Covid-19 and the rise of ‘phygital banking’

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Amid the necessary restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 crisis, many ordinary Filipinos find themselves in a precarious position and facing different concerns. Some are burdened by the limits on public transport, which severely impeded their ability to perform everyday tasks such as going to the supermarket or making deposits and withdrawals at the bank. Others, due to concerns about going to public spaces with a highly contagious and invisible virus wafting through the air, prefer to isolate in their homes as much as possible.

To help clients cope with this drastically different and challenging New Normal, the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) chose to remain agile so it can pivot and cope with new business realities. It harnessed its digital banking platforms to meet the everyday banking needs of its 8 million clients, while its dedicated bankers stood by their posts to provide high value conversations and specialized services to those who need it.

Ramon Jocson, chief operating officer (COO) of BPI, explained that by being agile and having a strong digital infrastructure, the bank can further strengthen its relationships with both individual and corporate clients. While face-to-face conversations have been limited by health protocols, BPI has made sure that its high-touch, personal approach is adapted to digital platforms. 

“In order to thrive amid the disruption caused by the pandemic, businesses have to be able to pivot and adapt to prevailing circumstances and limitations. It’s not just big businesses who can weather this disruption. Medium, small and micro enterprises (MSMEs) can do it, too, as long as they are equipped with the skills and tools to innovate. We have been actively supporting our business clients by providing them with as much financial support as we can, and through knowledge-sharing webinars aimed at enhancing their business acuity and agility,” Jocson said.

High-value virtual connections

While nothing can replace the bonds forged through real-life interactions and handshakes, BPI has made full use of digital platforms as its alternative for keeping in touch with clients while the community quarantines are in place, according to BPI corporate affairs and communications head Owen Cammayo.

“Our #ECONversationSeries webinars have proven to be very effective and efficient in terms of cost, time, and reach, especially when it comes to communicating with client companies or large groups of individuals. We’ve also strengthened our social media presence and have leveraged our official Facebook and Twitter pages for sending advisories and announcements to our clients. Social media has also served as an alternative arena for them to reach out to us, as the pandemic curtailed hours and staffing for both phone banking and branches. These platforms have been a great support to our branch and relationship managers who keep in touch with our clients through calls or meetings to provide individualized service for high-value, specialized banking needs,” said Cammayo.

Thriving in the new normal 

By balancing its use of digital solutions with personalized banking services, BPI has been able to help clients adjust to the new normal. BPI is doing this by teaching them how to navigate and manage their finances through online learning tools and services, giving them assurances on their investments, and informing them of new opportunities that they can take advantage of to thrive in this new reality. 

Cammayo acknowledges that making the digital switch has not entirely been smooth-sailing for some high-value customers who are too accustomed to the traditional way of doing things. 

“We understand some people may be uncomfortable with digital tools, but they’ll be surprised with how easy and enjoyable these can be. Once people learn to be more adept with digital learning or banking, they’ll find that they can unlock a bigger, better world for themselves. This is why we’ve put extra effort in guiding them on their personal digital journeys through easily accessible and digestible materials that we’ve made available through Facebook, YouTube, and traditional media channels,” he said.

BPI’s strong digital infrastructure has made it easier for clients to transition to the COVID-19 lockdown requirements, with over 100 functionalities in its online banking site and mobile app to allow more than four million customers (around half of their total client base) to perform most of their everyday banking transactions digitally.

BPI is committed to further enhancing client relationships through “phygital banking” — which marries its personalized physical interactions with digital platforms and tools so clients enjoy the best aspects of both worlds.

Opportunity equalizer

BPI will continue to come up with even more innovative ways to connect with and empower its stakeholders. Jocson said: “Webinars can go a long way in filling the information gap across demographics. People can suddenly listen in to talks by industry leaders and experts from all around the world — something that used to be reserved for those who hold certain privileges or a place in society. You used to be able to have the time and money to fly out to New York City to attend a Wall Street Journal talk, or at least be important enough within your organization to be sponsored to go. Now, all you need is a registration link, and you’re good to go.”

As for the challenges of setting up webinars, all sectors agree that there is a need for stronger, faster, more stable internet connectivity around the country that is accessible to a majority, if not all, Filipinos. Access to technology and internet connectivity are the keys to truly democratizing knowledge and education. Jocson and Cammayo are both hopeful that the public and private sectors can work together to address this need.

That said, BPI encourages its clients to take full advantage of the free #ECONversationSeries webinars to get themselves clued in on the new normal and be ready for the Next Normal.

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