SBMs leverages technology to disrupt the finance sector on its digital transformation journey

SBMs leverages technology to disrupt the finance sector on its digital transformation journey

SBM’s Ashwin Ramphul discusses how the company’s digital transformation journey is allowing it to leverage the latest technology to synergise its gl...

Currently the second largest bank in the country with a 25% market share, SBM Bank (Mauritius) Ltd is part of the SBM Group, a leading financial group in Mauritius, with over 1,600 employees in Mauritius and a growing international presence. The Group is also present in Kenya, India and Madagascar and, from early next year, the Seychelles. Last year, SBM Group acquired a majority stake in Kenya’s Fidelity Commercial Bank Limited followed this year by the acquisition of selected assets and liabilities of Chase Bank (in receivership), which has positioned SBM Bank (Kenya) Ltd as a top Tier 2 Bank on the Kenyan market, with more than 60 branches across the country and around 700 employees.

SBM is also the first foreign bank in the world to have obtained a Wholly Owned Subsidiary Licence from the Reserve Bank of India to operate as a full-fledged wholly owned subsidiary on the Indian market.  SBM is also expected to start operations in the Seychelles early next year. With digitalization as one of its strategic pillars, the bank is working to leverage the industry leading technology platform from Infosys Finacle, to provide the best possible customer experience in a digital world, as well as improve its operations from within.

Head of IT Application at SBM, Ashwin Ramphul, was keen to discuss this digital transformation. Ramphul boasts 18 years of experience in IT, and has been heavily involved in the implementation and management of core banking systems and digital solutions for a number of financial institutions across Africa, Mauritius and the Indian Ocean.

Ramphul spent most of his career in the banking and consultancy space, where he occupied a number of key positions in IT, and recently joined SBM where he was ready to take on new challenges within the finance industry. At SBM, Ramphul is responsible for all IT applications used on both the customer side as well as internally. He also heads the Project Management Office and the Business Solutions Group.

“When I joined the bank in January, one of the key projects was the upgrade of the internet banking and mobile banking platform,” he recalls. Ramphul and his team hit the ground running to get the project done and by April, it had successfully gone live.

Keenly aware of SBM’s place in the banking sector, Ramphul believes it is “imperative” for SBM to implement innovative digital solutions in order to surpass its main competitors. This is key not only in terms of customer service (with the likes of SBM’s new mobile banking platform), but also in the inner workings of the bank itself. “If we want to go digital outside, our processes and operations within the bank need to be fully digital as well,” he explains. “That’s why we’re really looking at the end-to-end and inside-out processes.”

Part of SBM’s aim is to offer potential digital channels to fulfil customers’ expectations and financial needs. “In Mauritius, traditional branches still have a big role to play in serving customers,” he explains, citing the country’s ageing population who will always prefer going to their local branch and having someone to talk to, meaning a balance must be struck between digital innovation and the expectations of clients.

With this in mind, SBM has invested in digitalising and improving internal processes and efficiencies, while also enhancing customer experience. Processes within the bank are being robotised and several avenues are now being explored to enable the bank to become a “truly digital financial services institution”.

“We’re looking at RPA, AI and data analytics, and at some point we were also investigating the use of Blockchain technology – our intention is very strong on these fronts,” says Ramphul. For example, Infosys RPA is now used to process inward remittances at SBM – this has reduced processing time from over 15 minutes to just 2-3 minutes, and as Ramphul adds: “The advantage with robots is that they operate on a 24/7 basis.”

With operations spanning in Kenya, India and soon the Seychelles, Ramphul is keenly aware that SBM’s customers will increasingly demand and expect to be able to bank digitally at their convenience. “We’re present in countries where innovations and digital solutions have really hit the roof. India is like a honeypot where digital solutions are concentrated, and Kenya has the highest digital penetration point in the whole of Africa. Our technology partners such as Infosys have tremendous experience in these markets, and we are constantly leveraging their expertise. One of the key things with technology is user experience, so revamping the user interface for our internet banking and mobile banking customers was a necessity. We really felt they needed to have a proper user experience (UX), which is more modern, more appealing and more user friendly, so it was necessary to move to a more digital-friendly solution for both internet and mobile banking.

