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Hong Leong Bank: Building and transforming around the customer 01 December 2021

Shailesh Grover, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at Hong Leong Bank in Malaysia, describes the main pillars that anchor the institution’s digital efforts. 

If digitalization is a strategic priority in your institution, how is this priority translated into organizational terms?

With HLB’s ethos of being “Digital-At-The-Core” and customers at the forefront of everything that we do, our digital transformation spans across investments in cutting-edge front-end experience innovation and back-end enabling technologies, digitalizing our products as well as elevating our organizational culture towards “being digital” rather than just “doing digital”. 

Across retail and business banking, digitalizing our bank and raising our customers’ digital engagement remain our top priority; the strategic initiatives span across the customer lifecycle stages, which are: (1) Attract: Leverage digital and social media platforms, search engine optimization and partnerships with online marketplaces to create brand affinity and attract customers (2) Acquire: Leverage digital technologies for frictionless and straight through customer acquisition (3) Transact: Enabling real-time banking on-the-go (anytime, anywhere) via our digital platforms (4) Engage: Increase customer stickiness through hyper personalization. 

We have been achieving this through exploration and investment in new technologies, by leveraging customer insights, co-creation and research, and by creating an ecosystem where innovation can foster and thrive. We continue to reinforce our foundational enablers in building a vibrant environment to foster a culture of customer centricity and innovation. Some of these enablers include our state-of-the-art innovation labs, strategic programs and creating a customer obsessed culture through the immersion of Design Thinking, deepening of our ‘Voice of Customer’ programs, and finally using customer insights to enhance products and services that are “Built Around You' i.e. our customers and our employees. 

What new profiles are needed to drive a successful digitalization strategy and where do you find inspiration in other sectors/industries?

We find inspiration everywhere as many new customer experience norms today are created by those with exposure to banking and non-banking industries. We constantly monitor best practices and keep tabs on customer behavioral trends in the market so that we are consistently delivering experiences that meet these new norms - whether they are usability and UX/UI, or real-time personalization across all channels of customer contact. One good example is HLB thinking out of-the-box and becoming the first bank in Malaysia to open a bank store on Shopee, the #1 e-commerce platform in Malaysia. During the peak of Covid, we saw a spike in e-commerce activities and took an unconventional approach in January 2021 for customers to sign up for new accounts with us. Today, we have over 26,000 accounts ‘sold’ and over 100,000 followers with a customer rating of over 4.8. 

The kind of profiles that are needed include relentless focus on customer obsession, being data-driven, and a high digital quotient as well as the ability to find the sweet spot between technological feasibility, business viability, and customer desirability. Goes without saying that they need to be abreast with all the evolving technologies that are out there like, cloud, blockchain, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, 5/6G, IoT, etc., for them to then know as and when the opportunity arises to apply the same to deliver value to customers and colleagues.

What are the dimensions of your digitalization strategy (infrastructure, processes, channels, way of working, etc.)?

HLB has built a robust foundation in creating a vibrant digital ecosystem to promote open innovation and deepen our ‘digital & customer first’ approach across the organization. We did this by bringing our employees, customers, value partners, and ecosystem enablers together. As part of this ecosystem, we have built 3 pillars of our ecosystem foundation (1) strategic programs, (2) infrastructure and (3) customer obsessed culture: 

(1) Strategic programs are aimed at engaging the ecosystem players: fintechs, startups, big techs and tech talents. 

(2) Infrastructure represents the investment in physical spaces and technological capabilities/tools to enable us to accelerate our digital and innovation initiatives. 

(3) Customer obsessed culture involves the cultural immersion of customer centricity and human centered design to create products and services that are 'built around' our customers. 

Beyond the benefits already achieved and the expected benefits of digitalization, what are the obstacles and what are the dangers to avoid?

The most important thing is how one changes in response to customer behavior and expectation at pace. Today, if one has to change branch hours or close them due to certain circumstances, there are fewer and fewer customers that raise their concern. However, if there are any issues with the service on the mobile app or web, you see an instant reaction from customers. So, digitization is not a choice, it’s a basic need and expectation. 

Having said that, the danger is to always go with the hype. With the advent of fintechs and various emerging technologies, it is always tempting to throw our resources at developing the ‘next big thing’ and ride the hype wave. However, it is also important that we have a balanced approach and perform sufficient due diligence e.g. having deep understanding of customer insights and potential demands, including long term viability of the technology as well as the potential commercial feasibility before taking the leap. 

How can digitalization be reconciled with the need to humanize customer relations?

Digitalization for us does not equate to de-humanizing customer relations. We still have our branches, our sales force, relationship managers, and human assisted channels like our call center and digital support teams to continue to serve our customers. In fact, digitalization has helped increase engagement with our customers as we are now able to put our 360-customer view in the hands of our frontliners (be it the smartphone, tablets, and our front-end applications) to provide real time sales and service recommendations to take our customer relations to the next level. It has also enabled us to provide service to our customers 24/7 via self-service channels. 

How can digitalization be 'sold' to the company's employees?

At HLB today, we do not need to ‘sell’ the digitalization story to our company’s employees as it is now deeply ingrained in our culture. This has been done over the years when we first embarked on our journey. From the outset we were clear about our ethos to be ‘Digital at the Core’ with a clear focus on the customer which is defined in our brand promise “Built Around You”. To embed this across the organization, we use every employee touch point to ensure it becomes part of our DNA – employee townhalls, workshops, design thinking sessions, customer experience council, and Key Results Areas (KRAs). All of this helps create the organization’s digital and customer first mindset. 

To what extent has the Covid crisis changed your digitalization program?

We maintained the momentum of our digitalization programs during the Covid crisis. Before the crisis hit, we had already invested in the right tools and infrastructure like Google Workplace’s productivity and collaborative platforms that enabled us to continue to operate without interruptions throughout the lockdown period. Our resilient workforce was also able to adapt rapidly to the new norm given the availability of the right digital infrastructure, enabling us to continually deliver a smooth banking experience that our customers are accustomed to, even as they worked remotely.

If you want to join the Efma Digital Transformation community, you can reach out to the community manager Patrick Desmarès at patrick@efma.com

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