Final Word 2020: Sonjoy Phukan, Bank of Singapore

Sonjoy Phukan, global chief operating officer, Bank of Singapore shares his views with Asian Private Banker in ‘The Final Word’, a year in review by the region’s private banking leaders as they share their thoughts and opinions on key issues around industry trends, business performance, investments, regulations, and technology.

Industry Trends | In what ways has the COVID-19 pandemic irrevocably changed the private banking industry and your own bank’s approach to operations and service?

The wealth management industry was already responding to digital disruption before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic has presented us with many uncertainties – from economic outlooks and operating models to client behaviours and the pace of digital adoption. For some organisations, near-term survival is the only item on their agenda. It has tested how well we, as leaders, peer through the fog of uncertainty, proactively plan for recovery and effectively lead and thrive in the next normal.

At Bank of Singapore, we have significantly accelerated our digital roadmap with a focus on client experience. Time-to-market has been reduced from months to weeks or days. We recognise that competing and winning in the new normal will require a new approach, one where we shift away from traditional organisational structures, behaviours, tools and processes.

The pandemic has not only reshaped our clients’ expectations, but also forced us to adapt and pivot quickly. Our view remains that the RM will remain central to the advisory model, but supported by strong digital capabilities.

COVID-19 has reinforced our digital narrative in two ways that will be imperative to our transformation in 2021, and beyond. Firstly, the ability to deliver personalised content and alerts to clients through their desired channels, while also keeping our RMs informed. And, secondly, the increase in digital adoption, together with an increasingly demanding client base, will mean that we need to offer more self-serve capabilities to our clients.

Technology | Where do you see the best application of data analytics/machine learning in private banking?

Data analytics and machine learning are already widely used for private banking processes such as client risk analyses, chatbots and client onboarding, which have helped to reap savings in both time and costs.

As private banks cater to the bespoke needs of high net worth individuals and families, it is important to look beyond the immediate transactions and focus on a customer’s surrounding journey, needs and aspirations. While data analytics can be optimised for investments, it can also be applied to improve client experiences through personalisation. Using data and insights to design products and services which specifically meet a client’s individual requirements based on their lifestyles and preferences can be a game-changer.

Technology | How is your bank optimising the utility of the relevant digital tools to prepare frontline staff for client engagement in a post-pandemic environment?

Since the start of 2020, we have seen an increase in digital engagement with our clients. Currently, more than 75% of our client accounts have signed up for our digital services up from about 50% at the end of January 2020. This uptick in adoption is likely to outlast the pandemic as we expect to see a more digitally demanding client base globally in the new normal.

As they adapt to the new normal, our clients continue to look for seamless access to our products and services.

Our digital services provide clients with the benefit of accessing what they need, anytime and anywhere, with minimal physical contact or the need to travel. They can securely communicate and share documents with their relationship managers, view our research reports and provide online instructions for remittances and payments. Our services are equipped with audio and chat functions which can be accessed via desktop, mobile and tablets and eliminate the need for physical signatures, paper-based processes and multiple call backs. Clients in Singapore, Malaysia and Greater China markets have embraced our digital services faster than other markets.

We have converted physical client engagements to virtual ones and extended digital onboarding to prospective clients. The aim is to ensure that our products and services remain accessible with minimal physical contact.

In terms of preparing our employees for evolving work demands, we have enhanced our online learning and development initiatives to include professional development, leadership and product training. Our employees have full access to our suite of personal and professional development online courses on platforms such as Coursera, LinkedIn Learning and Learn@IBF programmes, where they are able to attain certifications in areas such as Python programming, agile methodology and design thinking.

Meet 2020’s industry leaders in the full round up of of Asian Private Banker‘s The Final Word 2020.


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