OCBC to rejig branch strategy after Covid-19 crisis amid rising use of digital banking services: CEO

OCBC will continue to invest in technology and digitalisation efforts. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - OCBC Bank expects to rejig its branch network strategy after the Covid-19 pandemic because the rising adoption of digital banking services has permanently diverted some traffic away from its branches, said its chief executive officer Samuel Tsien on Monday (May 18).

With 22 of its 46 branches islandwide temporarily shut to comply with safe distancing measures here, the bank recorded a broad-based surge in digital transaction volumes in services such as online trading, loan applications and PayNow transactions in the first quarter ended March 31.

Against this backdrop, OCBC will continue to invest in technology and digitalisation efforts in the areas of customer interaction, customer experience, internal processing and infrastructure, said Mr Tsien.

Speaking at OCBC's virtual annual general meeting on Monday, he told shareholders that the bank expects the increased adoption of digital services to translate into higher net operating profit in the longer term, as a result of reduced manpower costs and fewer physical branches and offices being open in future.

"We do expect that the cost increase will be managed and the cost-income ratio of the bank would continue to improve," he noted. To be clear, there have been no overhead cost savings so far due to the temporary closure of branches, as OCBC's full network of ATMs remains operational and all affected branch staff have their full pay intact.

In the first quarter, the number of accounts for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) opened digitally with OCBC grew 2.4 times from the figure a year ago. PayNow Corporate transactions jumped seven times, while SME loans applied digitally stood at 49 per cent, up from 30 per cent a year ago.

On the consumer banking side, the number of accounts opened digitally grew 1.9 times year on year in the first quarter. PayNow transactions grew 2.8 times, while online trading transactions more than doubled.

OCBC shares closed up seven cents or 0.8 per cent at $8.80 on Monday.

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