Pandemic chaos forced the banking sector to work through some difficult challenges last year and, while a lot was achieved, we are still in uncharted waters. One of the biggest unknowns surfacing from the pandemic is what elements of life, if any, will return to the same patterns as before.

There is an exciting opportunity to redefine many aspects of business, including banking. We spoke to Zubair Ahmed, EVP & General Manager MEA at VeriPark, to find out how the banking world’s new digital normal is set to shape ongoing relations and interactions with customers.

In Ahmed’s view, the big changes that the pandemic brought to the banking sector represented pre-existing gaps that needed to be filled. The initial “gap” for many organisations existed at the cultural level – often the first hurdle for companies was to get the infrastructure in place to work remotely through a pandemic. Referring to the struggles he’s witnessed with people adapting to remote working in the MEA region, Ahmed says: “One of the banks didn’t have employee laptops. When Covid hit, the branch was closed and there’s no work from home because you don’t have a laptop. In terms of infrastructure, over the course of months, many banks have already filled that gap. Some banks are obviously faster than others.”

Social distancing has meant that banks and financial institutions (FIs) had to come to terms with the newfound space between them and their customers. To maintain client interactions, the focus fell on replacing paper-based and in-person processes with their digital alternatives, or as Ahmed says, “to immediately go digital with everything the bank can offer.” Lots of questions needed answering in this process. He explains: “Banks and FIs were suddenly thinking: how can I operate without necessarily touching the customer in a physical fashion, especially when I might not be able to use my branch network? How can I keep that care service and also sell to make revenues?”

This new focus on digitalisation required a reallocation of the budgets that were previously put aside for core banking, consolidations, treasury systems, upgrades, and operational system makeovers. “The budgets shifted towards understanding the customer, which is the CRM piece of things, and how to reach and interact with the customer using digital channels,” says Ahmed.

Prioritising the customer

Customers are the core of any bank’s business but they haven’t always been prioritised. “Truly speaking, for the first time, banks and financial institutions have understood through circumstance that they have to think about the customer first,” Ahmed states. “Traditionally, the nature of the banking and finance industry is that the first thought is about compliance control, risk management and so forth. Then the customer and the client fit somewhere into this equation. By virtue of that thinking, we find archive processes, long processes, lots of documentation, money not spent on the right layer of technology, archaic infrastructures and so forth. Covid has created a reality in which you can no longer afford to think from any place but the customer, because now the customer is not in your hands.”

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformations across the global finance industry. It has ushered in new solutions that streamline operations and align with consumer trends. VeriPark provides intelligent customer experience solutions to banks and FIs, helping them to drive more engaging interactions with customers. The company’s collaborative advisory approach and end-to-end digital solutions are helping many FIs around the world steer through these troubling times.

“VeriPark is very lucky to have ingrained relationships with many FIs, which are like partnerships,” says Ahmed. “We have been able to help that section of clients to re-strategise. We were one of the early companies back in mid-2020 that started going to market with Covid-specific advisory on digital solutions, but we took that and made it specific to our clients. We co-created their strategy for the next two to three years.”

At the same time, more and more companies were reaching out to VeriPark for the first time with queries and requests for proposal (RFPs). “We have seen a tremendous increase in demand for our solutions on the digital front. Many people want banks to do digitalisation fast, which is actually a threat because you don’t want to do it fast and do it wrong.” A more carefully planned and strategic approach, on the other hand, will serve banks well long after the pandemic and, despite the mass devastation and disruption Covid-19 caused, the opportunity for banks to modernise operations and build back better should be seen as a silver lining rather than an inconvenience.