Mr. Simon Hughes of International Banker interviews Mr. Arthit Sriumporn, Senior Vice President Commercial Banking, Siam Commercial Bank.
Today, International Banker is joined by Mr. Arthit Sriumporn, Senior Vice President Commercial Banking at Siam Commercial Bank. And we’re going to discuss the bank’s digital strategy, the philosophy of sufficiency economy and the company’s goal of being the most admired bank. Very good to have you here today. Let’s start with this. Can you briefly explain what the bank’s Somersault Strategy is, and why it’s been given that name?
It’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you for the opportunity. So, basically, our bank is an over-100-years-old company. To be exact, it’s a 111 years old. We’ve been doing things in our way for a very, very long time. Now, technology has changed. People have changed. We cannot continue to do it the way we did it before. We need to adapt. We need to change our strategy to match with customer behavior. So, basically, customer is the key, right. We are very focused on customer experience. So, that’s why we have to adapt to their experience, to their behavior, to fulfill their needs. That’s why we came up with the new strategy of doing so.
And in terms of kind of the change that it’s made, it sounds like you are really turning things on their heads in terms of the services and the products that you’re giving your customers.
Yes, very much. So, traditionally, people used to go to the bank very often. It’s very human touch. It’s very physical. Now, behavior has changed. People are on mobile. In Thailand, it’s very big on mobile. So, basically people don’t need to go to the bank anymore. It’s not reliant on human, one-to-one relationships anymore. So, the bank has to go mass acquisition through the internet channel that we have, through the platform that we have. So, we have to change completely the way we think.
And during your time at SCB, what do you consider to have been the most significant customer pain point that the bank has either already removed or is now in the process of removing?
Right. So, let me give you a good example of commercial banking, right. Imagine yourself as a business owner. There’s so many documents required in order to bank with us; there’s so many signatures required, you know, you sign all the forms, all the supporting documents. It’s multiple touch-points. You need to go to the branch to open an account, you need to talk to the salespeople if you want commercial products. You need to talk to the RM (relationship manager)—and different sets of documents. Also, if you decided to bank with us, and you complete all the application, you have to wait a very long time in order to do banking with us, because we need to set up all the operations, back-end and everything. It’s very process-oriented, and it takes so long for customers to be able to do service and use our products.
So, some of the changes that you’ve put in place are now making that whole process much quicker, much easier and much faster?
One of the main pillars of the bank’s current strategy involves digital acquisition to deepen relationships with existing customers and attract new customers, especially digital users. Do you have any recent examples of such digital acquisitions?
Yes. So, I’ll give two good examples. One is for the retail customer, and one is for commercial customers. So, in the retail customer, usually we do, you know, as I said, people go to the branch. We do one-to-one relationship. Now we have an application. It’s called SCB Easy. So, it’s pretty much like mobile banking, right. So, the customer can be onboarded through the platform by themself as a retail customer. So, it’s pretty much like mass acquisition. We don’t go one-to-one anymore. Customer will just come in to do the platform, and they can just onboard themself to the platform. They do not rely on people anymore. So, that’s why we can acquire a customer much quicker. In terms of the commercial part, we are creating a tool for our RMs, our salespeople to go and service customers outside of the branch. So, basically commercial customers still rely on the relationship. But, you know, we have a tool for our staff to service our customers better. And that helps us a lot in speeding the time and reducing the pain point of the customers.
You’ve mentioned the kind of onboarding solution, and you’ve won praise and recognition for that. What are some of the main ways in which this new service has boosted the kind of customer experience?
Basically, all the pain points that I have explained before has been removed. Because, when we started the project, we started from the customer pain point, and then we drew the new customer journey to fulfill the pain point, to remove all the pain point. Then we started discovery of the project. Then we started doing it. So, all the pain point…no document required anymore. Because we retrieve the information of the business users from the government. So, we know exactly who they are. They don’t need to provide us any document anymore. And signature is only one time on an iPad. And then it will show all the forms that are required for any commercial products or accounts that the customer wants. And then we link the system to all the backend systems. So, it’s pretty much real-time after the customer subscribes. They can use all the products and services of the bank.
So, again, the focus on efficiency and effectiveness.
Now, let’s think about your strategic plan. In that the bank mentions its belief that “new technologies, such as big-data analytics and machine learning, will help to better highlight the behavior and preferences of customers, enabling us to offer more products and services to meet their needs”. In what main ways is the bank currently using such new technologies to improve customer service?
So, we separate that thing into two parts. One is the customer experience. Another one is the technology that we use to fulfill the customer experience. What we use the AI and machine learning for is pretty much like…we use our data that we have and also external data to identify the next best offer to our customers. So, we want to tell our customer, “This is what you need. This is what will help your business to grow.” Because we’re pretty much like, deal with our customers in a partnership way. You know, we don’t treat them as, “What can we get from you?” but “What can we offer to you? What can we give to you?” So, that is a long-term relationship between the bank and the customer. We also have our data and also use it for the lending as well. So, basically we fulfill their needs in their business or in their personal needs. So, basically if they need something, if they need a loan, if they need lending, we want to understand. And we want to be able to provide them the sufficient money at the right time and at the cheapest rate that we can offer. So, that’s why we use technology to help this.
Now, you’ve been the senior vice president of commercial banking for around nine months now. Although it’s not been long, what do you think the biggest challenge that you’ve faced has been? And also, what’s the highlight in your role so far?
