The COVID-19 pandemic is still on and we don’t know about the end date. The recovery time might even take more than a year for businesses to come to normal. But this will end and business leaders who can best prepare their businesses effectively for a more digital future will be the winners.
The pandemic has emphasized the vital role of technology and innovation for supporting remote working, scaling digital channels, and measuring productivity. In fact, COVID-19 has significantly accelerated the shift to digital for the majority of businesses globally including enabling employees working from home overnight. A lot of business leaders have led their companies to digitize to a large extent to safeguard their employees and serve customers facing mobility restrictions as following the pandemic. Banks have transitioned to remote sales and service teams and enabled digital outreach to customers to make flexible payment arrangements for their customers. Grocery stores have shifted to online ordering and delivery as their primary business. Doctors have begun delivering telemedicine. Manufacturers are actively developing plans to leverage robotics, 3D printing, and automation.
In this interview with R Venkattesh, Head - Operations, Technology and Human Resource, DCB Bank, he shares how the bank accelerated the business continuity, people's productivity and overall created an impact on customer's experience by maximizing the use of technology and experimenting with niche technologies.
Q1. What are some of the biggest challenges that the banking industry is facing in maintaining business continuity? Are these challenges long term, or worse, permanent?
The first and foremost challenge that the industry faces is the health and safety of its employees and customers. Second, the risks of virtual networking, cybersecurity, and remote data sharing pose additional IT security threats. Third, compliance, due diligence, and adherence to regulations laid down by the regulator and other government authorities.
In all of these, the most fundamental challenge is communication. Assuaging employee fears and customer concerns about the physical environment, economic environment and business are of paramount importance. Additionally, business unit heads require daily updates about business and employee contributions. Regular conference calls are held and updates on business continuity, employees’ health and safety are discussed and deliberated by unit heads. In addition, online trackers and enablers such as electronic daily sales report (EDSR) and for products like DCB Zippi, a continuous input online or through email is needed.
These challenges have also brought forth a need to increase virtual solutions, support and technology by the IT teams. There is an added responsibility for handling employee queries, managing applications, and smooth running of business and data centers virtually.
The administration teams have detailed physical premises usage plans to maintain safety of employees and customers. They also have to ensure that transportation, sanitization of premises, personal safety kits and equipment for social distancing (queue managers, hand sanitizers, squares for customer distancing) are maintained at branches, ATMs and offices.
The adoption of innovative solutions e.g. WhatsApp banking, video KYC mechanism and conversational banking will be available in the foreseeable future. DCB Bank’s digital strategy to managing customer expectations is bound to undergo a sea change in the next couple of years. WhatsApp banking and Chatbots will become normal in the next two-three years. This will help in the optimization of contact center operations.
Some of these challenges, including transportation and vendor management, may ease with a reduction in lockdown. However, the challenges of working from home and maintaining virtual security are here for the foreseeable future. The IT teams will have to ramp up offerings and security features. Banks will also need to manage employees and monitor their work-from-home situation. They will have to issue strict guidelines for the same. This will require more self-discipline rather than monitoring. There will also be challenges in offsetting the additional cost borne by employees using the internet and other facilities from home.
An important aspect of these challenges is that they have resulted in faster adoption of change and opportunity in light of remote working and multiskilling of employees.
Q2. Amid the crisis, how DCB Bank has revamped its strategy to tackle this precarious situation that has impacted business agility and talent management?
Never before have we seen such a need for cross-functional coordination between supervisors, HR, IT and administration teams to enable the workforce to perform.
At DCB Bank, we designed a new Mobile Banking App with enhanced services for payment options. Our products such as DCB Remit and DCB Zippi offer paperless transactions, Intelligent Adaptive Authentication to prevent fraud, improve customer experience, and enhance compliance monitoring.
Connectivity is the key to remote workforce management. Adoption of collaboration tools for ease of employee communication and daily operations was implemented almost overnight. We realized early on that it was essential to have a dedicated taskforce to handle all COVID-related information.
This team managed critical flow of communication to employees by way of awareness through bulletins, audio bridges, and conference calls. We had a mechanism in place to monitor and support employees with COVID-19 symptoms.
In addition, we addressed employee engagement and development in these trying times as our top priority. Emotional wellbeing through engagement was managed through wellness sessions on mental health, virtual town halls to buoy employee spirit, a fun radio show for employees to dedicate messages to their colleagues, DCB Heroes — video calls to connect with employees who have shown exemplary work ethics and applaud them along with their seniors, virtual backyard birdwatching, kitchen waste composting, and virtual yoga sessions.
There was added emphasis on health awareness for employees. We provided support through our wellness partner for hospitalization and medical needs. Hour HR, our monthly ‘radio chat’, spoke about COVID-19 awareness and treatment options, and the likely future.
We also realized that supervisory capabilities had to be honed to manage the new circumstances that everyone finds themselves in. Every Friday, we conduct a ‘Master class’ with senior management on supervisory capabilities on topics such as appreciation, delegation, ownership, and engagement.
We are also nurturing employee talent with skill-building as the core. Usage of LUMOS, our e-learning platform, saw a fourfold increase as employees logged in to undertake various L&D programs. For new joinees, it is essential to make them feel welcome and an integral part of the fabric of DCB Bank. Capsule modules for induction and product training have been designed using digital platforms.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?” We conceptualized Winning Mantra, which offers employees a platform to share best practices of performers; these are then compiled so others can draw inspiration.
Q3. COVID-19 seems to be accelerating digital transformation in the workplace across industries. How are businesses fast-tracking their digital agenda amid this crisis?
