The evolution of technology is reshaping the banking sector. The once in demand brick and mortar concept is fast being replaced by innovative digital banking solutions. While mobile banking has long become a part of every financial institutions core business strategy, new disruptive technology is emerging propelling the industry into a new age of banking. As this digitalized age continues to evolve, a new generation of customers are emerging, demanding modern financial products in today’s fast paced and dynamic world whilst forcing banks to continuously innovate.

For People’s Bank, a bank that has been founded on the ethos of being the bank of the people, connecting and reaching its customers across the island has always been key. While traditional banking required the bank to invest and grow its branch network to serve the people irrespective of location, the emergence of the tech era has seen the bank enter the digital banking space. In conversation with Echelon magazine, People’s Bank’s CEO/GM Rasitha Gunawardane talks about the banks digital journey and its new outlook.

People’s Bank has the largest branch network in the country, which has made banking possible for people from all parts of the country and all walks of life. How does the bank view and adapt to banking in the time of emerging tech?

The banking industry globally is transforming. The evolution of technology has seen change at every level across the sector. The arrival of the internet was the launchpad for this change. But now more cutting edge technologies and innovative business models, like artificial intelligence and cloud computing are disrupting the industry. The arrival of smart devices ushered in a new era of digitalization, transforming the way both corporates and the retail customer use banking products and services.

As the bank of the people, we at People’s Bank are constantly looking at avenues to reach customers and address their banking needs. We believe in financial inclusion and in making banking accessible to all citizens of the country. Prior to the internet era, we heavily invested in physical infrastructure and as of today we boast a network of 737 branches across the island.

With the emergence of the tech era, the bank embarked on an impressive digitization program, which has today put the bank in the forefront of digital innovation. This digital transformation which has seen 70% of the bank’s conventional banking transactions is starting from digital channels, with over 230 self banking units and over 1000 self service automated machines offering real time access 24/7 and 365 days.

Digitalization is not just about introducing digital products to the market but a transformative journey. To our benefit, our model respects all our customers. The ultimate aim is to make their lives hassle-free and to make banking less sophisticated.

To make this possible, we have invested in strengthening our backend to develop digital products and deploy these in the market, based on our customer geographic, demographic and psychographic needs.

As we continue to evolve, we believe this rate of growth in the digital space will help the bank achieve its goal to be the most digitized bank by 2020.


How does the bank’s digitization move help corporates?

While digitization is a driver in growing the retail customer segment, equal or more important is the efficiency that digitization can provide to corporates. As such, the bank invested in developing multiple platforms and a range
of digital banking solutions specifically for the corporate sector. Mobile banking is now a key component of our core banking strategy. Corporate Internet Banking (CIB), Corporate Mobile Banking (CMB) and the Corporate Loan Originating System (CLOS) are some of the facilities that we believe will help corporates in this fast paced business environment. Our goal is to ensure unparalleled efficiency and service standards that deliver an exceptional user experience. With a view to delivering on this promise, we are driving digitalisation not only across the operational systems, but also the central platforms that shapes new capabilities, giving us fast and dynamic adaptability in this ever-changing environment.


Do banks really need to be focusing on innovation in their service offerings?

Banking is a homogeneous product, and its innovation that creates that differentiator. It not only contributes to the bottom line but it also provides a leading edge in a competitive business world.

At People’s Bank innovation is a bottom up approach. We work with small teams towards idea generation, and even the youngest employee is encouraged to contribute. This helps us get the best ideas from our teams across all levels, and creates a rewarding culture as well. When people feel they have contributed to something unique, they take ownership for it and it also inspires them further.

How does this digital banking era empower consumers?

The evolution of technology has changed consumer behaviour. It’s an era of constant connectivity, a smartphone era, so people want the convenience that comes with the latest technology. Ease of access, whether its banking, shopping or ordering food is key, especially for the new age customer. They expect this from their bank as well.

How will People’s Bank’s digitization impact rural communities? Would they embrace this change?

