Covid-19 triggered a paradigm shift in the way banking services are delivered with lockdown restrictions and the fear of getting infected forcing consumers to look at alternative means.
Covid fast-tracked digital adoption and forced banks to run operations with more than 50% of the staff working from home. However, the crisis also presented the industry with an opportunity to rapidly innovate, which would have otherwise taken years of planning and preparation. "When the pandemic hit, we were already at a stage where a lot of bank customers were not visiting branches actively and some banks had gone completely digital. So, while the technology was always there, its adoption increased significantly during the pandemic," said Sonali Kulkarni, lead, financial services, Accenture in India.
Earlier, both bank customers and employees took longer to switch to digital, as physical modes co-existed and it was perceived that they would prefer to use the physical mode, Kulkarni said.
A key behavioural shift was witnessed in the area of payments following the coronavirus outbreak. Customers took to contactless payments, to avoid touching common surfaces such as point-of-sale terminals used by others. India’s homegrown innovation, the Unified Payments Interface, which was launched in April 2016, saw transaction volumes breach the 2-billion mark in October, because of the higher demand during the festive season and a change in consumer preference in favour of contactless payments.
Digital payment volumes saw a decline in the airline, hospitality and entertainment sectors. The dip was because of the restrictions on these services during lockdown. However, payment volumes increased in areas such as grocery, online pharmacies, recharges, and utility bills.
Experts are now bullish on India’s digital payments space. Nearly 66.6 billion transactions worth $270.7 billion are expected to shift from cash to cards and digital payments by 2023 in India and reach $856.6 billion by 2030, according to a survey by Accenture.
The growing trend in digital payments prompted the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to allow an increase in the limit for contactless card payments from the existing 2,000 to 5,000 from 1 January. The regulator had allowed the use of video know your customer process to help on-board new customers two months before the lockdown was imposed. The move gave banks time to put in place technologies, such as optical character recognition, live video, and artificial intelligence to rollout the service.
"Log in frequencies, volumes across internet and mobile banking, and conversational banking accelerated through this period. We accelerated the pace of digital adoption and digitized more services to support customers. There were 80,000 skills that our Keya conversational chatbot was trained for. With people working remotely, we got employees to train Keya and we have now added 3x more skills," said Deepak Sharma, chief digital officer, Kotak Mahindra Bank.
The other big shift was about putting in place policies to allow employees to work from home, something that was unheard of in the industry. Huge investments were made to procure laptops and mobile device management systems were installed on employees’ phones. For the first time, banks allowed employees to access their core banking systems, which is essentially the back-end system that processes transactions across bank branches, from outside the office premises.
"The first thing we focused on is creating the infrastructure that enabled work from home. These included acquiring virtual private networks and virtual desktop infrastructure to ensure we were able to give all our employees access to work remotely. Also, for the first time, we allowed our customer contact centre employees to work remotely," said Sharma.
Following the success of the work-from-home policy, banks are increasingly realizing that not all roles require employees to be in office every day. That said, the question remains if banking will go back to pre-covid times once the pandemic is over. "Post-pandemic, while certain customer segments may still visit branches like they used to, a majority of customers will continue to use digital platforms," said Kulkarni.
Interestingly, 10 public sector banks were merged into four during the pandemic, which is no mean feat for a set of lenders that diverse. Oriental Bank of Commerce and United Bank of India merged with Punjab National Bank, Syndicate Bank merged with Canara Bank, and Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank merged with the Union Bank of India, and Allahabad Bank merged with Indian Bank.
Rajkiran Rai G., chief executive, Union Bank of India, said the lender used learnings from the earlier mergers of Bank of Baroda and State Bank of India (SBI), and planned it accordingly. "Post-merger is the biggest challenge and we gave day one connectivity to all branches through an Infosys product called Mobi-Teller. This was like an interim measure before a complete IT integration," said Rai.
Banking in India as we knew it has changed. Whether it can sustain the momentum to bring about new innovations will be something to watch out for. A deeper, more data-driven understanding of customers is likely to emerge to help deliver the right products at the right time using the right channel, said Monish Shah, partner, Deloitte India.
Former SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar, who oversaw the operations during the initial phase of the pandemic, said rewriting the business continuity plan (BCP) was the biggest learning from the pandemic. The BCP of an organisation is designed to ensure continuity, resumption, and recovery of critical business processes in the event of any threat or disaster.
"Covid posed a different challenge to how BCPs are designed. It can affect a critical person handling BCP in all places at the same time. It was a new challenge. Therefore, it is necessary that BCPs are re-written for these kinds of situations. Criticality of IT centres and data centres is also important. For instance, how do you keep a back-up for that? These are questions that the crisis threw up and need to be looked at closely," he said.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. Accenture collaborates with its clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments. With deep industry and business process expertise, broad global resources and a proven track record, Accenture can mobilize the right people, skills, and technologies to help clients improve their performance.
Published: Monday, January 4, 2021
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