The lockdown served as an opportunity for business and technology to collaborate and recheck customer demand and align new business models or customize existing plans. We launched/enhanced three critical customer-facing digital solutions for our customers. DCB Zippi Online Fixed Deposit allows any non-DCB Bank customer to open an FD only account with DCB Bank within minutes from the comfort of their homes. DCB Remit www.dcbremit.com is a paperless, online remittance facility with zero fees. It is exclusively for outward fund remittance from India to 22 countries. The new DCB Mobile Banking App launched during the lockdown period has quickly reached a life-to-date rating of 4.8 from 2.8 (Android) a month ago and set a new benchmark to emulate.
- Additionally, our most obvious transformation was working from home, which our employees had to adapt instantly. The leadership realigned for reformed digital acceleration. The visibility, influence and communication of senior management were driven through collaboration tools.
- E-DSR usage has increased as most of the business is through remote means of communication. The system is adding a lot of value to acquire new customers and keep tabs on employee productivity.
- Cloud Technology is now the means for quick deployment e.g. video KYC. The technology team had to revisit BCP execution, uptime, and performance monitoring at data centers.
Q4. What technologies and digital innovations are you employing to adapt to the new normal?
We have a robust technology infrastructure for running banking operations 24x7. Virtualization has led to increased IT productivity, efficiency, agility, and responsiveness. The data center, disaster recovery, and near DR setup looks at greater business continuity and disaster recovery.
We also launched ESB and Opening Banking Platform to nurture new business models and fintech in a short timeframe. EGInnovation handles outages and quickly troubleshoots slow applications with application performance monitoring. SDWan aims at the Ready-to-move-Branch network into the future.
Big Data and Analytics initiatives to understand customer behavior based on inputs received from transaction patterns help derive business insights and improve customer experience with personalized banking. Big Data also helps monitor digital usage from clients and customers, which can be scaled up to meet the changing demand.
New revenue streams have been enabled by Data Analytics. Front line automation looks to enhance employee engagement and efficiency for sourcing customers through mobile applications. There is Tab banking for opening accounts on field. We also developed a GST app for the Bank’s SME customers. Our in-house innovation saw Business Value of FInFLex to SME Banking. FinFlex is built in-house entirely to optimize costs around operations involved in the process. Besides, Contact Centre automation for better customer engagement capabilities and plug-in for best-of-breed applications for interaction management and workforce optimization are simultaneously ongoing.
There has been an upgrade to Infosys Finacle Core Banking to fast-track digital transformation with API-driven architecture for next-generation banking. The EKYC ecosystem enhances better customer onboarding through an omnichannel experience. The omnichannel architecture through eBanking Suite builds unique customer services for all channels. We also recently upgraded our retail lending software Finnone Neo.
In all of this, it is important that FRM or Fraud Risk Management is ramped up to prevent fraud and errors.
Q5. In the post COVID world which of these technologies will be bet on by companies most –IoT, AI, 5G, Blockchain, or cybersecurity?
We have seen how consumer behavior has changed during this pandemic and the implications for continuity of that behavior. Customers will henceforth want to be serviced anywhere and anytime. It’s important to understand that technologies such as IOT, AI, 5G and Blockchain do not work independently. These technologies have to work together for enhanced customer usage.
Cybersecurity will derive tremendous benefit from AI, Biometrics and Blockchain in the future, while 5G will bring in much-needed benefits for IoT. The new-age customer will be a combination of a human being and his/her smart device. Devices will talk to backend systems and will need to be programmed with Blockchain so that they work independently and serve customers. Imagine your refrigerator ordering ingredients based on inventory and rules configured by you or your electric appliances paying off bills on due date.
Post-lockdown, customers would prefer contactless or interface-less immersive experience where Blockchain and Artificial intelligence will have better adoption. Blockchain will also help reduce cost and operation efficiencies. Post-5G adoption, we will see more use cases of IoT e.g. Smart Home, Smart Car, wearables. The one technology that will be utilised is Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). We can build a virtual experience of a complete branch where customers have invisible interfaces to interact with banking channels.
Q6. How do you see the security implications of the post COVID world because data will no longer be confined to corporate offices?
Cybersecurity incident response capability will need to be enhanced. A review of all documentation and a walk-through with a careful watch on any problem areas will need to be planned. Given that most of the security and risk teams are now operating in completely different environments and mindsets, incident response plans and protocols might become obsolete or need to be adjusted. CISO, as part of the COVID-19 management team, will ensure that someone from the security team is part of the crisis management working group to provide guidance on security concerns.
A Crisis Management Plan Awareness Session by CISO, to educate senior leaders with examples of target phishing attacks and alert employees to the escalating cyber threat environment, will be necessary. Also, people need to understand that security is not about ticking a check box; it is about inculcating it in their DNA.
The need of the hour is to stay focused and hypervigilant to suspicious activities. There has to be expanded visibility for monitoring. The sudden relocation of much of the workforce (including security and risk management teams) to remote locations creates the potential for cybersecurity teams to miss events. Companies and organizations also need to prepare themselves and their employees for the increased cybersecurity risks associated with remote working.
Adhoc Security Assessment will immediately engage with security services vendors to evaluate impact to security boundaries.
In summary, continuous monitoring and acting on alerts will help enhance the level of security for organizations.
Q7. How do you perceive the future of the banking post COVID era? How this pandemic will change the way industry works and how it manages talent?
It will be the virtual customer who will drive business. Those who can blend personalized services into their digital products will have the winning manta and how our employees and supervisors perceive it will make a world of difference to the customers. Paperless, digital and seamless marriage of technology with business is the way forward. Having said that, our internal customers will also need to adapt to virtual technology. For our new joinees, documentation and offer and appointment letters are already being done virtually.