OCBC making its mark in digital realm

OCBC chief executive Samuel Tsien says that amid the buzz about digital banking, it is important to remember that physical banking is here to stay.
OCBC chief executive Samuel Tsien says that amid the buzz about digital banking, it is important to remember that physical banking is here to stay.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Focus of innovations such as OneTouch is always on customer experience, says CEO

OCBC is taking quiet but significant strides in a push to enhance its mobile platforms and digital capabilities, which now play a key part in helping the bank stand out from the industry's tough competition.

Years after OCBC ramped up its focus on technology, the bank can now lay claim to several Singapore firsts in digital and mobile innovations, such as OneTouch, which allows users to check bank balances via fingerprint sensor on iPhones.

But OCBC does not see the transformation as a tech race with other banks. The focus will always be on customer experience, chief executive Samuel Tsien told The Straits Times in an interview.

"We are not going to say that we want to compete with players in the market for a technological advancement. What I want is to make sure we continue to make progress in creating that convenience, so that when customers interact with us, they feel their need is satisfied."

The principle of focusing on improving customer experience instead of being first in the market has worked well for the bank, which saw its mobile banking active users grow 47 per cent from 2013 to 2014. The pace was the highest in South-east Asia, according to a Mckinsey Finalta study.

Customer response has also been strong. OneTouch, rolled out in March, has accumulated more than one million log-ins, and over 75 per cent of OCBC's mobile banking customers are using the service.

The monthly transaction volume of Pay Anyone has grown sevenfold since its launch in May last year. Pay Anyone is the first fast-transfer banking app here, allowing customers to transfer money to another account using only the recipient's Facebook account or mobile number.

The popularity of the Open Account app, launched in April last year to allow users to set up an OCBC 360 account on a smartphone, is particularly encouraging to Mr Tsien.

"Since its launch, 21 per cent of our new 360 accounts were opened via the app. Out of these people, 40 per cent are actually new to OCBC. This shows our innovations not only entice our existing customers, but also draw in new ones."

Open Account's traction reflects what OCBC envisions: to use mobile device platforms as the key driver for product cross-sales and broadening the revenue stream.

"I would like to be able to show my customers products that they need but are not yet aware of. For this to happen, communication with customers, data analytics and the contextualisation of customer data are the three things that are very important for us going forward," Mr Tsien noted, adding that the bank's customer lab will be crucial to the strategy.

The 30-man unit conducts extensive customer engagement - 500 hours of one-on-one surveys last year, for instance - to explore ways to improve all aspects of OCBC's interactions with customers, from website and app interfaces to the look and feel of paper forms.

Meanwhile, OCBC has poured more than $100 million into building its data analytics platforms over the past eight years, and the commitment has not gone unnoticed.

CIMB analysts said in a report last month: "Some mobile initiatives will curb the growth of call centre expenses, others invariably mean more short-term costs but will delight customers and improve customer stickiness, yet others are potential revenue generators."

OCBC is also plans to integrate its mobile solutions and digital platforms across its multiple markets.

Mr Tsien said: "To a large extent, what we have here is already available in Malaysia. In another two years, you can expect OCBC Wing Hang in Hong Kong to be fully integrated as well. But it may take longer for that to happen for Indonesia, where cross-border customer data flow is still banned."

However, amid all the buzz over mobile and digital banking, it is important to remember that physical banking is still here to stay, Mr Tsien stressed.

"We have heard talk that people need banking but not banks. But banks in their current form - with enhancement to their services - will continue to exist for at least another generation.

"People put their wealth with banks because they trust the banking system, of which banks are a component. I do not think people are ready to relinquish that trust yet."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2015, with the headline 'OCBC making its mark in digital realm'. Print Edition | Subscribe