Why banks must transform digitally

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Bank customers are increasingly using their computers and mobile devices to conduct their daily banking affairs.

While unlikely to disappear completely, physical bank branches are set to decline in numbers in Chile and the rest of Latin America.

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The new digital services are faster, more flexible, and make life easier for people - and that, delegates at a conference on digital transformation in the financial services sector were told, is what fintechs tend to be particularly good at and what banks must focus on to thrive in the new digital world.

And if they don't, the risks are manifold.

The head of Spanish bank BBVA's Chilean business development division, Eduardo Olivares, summed it up: "If we don't change, someone's going to change us."

Rodrigo Tonda, manager of Banco de Chile's marketing and client division, said consumers today are more empowered, informed and demanding and want banking services "any place, at any time". He added that banks should focus on selling "an experience" rather than a product.

Keynote speaker Brett King, author and CEO of US$200m mobile bank start-up Moven, said banks should focus on reducing "friction" and on the customer experience.

"Within five years you have to make sure every product, every experience you give your customer, can be delivered in real time without a signature," said King (pictured).

BBVA's local client solution manager, Francisco Letelier, said it all comes down to "dealing with the stress, taking away people's [financial] aches and pains."


Banks cannot undergo this transformation alone, delegates were told, who heard how BBVA has partnered with and invested in technology firms.

Fintechs need banks for their capital and assets and banks need fintechs for their technology and agility, said Jorge Becerra, a Boston Consulting Group senior partner, with focus on financial services in Latin America.

Sandro Araya, director of digital channels and products at ​Scotiabank Chile, said: "The key is in not being afraid of fintechs."

Banks, he said, need to change their technological architecture to make it more flexible and to facilitate integration of new platforms.


Mario Ernst, director of the consulting unit of conference co-organizer Instituto Subercaseaux, a financial sector-focused Chilean further education institute, said the main challenge is not a technological one but rather a human one.

The culture within banks must change, he said, with the process led by the top executive in the company. Soft skills such as those in the areas of collaboration, innovation and openness to change will be vital, he added.


Regulators must keep pace with change to ensure that innovation takes place and failure to do so will, down the line, cause economic harm, King told the event, which was co-organized by local business daily Diario Financiero.