By Melvin G. Calimag
In an effort to further bolster its reputation as a technology-driven financial institution, UnionBank recently divulged that it has implemented IBM?s cloud platform to create and deploy new apps for its growing digital customer base.
The bank has technology-related milestones under its belt, being the first to introduce an Internet-based deposit account with no minimum balance called EON.
It was also one of the first players in e-banking with its financial portal unionbankph.com. It also developed the first Web platform called OneHub.Gov for its e-government initiatives.
With the adoption of the IBM Bluemix cloud platform, UnionBank said it is now able to roll out new applications and speed up its operational processes.
The results have been pretty impressive so far that the bank was asked by tech titan IBM to share its experience to thousands of global developers at the recent IBM InterConnect conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Henry R. Aguda, chief technology and transformation officer of UnionBank, said IBM?s Bluemix has been a vital cog in its tech initiatives as it weaves together services, infrastructure, and data to rapidly bring ideas into production.
?The problem in the Philippines is that if a company wants to connect to a bank for certain services, it takes months before you can be accredited. So, we created a platform where everybody can just connect by using our API (application program interface),? Aguda said in an interview.
With IBM Bluemix and API Connect serving as a platform, Aguda said the bank is able to open up new markets by allowing other businesses and application developers to more easily exchange data and build innovative new apps.
Among the new high-profile projects that it has implemented lately using the platform is the ?selfie banking? for its EON card ? a pioneering service in the local finance industry.
The ?selfie? banking program lets customers log in to their account by simply taking a selfie on their EON mobile app. It uses state-of-the-art face recognition technology — the same technology used by the US and other countries in securing borders, immigration, and critical infrastructure.
Recently, the bank also introduced what it claimed as the country?s first banking chatbot ? the UDeX CSO (Digital Experience Customer Service Officer).
For its initial launch, UDeX CSO employs a conversational interface that provides basic information to the customers. Using the Facebook Messenger platform, it will take customer inquiries and handle general information requests.
Unlike conventional ?IVRS? or ?auto-reply? platforms used by most banks, UDeX CSO makes the customer experience more personal and conversational when locating the nearest ATM or branch, and know the latest foreign exchange rates of up to 10 currencies.
But what really delivered the goods for UnionBank in its investment in IBM?s cloud platform is its successful execution of its U:HAC hackathon event, which served as the ?proof of concept? for Bluemix.
The hackathon, which has been conducted four times already, has attracted 80,000 organizations and 1,000 developers who made 20,000 API calls and created 80 apps.
Aguda said one of the most notable apps that has come out of U:HAC is an intelligent unmanned ?Tele App? using the Bluemix Natural Language API.
Another offshoot of the Bluemix platform is Ureka, a UnionBank-led e-commerce circuit comprised of a consortium of industry captains.
With financial and educational institutions as well as government and private organizations consuming its API, UnionBank has activated the websites of 1, 051 local MSMEs, apart from conducting four successful Ureka forums.
Luis Pineda, president and country general manager of IBM Philippines, said its collaboration with UnionBank is just starting.
?This is just the beginning of a long-term relationship that has the potential to not only change, but improve banking in our country,? Pineda said.