iThink | ‘Digital matters’

That is the message on one of the statement shirts we distributed to our executives and friends from the media during BPI’s recent annual stockholders’ meeting.

Why? Well, it’s a reflection of the importance of digitalization to the bank and how that will help us pursue financial inclusion for all Filipinos.

While this may be specific to the bank I represent, the implications of “digital matters” affect many other companies and industries, too. A digital culture and mindset has never been as important as now.

Let’s consider banking. Unlike other businesses, banking has been shaken, rather belatedly, in a more significant way by the digital revolution — with the creation of fintechs and other tech companies venturing into finance services.

In China, people have become accustomed to using payment apps such as Alipay. WeChat Pay is another. It’s integrated with its popular chat app, which serves as the entry point for the payment app. The everyday life for the Chinese has been transformed by these payment apps, allowing people to pay for goods and services using their mobile phones.

In South Korea, Kakao Talk, also a chat app, has Kakao Pay, which already has 28 million registered users. Kakao, the parent company, now operates a digital bank called Kakao Bank, which has 8.9 million customers today.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, ride-hailing services such as Grab and Gojek have ventured into bank-like services. Their digital wallets gained traction along with the growing number of partnerships with third-party stores and the widespread use of QR codes.

In the UK, neobanks, or digital only banks such as Starling, have emerged. In Singapore, which is more protective of its banks, incumbents such as United Overseas Bank have ventured into digital banks before other fintechs do the disrupting.

No wonder adopting a digital culture and mindset has become paramount. When we think of digital technology and innovation, we think of tech rock stars such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg.

All of them have somehow created a digital culture that lends itself to innovation. And I believe it’s all about starting things. It’s about doing things that have never been done before. Doing it again and again.

For banks like BPI, and even other companies in industries ripe for disruption, a new wave of changes awaits us. Communicating to stakeholders — customers, shareholders, regulators, government agencies — amid these changes can be challenging.

The journey won’t be smooth, that’s for sure. But the promise of digitalization is more than enough for us to keep going. If we think about innovations in the past, people were happy with a horse-drawn carriage until Ford’s Model T came out of the factory. People didn’t think they needed another communication device other than their landline until they got hold of a cellular phone. People thought taxis were a godsend until Uber and Grab came along.

Life is a matter of perspective, I heard a wise man say. In the same way, change and disruption present opportunities, not threats.

The author is the head of corporate affairs and communications at BPI

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