Most people in the rural areas have access to a smartphone. That indicates the desire people have to embrace technology. For us, it’s not about merely introducing sophisticated technology, but to rather prepare our customers, nurture them, and importantly help them reap its benefits in this digital age. Digitalization is ultimately not a destination but a journey.

As millenials and now Gen Zs enter the banking services space, it is important to attract this new generation, whose demands can be challenging as tech continues to evolve. How does People’s Bank plan to cater to this audience?

We changed our whole traditional outlook in terms of the brand we want to be and have taken on a more vibrant approach that resonates with this new generation. Currently, we have 10+ million customers holding over 18 million accounts. These customers are very mature and loyal to People’s Bank.

But to grow, we need to capture the next generation. They are our future and their future is digital!

Digital means embracing the internet of things, mobile and technology. So if we don’t prepare ourselves to capture that market and bring that loyalty to the youth we would not be able to sustain our presence.

Technology always comes with a question on security. How do you ensure data security and maintain your client’s confidence that their data is secure?

The digital space’s biggest threat is cyber security! To ensure that we have the proper data standards we follow a set of guidelines. We have got ourselves ISO/ IEC 27001:2013 on information security management.

In granting the certification ISO takes a lot of factors into consideration, including amongst many others, ensuring that our data centers are secure within the norms, making sure our financial transaction lines are secure and all our channels are EMV certified We are the first bank to get the EMV certifications. When we launched digital, we worked with various cyber/data security institutions to ensure our systems were secure. The efforts don’t end there. We will continue to place high importance on security of our data, by also launching a Unified Security Center for People’s Bank.

What are the bank’s drivers for success in this competitive banking landscape?

Innovation has been a key driver, as we are constantly looking at global trends that can help change the way we do business. Being this focused has helped us develop our platforms, and create pioneering products and services that puts us on par with global banks.

Secondly, our digital initiatives have helped capture the new age customer, whose banking habits have completely evolved. It also meets the aspirations of multiple demographics. Millenials and now Gen Zs born in to a digital era are looking for digital product offerings that make life simple. As the “people’s bank”, we want to ensure that all Sri Lankans have access to the benefits of digitization.


People’s Bank has an impressive history, are these changes aligned with the banks vision?

Our progress over the years defines who we are as a bank. Today, we have an 8,000 strong team driving the bank towards its objective of market leadership. Our 10+ million customer base has made it possible for the bank to achieve over Rs. 1 trillion deposit base, which speaks of the solid financial foundation the bank has created. Governance and best practices is top on the bank’s agenda, which is reflected through its ‘AA+(lka) Fitch rating.’ People’s Bank has also been recognised as one of the three most valuable brands by Brand Finance, resulting in a 29 percent growth in brand value to 45.5 billion rupees in 2019, and brand rating up lifted from AA to AA+. So, as a
bank that’s connected deeply at grass roots level, People’s Bank will continue to be that bank for the people. However, for the people to also benefit we need to be adaptable and embrace change. We will not divert from our vision of becoming the best financial services provider in the country.

Compliance is key for any bank. Does People’s Bank place emphasis on this in all its new initiatives?

Definitely yes. People’s Bank is constantly a driver of change but this does not take away the need for compliance. That’s a given norm. Especially in a world of connectivity, compliance plays and has to play a role of significance.
Corporate governance and ethics take center place at People’s Bank, as is the case of transparency and accountability. We’ve been through stringent audit and compliance processes, and this is reflected in our ratings.

Tell us more about People’s Bank’s future initiatives.

We will continue to do exciting and game changing stuff that gives us growth in both market share and bottom line. We are mindful that as a state bank dividends are of importance. So, as we strategize for growth; we are also keen to see an amendment to the People’s Bank Act, which will infuse debt in order to strengthen the banks capital base. We are already in the process of seeking parliamentary approval for this.

We want to be the most technologically forward financial services provider in the country. Very simply put, our digitalization drive aims to offer all our customers world-class conveniences and help us systematically achieve operational excellence. As technology evolves, more change is on the horizon, and we at People’s Bank will continue to gear up for that change.