So, it’s very challenging, right, because as I said, our bank is over 100 years old. So, we’ve been doing things in a certain way of life. Now, technology has changed; our customers’ behavior has changed. It forces us to change the way we think and the way we work. So, changing behavior of our staff is very difficult. We can create any platform. We can create any application to help us. But if the staff doesn’t understand it, it doesn’t make like any progress. So, change management is very crucial and critical. So, making our staff understand what it is for them, what it is for our customer. If they change, their life will be better, their customer life will be better. So, we need to communicate to our staff. So, they are on the same boat together with us, and they go with us.
Very good. Now, talking of going, I want to talk about a journey you took. In your LinkedIn profile, it mentions you took a year out of your professional career to travel around the world to look for passion and inspiration. Were you able to find these things? And also, would you recommend that kind of traveling break to other colleagues working in the banking sector?
Definitely. That’s probably one of the best decisions in my life. So, basically I kind of lost inspiration when I was working for like over 10 years. I never worked for a bank before, so I kind of like, “What’s the meaning in my life? So, O.K., I’ll stop my career. I’ll have a break. Then I’ll come back and work in this bank.” So, basically, what I found is pretty much, I’m a success driven person. So, obviously, when I went to travel, that’s my passion, right. So, I can go and travel and enjoy and meet people, understand new thinking processes. But then I kind of, like…I lost something. Because I lost value in my life. Because I don’t deliver work. So, that’s why I realize I’m a very success-driven person. So, that’s why when I come back to work, it has more energy, so…and it’s driven me to deliver something that’s meaningful for our clients, meaningful for the bank.
So, a bit of travel, but it’s actually recharged you in terms of your focus. Now, also your LinkedIn profile mentions that you as product director, you successfully enhanced the whole Start Biz to become the world’s best commercial bank and digital sales-onboarding platform. What were some of the most crucial enhancements that you made to help facilitate that success?
I think technology is one thing, but the thinking process behind it is more crucial. Because we say, O.K., before the customer would need to bring us 15 documents in order to open an account with us. We don’t want to reduce it to 10 or to 5, but what’s the best for the customer? So, no document at all. So, that’s why we set our goal very high. We say, “O.K., we are going to achieve that, and we’re gonna do our best to achieve it.” Once we achieve it, you know, then proving the success of the project, and success goes to the customer as well.
In the introduction, the bank’s approach towards sustainable development is very much based on the philosophy of sufficiency economy. What does that mean in practice?
So, I would like to refer it back to our late King Rama 9 and our King Rama 10 as well. So, and we also just have been chosen by Dow Jones Sustainability Index. So, we not only focus on our business, but we also give the importance to the society and the sustainability of the business as well. So, what we think is, we’re being honest to our customers and being truthful to them, right. So, we want to offer them the best thing that we could. That’s why we’re very focused on customer experience and also the society, you know, like….we pretty much like doing a lot of giving back to society. And that’s why, you know, we’re one of the biggest banks in Thailand. We’re the first bank in Thailand. So, we contribute a lot to the society.
Let’s focus back on the kind of people question, too. Given the bank’s significant shift towards digitalization, how has that channel changed the bank’s policy with regard to human resources? Are the kind of required skill-sets of new employees now changing significantly as well?
So, people don’t like change naturally, but we have to. Otherwise we cannot survive. So, the bank doesn’t have a policy of redundancy. What we focus on is, we give them knowledge, and we give them training. So, they can live their life, and they can work in a better way. So, we set up an SCB Academy where we provide all the required training that our staff need. Basically, in order to improve their skill-set. And improve their value that they can deliver to the bank and to our customers. They’re not just sitting and doing transactions at the branch, but they are equipped with the applications they need, with the knowledge they need, so they can provide the best products and services to our customers.
So, you’re moving them away from kind of the monotonous, the routine process side, and making them much more kind of trusted advisors.
One of the bank’s main goals is to serve the nation as the most admired bank. When do you think this goal will be achieved, if you haven’t done that already?
I think it’s important that we continue to improve. Our customers love us, you know. That’s why they bank with us, and they stay with us for a very long time. But, you know, if we stop to develop, if we stop to learn our customer behavior, that means you’re not improving anything. And you don’t provide the right products and service to our customers. So, we continue to improve. We continue to listen to our customers, and that’s how we will achieve to be the most admired bank of our customers.
And if we step back to look at the broader sector, what are some of the main ways you see Thailand’s banking sector changing over the coming years?
So, customer behavior changes, the bank has to change. A very good example is, we have, we probably be the best that, the bank that has the most branches in Thailand. So, the bank cannot carry all the cost. So, you imagine the branch will cost, you know, facility, people. So, we need to change. And we’re just removing the branches that we have and then provide the online service to our customers. We actually improve the products and service because we just offer them free transaction fee, everything, and that’s why we remove all the branch. So we can provide a good, a better service to our customers.
So, if you’re downsizing the kind of traditional branch network in response, as you say, to those changing customer behaviors, isn’t there a threat of adversely impacting the kind of financial-inclusion issue across the country as a result of such closures?
That’s a very difficult question, but you know I would say we have to change. Change is already there. If the bank doesn’t change, then we cannot survive. It’s pretty much like other industries where they got already disrupted, because they don’t change. This kind of thing is the thing that must be done, and we have done it. We continue to do it. That everything we’ve done is pretty much for the customer experience. And our bank to become the most admired bank to them.
And, in fact, I suppose the kind of adoption of smartphones creates that inclusivity because it’s happening faster than a lot of people can keep up with.
Definitely, yes, you can’t avoid it.
Thank you very much for your time today.
Thank you, Simon.