Four year ago, Union Bank of the Philippines (UnionBank) ventured on an important first step toward digitization, and a lot has changed since then.
The decision to go digital was more out of necessity at that time to be able to survive the onslaught of disruptions that rocked the banking and finance industry.
But it proved to be prophetic, visionary even. With its digital transformation, UnionBank was able to secure its position as the undisputed leader in the country’s digital banking space today.
And it shows in the countless industry firsts that the Bank has introduced over these past four years. In 2017, UnionBank introduced The ARK, the first-ever fully digital banking branch in the Philippines.
That same year, the Bank completed the first blockchain-based financial transaction in the country through a pilot project in partnership with Visa, and began work on Project i2i, a blockchain-enabled platform created to provide low-cost, efficient, and secure transactions for non-universal banks in the country.
In addition, the last four years saw UnionBank strengthen its capabilities to deliver services using various new and emerging technologies, long before competitors even considered them. Aside from blockchain, UnionBank invested heavily in cloud computing, data science, artificial intelligence, and robotic process automation, among others Currently, it has the largest and most comprehensive application program interface marketplace among Philippine banks.
All of these investments are proof of UnionBank’s determination to play the long game of digital transformation, a commitment that it is confident it will be able to hold on to because of its status as a digital first mover, a status no other local bank holds at the moment.
“We have all the advantages that a first mover has. One, brand recall. If you go around the Philippines and you ask them about digital banking, they’ll say hands down it’s UnionBank. Second, we are two to three steps ahead of the competitor,” said the UnionBank Senior Executive Vice President. Chief Technology Officer and Chief Transformation Officer Henry Aguda in a recent e-interview with The Asian Banker.
“It took us three years to get here and get our systems working. We applied the Agile methodology. We made mistakes along the way and we fail forward. The other banks would have to experience the same hardship that we went through,” he added.
UnionBank’s digital leadership was magnified during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from March to April, where it even experienced significant growth in usage of its digital banking solutions, especially at the height of ECQ. Just in the number of new accounts opened digitally via app and relationship managers alone, UnionBank posted a 400-percent increase monthly since the start of the ECQ.
UnionBank also went out of its way by listening to its customers and serving their essential banking needs during the ECQ that it was named the second most helpful bank in Asia-Pacific after Kakaobank in the BankQuality Consumer Survey on Retail Banks. The survey was conducted from April 1 to 30, 2020 with 11,000 respondents from across the region.
The Bank also continued to bring innovative solutions amid the pandemic with another digital first: the corporate remote digital account opening (CRDAO). With this platform, corporations may now open checking accounts within 15 minutes anytime, anywhere. No need to go to a UnionBank branch.
The CRDAO allows relationship managers of the bank to upload digitized documentary requirements into UnionBank’s system remotely. Corporations can then safely and conveniently manage their accounts from their home or office through UnionBank’s business banking platform “The Portal.”
UnionBank retail banking center head Mary Joyce Gonzalez said the bank is actively providing digital solutions to the needs of its clients. “Even during this pandemic, we have the ability to provide the service and information that our clients need,” Gonzalez said, echoing the citation it received as the second most helpful bank in Asia-Pacific during COVID-19, where it is the only Philippine bank in the Top 20 list.
Even in the way that the Bank transitioned to telecommuting for the majority of its workforce at the start of the pandemic, it was able to showcase its industry-leading capabilities of doing work remotely. UnionBank had been preparing for telecommuting since last year in anticipation of the worsening traffic in Metro Manila.
To ensure its effective implementation, the Bank invested in infrastructure that allows employees to work from home and operate the bank from home. That same time, UnionBank also began automating most of its processes and putting them in the cloud, a critical aspect of the Bank’s remote operations.
While UnionBank did not prepare specifically for a COVID-19 pandemic scenario, these measures, together with the Bank’s agile way of working, have enabled its employees to adapt to the new normal with ease and without it affecting the Bank’s overall operations.
“UnionBank is very particular with risk management and business continuity. Since we did business continuity planning (BCP) when the pandemic hit, we didn’t lose a beat. Unfortunately, the pandemic came at the heels of a disaster like this, but it validated the processes, the work streams that have been automated and a lot of the plans that we prepared for during BCP,” Aguda said during the same interview.
UnionBank’s empowerment of customers with industry-leading solutions during the pandemic is just another chapter in its digital transformation story, one that the Bank will continue to undertake until it realizes its ultimate goal of enabling inclusive prosperity for every Filipino.
For UnionBank, digital transformation is an endless endeavor, hinged on an organization’s willingness to continuously strive for the better through technology, innovation, collaboration, and an agile mindset. It is a constant cycle of learning, unlearning, adapting, and self-disruption. This way of thinking is the reason why UnionBank remains the leading digital transformer in a landscape that has only now realized that digital is indeed the only way forward.
“Transformation is a long game. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that transformation is a one-off project or technology project. Transformation, the kind that UnionBank underwent, requires culture change, a lot of buy-in from the top, a lot of engagement with employees,” Aguda said.