Picture: 123RF/RAW PIXEL
Picture: 123RF/RAW PIXEL

In the Business Beyond Covid series, CEOs and other business leaders and experts in their sectors look to the future after Covid-19. What effect has the pandemic and resulting lockdown had on their industries and the SA economy as a whole? Which parts will bounce back first and which will never be the same again? Most importantly, they try to answer the question: where to from here?

Nobody can predict with absolute certainty what the post-coronavirus outlook is for the banking sector, but as money experts we can confidently venture into this topic buoyed by what we have learnt so far and reflecting on what we must do.

This world-changing, globally defining Covid-19 pandemic compels us to look beyond the bank-wide relief measures underway, and to examine some of the trends or emerging themes already shifting behavioural patterns. While they’re likely to manifest into a different approach for the business banking terrain, we must acknowledge that nothing is certain, yet we simply have no choice but to consider possible scenarios in a post-coronavirus environment now, rather than wait for them to happen.

Out of the four key areas in which we’re already ensconced is digital transformation. Over the past two months it has become patently clear that digitalisation is no longer an option but an absolute business imperative. What’s become very apparent is that we must fast-track digital developments more speedily in the future than we’ve done in the past. An imperative, certainly in business banking, is the ability to move quickly, fulfilling on the digitalised expectations and objectives and be able to ramp up on our intended developments into the future.

As a bank, there are going to be more demands placed on us and an expectation, for example, to cater for the submission of documentation through online channels. The days are gone when a business manager had to travel to collect documentation from clients, as this can be uploaded online, resulting in a far more efficient means of documentation collection. This will become much more pronounced in the future.

This also applies to other areas such as a growing need to cater for concluding applications and agreements through e-signatures and other digital ID capabilities, which are expected to grow exponentially in after Covid-19. While there are still clients that choose not to make use of digital self-service channels, these e-signature and digital ID capabilities will still serve a purpose in managing client arrangements far more efficiently in the future, while we continue to create more awareness for our clients on the benefits of utilising digital channels.

Technology is constantly changing and getting better, and that augmented intelligence, AI and machine-learning will get smarter and better at anticipating clients’ needs before they even know what they need
Shelley Branston, Microsoft

Secondly, artificial intelligence (AI) and smart machine-learning are other elements of the digitalisation journey and we have intentions to continue to develop a range of robotic functions that offer solutions based on advanced predictive analytics, as well as supporting further client self-service capabilities, which is what our business banking clientele are asking for more frequently.

One must also consider that this pandemic has forced a rethink of our relationship management model and associated practices with our business banking clients. The face-to-face banking relationship style will inevitably evolve into a more virtual personal relationship interaction, but ensuring that one is able to still provide that “human touch” through differing technology, such as video conferencing, or using other popular tools, such as Microsoft Teams and Skype.

Looking to the future, Shelley Bransten, the vice-president of retail and consumer goods at Microsoft, recently said that a number of trends and technology are colliding to drive transformation, and we have seen how Covid-19 has already changed banking patterns. She argues that technology is constantly changing and getting better, and that augmented intelligence, AI and machine-learning will get smarter and better at anticipating clients’ needs before they even know what they need. In banking, understanding the needs of clients and responding to it via technology is paramount.

But there’s no routine or predictability in what’s required because those aspects are now largely being delivered by machines, robotics, digital capabilities, whatever the case may be, and if you start getting normal supply and demand through platforms, one has to concede that Covid-19 has fast-tracked the pace of change.

Thirdly, as a bank we have already embraced digital transformation but for a business banking division essentially based on a strong relationship-banking model, the new normal, remote way of working will provide us with opportunities to enter the future in a smarter way, without rushing in, ensuring that staff productivity and development are maintained, and that we remain accessible and do not compromise on meeting our client’s needs by safeguarding our client service standards.

The fourth aspect revolves around communication between the bank and its clients. Our “advice proposition” needs to evolve as the post-pandemic environment will demand effective, seamless, simple communication, keeping our clients abreast of market changes, economic insights, as well as relevant financial and banking solutions. We’ve seen over the past few weeks that our business clients are looking for easy-to-understand, swiftly delivered information and appropriate solutions that speak to their most urgent needs.

That’s going to become an opportunity for us as we believe that future business banking solutions will be co-assessed and co-developed in collaboration with our clients to achieve a level of shared innovation progression at a far quicker pace.

Thus, we cannot underestimate the power of establishing and nurturing strong “bank-to-client” partnerships. Through our “bigger picture” banking approach, we immerse ourselves in the business sector and have, in addition, set up centralised teams engaging with appropriate industry organisations, as well as regional industry-based teams situated across the country that have the expertise to deliver solutions appropriate for the franchising, agriculture, and professional sectors, as well as public-sector institutions.

And while our primary focus is to ensure uninterrupted service to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 and help business, we have to be mindful of the new normal requiring a very different way of operating to deliver value to our clients. But, as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella warned in a recent webinar relating to the use of technology in classrooms, we cannot forget the person at the centre of delivery using the platform.

“We always think about technology but ultimately education is about the inspired students, or the inspiring teacher. Being involved parents and community, it’s really about those people, all coming together to drive education, and technology is just a tool. So with that in mind, I think there are certain things we are going to learn from this remote learning at scale, which I think can be helpful, even when we return to school because there’s no substitute for that human touch, where the teacher is able to guide you inspire you mentor you.” 

• Rose is Nedbank business banking executive head of strategy and new business development.