After all, serving customers quickly and making their lives easy is the fundamental objective, and Shiv Kumar Bhasin, CTO, State Bank of India, understands its importance really well. “Our business model is currently aimed at making SBI one of the top 50 banks in the world,” says Shiv. Winner of the Banking Icon and Transformation Icon at the recently concluded CIO Power List 2016, Shiv has more than 20 years of industry experience and calls himself an advocate of digital innovation, customer experience, agility, and technology and infrastructure transformation. “We need to develop and dispense services on all digital channels, and ensure omni-channel customer experience, while at the same time maintaining the right balance of customer convenience and security needs,” he says. Driving excellent service in customer experience is his forte, and here, he talks about the digital strategies he is undertaking at SBI. Other banks would do well to take note.

1. Self-servicing channels
“With our objective of bringing the cost-income ratio substantially low from our current level, we are looking to implement a lot of digitisation in our business processes. We’re working on making many of our channels self-servicing, and for that to happen, the tech should be stable and robust. Once that is ensured, the next step is to have an excellent customer experience to promote these self-services. Whatever apps and programmes we develop should be supporting the channel on the device anytime and anywhere to create an easy experience for customers. As a pro-active bank using big data and analytics, a customer’s needs could be forecasted based on their behaviour, transactions, and day-to-day interests gathered through their social media. These predicted needs can then be fulfilled by providing solutions that cater to different aspects of their lives.”

2. Digital wallets
“We have launched a digital wallet called SBI Buddy—an app that helps you pay anyone—pay bills, recharge mobile/DTH, book movie/flight/bus tickets on the move 24/7. Within less than 10 months of launching it, we saw a colossal number of users— three million subscribers! That’s without using any marketing or publicity. It was purely based on our brand name and the services the app offered.”

3. Wearable devices and Robo-advisors
“We are also coming up with wearable devices, like watches that provide tech info. And we’re working on robotics-based products and services, using bot technology, that can be employed for frequently used services—FAQs about products, how forms need to be filled, day-to-day banking operations, etc. There are Robo-advisors that provide online portfolio management with minimal human intervention. Animated characters are being developed to visually respond to customers’ queries so as to provide consistent customer service; they are are better disciplined, can express emotions and are empathetic to customers’ needs. So we are looking at developing a bot like this that can be placed in bank branches, e-corners and e-lobbies where they can interact with customers and are able to help improve our customer services.”

4. Digital branches
“We truly embraced digital in July 2014 when we launched four flagship digital branches called sbiINTOUCH. The idea was to offer next generation banking solutions to the increasingly mobile and internet savvy customer base. Now, we are growing to 250 human led-branches this year. They will have high definition video conferencing for customers and can connect to financial advisors in real time. Customers can open an account, get their debit card and set up their Internet banking—all in less than 12 minutes.”

5. Online financial superstore
“We are also planning on developing a financial superstore, where products will be sold from online portals. We will have our own market place, just like Amazon and Flipkart. This will be a path breaking avenue for a public sector bank. It is also one of our largest steps towards digitisation of banking processes, and we intend on removing the need for paper altogether as well. We are looking to launch it shortly.”

6. Mobile solutions
“Right now, SBI has the largest number of payments transacted on the mobile banking application among all the banks in India. Overall, 76 per cent of transactions are coming through e-channels—mobiles, Internet and ATM. We are the largest ATM network provider with over 55,000+ ATMs. Using digital channels, we are trying to reduce the customer footfall in banks. In terms of mobility, we have two flagship apps—SBI Anywhere and SBI Freedom. We are currently working on unifying both, for improved customer experience.
“mVisa is one of our new innovations. This lets the customer shop on the basis of a product’s QR code and pay at the billing counter using their smartphone. It is totally paperless/cardless. There is another mobile app released to improve customer service at branches called NoQueue, which lets you skip the waiting period in branches, getting a paper token, and standing in line for your appointment. It lets you book a virtual queue ticket that can be generated just before reaching the branch.

“Yet another innovation is to prevent the various debit card frauds by using a mobile app that allows a customer to control their debit card transactions through SMS, missed call banking or a smartphone app—SBI Anywhere. It can help to switch ‘on’ or ‘off’ various debit card transactions. If you’re going to office in the morning, you might want to switch off your debit card or switch off e-commerce/card transactions using this mobile app. If you are shopping, you can switch it back on for a particular card only. It’s all being done to improve customer experience.

“We are also looking at adding a unified mobile app that gets rid of all passwords by including biometric identification. So now customers will be able to carry out their banking needs on the basis of their biometric id. This will be launched sometime in the last quarter of this financial year.” 

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