“Nowadays, everyone has a smartphone and most companies use corporate banking through the internet – so the issue of security is getting a lot more attention,” he adds. “We felt we needed more secure internet and mobile banking solutions than our competitors, so we came up with some security features no other banks have in Mauritius.” One such solution has been the use of biometrics – fingerprint recognition – to access mobile banking. This is a first for Mauritius, and for Ramphul this is a strong message to our customers that SBM values security.

Ramphul also comments that to work for a bank which innovates it is imperative to ensure that an optimal level of security is in place. “When I joined SBM, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the level of cybersecurity, and even the level of general IT security, are incredibly strong. Everything is properly controlled and the right tools are in place.”

The IT operating model of an organisation also plays a significant competitive role. “Most of our systems are managed by a system integrator,” says Ramphul. “Having said that, we do realise that we cannot rely solely on third party systems and partners, especially when it comes to customer service and innovation. The most innovative banking ideas normally surface from within the organisation and that’s where you get flexibility and rapidity rather than going fully outsourced. For this, one requires a capable, agile team; flexible technology platform; and reliable partners,” he adds.

It’s therefore a careful balancing act between those who work within the bank and understand what it needs and what the customer expects, and those system integrators with the expertise and technology that are so vital to development. SBM is therefore working to rebuild some internal capacity for strategic innovation, and looking at how to utilise the best technology that will truly add value to its operations. “For example, the implementation of robotic process automation (RPA) in some of our key processes has yielded good results – this was done with a third-party provider in collaboration with our team.”

This kind of collaboration is vital in building the partnerships that make SBM work. “If you don’t have a good working relationship with the service providers, everything goes down the hole,” Ramphul comments. “You need to be agile. It needs to be a two-way working partnership. We can’t just expect a system integrator to do everything for us. We need to understand our customer requirements and communicate those to our service providers.

“This relationship needs to be developed and nurtured, not only in terms of contractual agreements – there needs to be trust. We need to understand each other properly. That’s where a true vendor-customer relationship needs to be at its optimum operating capacity, otherwise it doesn’t work. We really need to be on our toes and make sure everything is being developed in the proper way – it’s not about being a watchdog over them, but being collaborative and guiding them as well as them guiding us and making sure that the relationship is working.”

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With a well-established international presence, a key challenge for the bank going forward will be to maintain levels of quality and brand expectations whilst also catering for the local communities it serves. “The market context is very different in Mauritius, India and Kenya,” Ramphul comments, “so before we bring in any kind of solution or innovation we always do our market research and have a proper business case in place to ensure that any solution we bring in will truly add value.”

Already, SBM has launched a plethora of digital solutions and the bank’s digital transformation journey is still ongoing. It has been vital to keep staff on board with all the new developments and implement proper change management. “When we launched the new internet banking and mobile banking for instance, we had to train all our front-end staff,” Ramphul explains. Corporate customers were accompanied with small teams of experts to ensure they understood the new platforms and the value the changes were adding. “We were present with our corporate customers before and during the launch, guiding them through the new system.”

When it came to individual customers, SBM’s customer service centre was vital. “Our contact centre played an important role in this – we had to ensure that all staff were up to scratch in terms of competency, knowing what the platform was all about. One of the ways of doing this was to involve them in our user testing. They were an integral part of the project,” he says.

Ramphul is confident that the bank is already reaping the rewards of implementing new digital solutions, both from a customer service perspective and through automating operations within the company. “With technology, we are able to redeploy our staff to do more value adding tasks and more revenue generating initiatives, instead of getting bogged down with administrative tasks. The second aspect of technology is in terms of reducing human errors – the cost of errors can be really huge, like a manual error where a transaction is duplicated and processed twice… the risk of this with solutions like robotics is mitigated and minimised, so the cost of errors goes down significantly.”

Moving forward, SBM will look to synergise its digital solutions across its key markets in order to grow in a sustainable, successful way. “The most important strategic initiative we should really be focusing on is to leverage our group digital offering in Kenya, India and Mauritius, have this digital ecosystem in place and work toward making it a success,” says Ramphul.   

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