Banking and the Transformation of the Digital Space, with Absa Bank’s Award-Winning Head of Digital Banking

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Founded in 1991, the Absa Group is one of Africa’s largest financial services groups with a presence in 15 countries. It offers personal and corporate banking, credit cards, corporate and investment banking, wealth and investment management, and bank insurance. The bank’s capabilities and expertise have earned it numerous accolades, including the Global Banking & Finance Review 2022 awards for Best Digital Bank in South Africa, Excellence in Innovation – Banking Product South Africa for its Virtual Assistant Absa Abby and Head of Digital Banking of the Year South. Africa for Subash Sharma.

When speaking with Wanda Rich, Editor-in-Chief of Global Banking & Finance Review, Subash expressed his thanks for receiving the accolade. His journey to become Head of Digital Banking at Absa Everyday Banking has been, in his words, “a long and exciting road, filled with significant joys and challenges”. He has a background in basic engineering, where he developed a keen interest in the field of strategy and innovation. “Working for a large financial institution, I can express myself and implement ideas that I have always dreamed of,” he said. “As the world continues to undergo rapid transformation in the digital space, pioneering digital innovation and customer delight is what drives me every day. I have a great team that supports my vision. Working together, we make things happen.

When Wanda addressed the topic of Absa’s digital strategy and unique value proposition, Subash explained how the effects of the current pandemic have included some positives for the bank and its customers. “It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has tested the limits of our digital capability and accelerated Absa’s digital transformation program,” he said. “It has also created an opportunity for the bank to better respond to our customers, and this fits into our overall strategy of functionality, customer focus, quality and security.

“Absa’s digital strategy is centered on driving digital adoption and how to make digital channels a significant contributor to product sales. Achieving these two ambitions is intrinsically linked to an improved customer experience, which remains at the forefront of the digital experience we want to offer our customers.

With this in mind, he revealed, the bank claims certain Absa-specific proposals, such as identification and verification on the web. “Absa is the first bank to open a new account directly from our website. Absa Biometric ID enables customers to transact securely with the highest level of biometric certification. Finally, ChatBanking is a world first which allows our customers to use WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to carry out their banking transactions in total security.

As technology continues to advance, Absa chooses to focus on improving the customer experience while making a concerted effort not to complicate solutions too much. “We have invested heavily in sustainable technologies and solutions,” Subash said. “With a strong understanding of user experience and behavioral economics, we focused on developing a feature-rich website and mobile technologies that provide an intuitive and positive customer experience. The migration of services and costs is at the heart of our digital strategy. By creating system efficiencies through quick wins and long-term effort, manual hours can be migrated, improving our bottom line. »

He revealed that the four main drivers of product development at Absa are functionality, customer focus, quality and safety. “Although critical, development is one of the many variables that determine the success of a product. Our approach sees product ownership as an essential part of developing successful products and ensuring that these products continue to deliver value.

One product in particular, the award-winning Absa Abby, is one of the first in-app conversational AI virtual assistants, or chatbots, in the South African banking industry. “Influenced by global trends, the introduction of Absa Abby was a significant step in Absa’s journey to becoming a digital-led company,” said Subash. “Absa recognizes that conversational artificial intelligence is increasingly used to improve customer experience and digital adoption, continuous innovation and process optimization. To that end, the bank has invested in technology to create a new omnichannel chatbot that seamlessly integrates banking into customers’ lives, making banking easier and more convenient for them. »

As for new products in the pipeline, Absa is currently focusing on end-to-end origination and sales enablement across its digital channels. “Several personal loan journeys have been launched across our digital channels, and improvements are being made to end-to-end mortgage journeys for the bank’s home loan customers. In line with market trends in customer engagement, we are also embarking on various gamification themes on our banking app.

Absa’s mobile app has undergone a complete overhaul in recent years as part of Absa’s rebranding exercise. Subash considers leading this project one of his most significant personal accomplishments to date. “In just two months, the team designed, developed and launched a brand new banking application. In two and a half years, Absa has gone from the lowest rated mobile banking app to the highest rated in South Africa.

“Another achievement would be the repositioning of digital within the bank, effectively re-engineering the way digital delivers value. members of the company to view digital as a product, not just a front-line channel.While there is still some way to go to achieve this, significant progress has been made towards becoming a class-leading digital bank world.

In his role as Head of Digital Channels, Subash has found a major challenge in shifting mindsets and advancing the general understanding of how digital brings value to the business. “There was a time when digitizing and using data was seen as back-office functions,” he recalls. “However, in recent years, it is recognized that data has become one of the most important ingredients of any business strategy. Along the same lines, the importance of both digitization and – digitizing what is currently manual – and driving digital transformation, fundamentally changing the way we do things through digital.”

In the longer term, he believes that increasing environmental awareness and demand for sustainability among the global population will impact the banking industry in the years to come. “The 5th Industrial Revolution will fundamentally change today’s banking. Globally, people are beginning to recognize the impact of their actions, habits and consumption on the environment. In banking, our most pressing responsibility is to manage expectations for convenience, affordability and sustainability.

“A second trend is the emergence of digital assets and related activities and technologies, and their impact on physical currency and traditional banking. Also important are customer behavior trends in the metaverse and understanding the role augmented and virtual reality will play in digital banking.

Nonetheless, he recognizes the value of having professionals on board who combine the conventional and the modern when building a team. “It’s important to strike a balance between radical-thinking innovators and more traditional banking colleagues. This combination promotes the effort to achieve the art of the possible within the limits of what is permitted from a regulatory point of view. The recent reconfiguration of the digital space has focused on strengthening our ability to innovate while simultaneously solving important customer problems. »

Strategically, Absa remains focused on driving digital adoption through enhanced customer experiences across digital channels. Subash reports that the bank will continue to establish mechanisms for prioritizing customer journeys, which includes ensuring they are digitally enabled when they cannot be fully completed digitally.

“Absa’s digital banking operations are anchored on an ecosystem that has been strategically built on a ‘digital first’ premise,” he explained. “As a result, we strive to continue to provide our customers with a seamless, customer-centric digital experience across all channels. We will continue to solve customer problems through innovation and digital solutions, keeping the customer at the center of everything we do. We are also continuously improving how we keep our front line empowered to serve and add value to our customers’ banking needs across our digital banking platforms through strategic partnerships.

“Security remains a top priority for us, and we will continue to invest in market-leading security and anti-fraud so that our customers can be confident that banking with Absa is secure,” he said. he adds. “In addition to the various innovations we have already launched, we have an exciting pipeline of digital innovations and enhancements that underpin our digital vision.”

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