NCB Financial Group Limited, headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica, is the country’s largest financial group. Incorporated in 2016, it is the parent company of National Commercial Bank Jamaica Limited (NCBJ). It also owns a large percentage of the shares of other companies, including the Caribbean’s largest insurance conglomerate, Guardian Holdings Limited, based in Trinidad and Tobago. NCBJ is well established, having been in operation since the 1830s but under different names, and is today the country’s top bank, with subsidiaries such as NCB Insurance Company Limited and NCB Capital Markets Limited as well as the philanthropic N.C.B. Foundation. With presence not only in Jamaica but also Cayman, Barbados, Bermuda, Trinidad and even the United Kingdom, NCB is currently ranked third in the English and Spanish speaking Caribbean.
Mr. Hylton, thank you for speaking with us today….
At an impressive $28.6 billion, NCB just recorded the biggest profit in its history for the financial year ending September 30, 2018—a sizeable improvement on the $19 billion recorded last year. To what main factor(s) do you attribute this incredible performance?
At NCB, we thrive on constant improvement. Every challenge we face presents an opportunity for us to improve our products, services, customer experience and the way we do business in general.
As a home-grown company, our decision-making originates locally. Therefore, we have the advantage of speed and agility when it comes to looking at our customers’ habits and needs and responding with the financial solutions that can help them to put their best lives forward.
Our agility together with an unrelenting drive for improvement are the primary catalysts for our continued growth over the years. For this year, other factors influencing our performance include the execution of our regional-expansion strategy, which saw us acquiring a 50.1-percent majority stake in Clarien Group Limited. This acquisition resulted in the consolidation of Clarien’s results as a subsidiary of the NCB Financial Group Limited (NCBFG) and provided a $4.4-billion gain (negative goodwill) on acquisition of the entity.
As we continue the execution of our strategy, coupled with the introduction of value-added technological innovations, we expect the Group to continue to strengthen and grow for the future.
NCB’s main strategic plan seems to be represented by the phrase “setting the ‘BAR’ in the financial-services industry”. What does this mean in practice?
The aspirations of the NCB Financial Group are transformational, and that is why we focus on becoming the industry benchmark. The “BAR” represents our strategic themes/tenets, the achievement of which is supported by six initiatives.
B—we are in the process of building a world-class digital experience for all of our stakeholders, customers and employees alike.
i. To accomplish this, we have already started developing distinctive digital capabilities across our business.
A—as a complete financial-solutions provider, we want to give our stakeholders the ability to leverage a dynamic suite of offerings.
ii. By accelerating our regional expansion and expanding into the priority markets, we have been making important strides in strengthening our Group and promoting growth across our entire organisation.
R—since we exist in a constantly changing environment, we understand that we must continuously re-invent our core business in order to stay relevant. As customers’ needs, habits and expectations evolve, and more diversified players join the industry, we have to employ a number of essential strategies to stay ahead of the game. These strategies include:
iii. continuously improving the customer experience and optimising efficiency across the business,
iv. developing and engaging our people,
v. driving payments innovation and
vi. enhancing sales and service excellence.
By focusing on these specific goals, we see ourselves getting even closer to realising our 2020 aspiration of transforming into NCB 2.0—a complete financial-services partner that is faster, simpler and stronger.
Would you say prudent risk management has played a significant role in NCB’s recent success? If so, how?
As a financial-services group offering a wide array of solutions from both traditional and digital channels, our enterprise risk-management framework forms the core of all planning and decision-making across the Group. This system ensures that material risk assumed in the execution of the Group’s strategic initiatives are adequately identified, assessed and managed.
Today’s financial environment is characterised by ever-changing regulations, evolving customer expectations and innovations in financial technology (fintech). Over the years, our risk-management strategy has definitely given us a distinct competitive advantage. Our risk-management framework has been an integral part of the digitization of a number of core processes, advanced analytics, data-rich reporting and adoption of the agile methodology.
It has given us the ability to effectively manage multiple risk types (including newer, emerging challenges), while ensuring compliance with regulations and, of course, fulfilling our customers’ expectations. This important balancing act makes risk management crucial to the bottom line; so it is not just a stand-alone function but also an organisation-wide culture. At NCB, mitigation of risk is everyone’s job, and this is reflected in our defined organisational and governance principles.
What sets NCB’s customer service apart from that of its banking peers? And how do you intend to continue improving the customer experience?
Although we are a financial-services institution, our business is centred on customer service. Every arm of our business is customer-obsessed, and we make every effort to meet the needs of our internal and external customers in everything we do.
This is an area of continuous improvement for us, as customer needs and preferences are constantly evolving. Over the years, we have placed significant focus on creating additional value and improving customer experience through all channels. Technology has become a core driver for our business, so we have been equipping our team with the necessary tools, training and advanced data analytics to deliver an enhanced digital-banking experience.
Some of our key advances in this area include the execution of the pilot phase of our Conversational Self Service Solution, which leverages artificial-intelligence technology and voice-recognition capabilities to service clients’ needs. The first of its kind in the Caribbean region, this will give our customers the advantage of reduced wait times and faster access to information.
We continue to strengthen performance at our call-centre operations through ongoing process-optimisation initiatives and training. Continuous improvements are always being made in this area, as we assess the needs of our customers and make adjustments where necessary. As for the future, we are already on our way. Our network of Agile Labs continuously review, analyse and even predict customer needs and expectations, and use this information to develop turnkey solutions. We always put our customers first, and we want to always be their first choice for financial services.
Can you briefly explain the main ways in which NCB is developing its digital capabilities under its 2020 strategic plan? What do you consider to be the most important aspect of the bank’s digital development?
We want to stay focused on building our digital future, expanding our regional footprint and reinventing our core business to make it leaner, more efficient and innovative. Technological innovations are also high on our agenda; we are currently in the process of transforming our core information-technology (IT) platform through various application upgrades and the implementation of modern solutions.
By bolstering the technology at our core, we are expecting to see improved efficiencies, less downtime and faster, more delightful service for our customers. Other strategies include improving the internal skillsets of our team, employing external technical expertise and integrating agile philosophies and co-located multi-disciplinary teams. The agile approach has helped us to break down silos in our operations and improve collaboration across teams. All of this is supported by a strong staff-engagement campaign, so that we have full participation of the team.
In 2017, we launched the first Agile Lab in the English-speaking Caribbean, as part of the plan to accelerate our digital agenda. This saw a number of cross-functional and co-located teams developing software and other technological solutions to enhance the customer experience and increase efficiency and employee engagement.
Do you consider the bank’s cyber-security defences to be sufficiently robust at present? How serious a threat do you consider cybercrime to be, both to NCB and to the wider Jamaican banking industry?
With the increasing occurrence of cybercrime locally and globally, digital consumer protection continues to be the top priority at NCB. Although criminals devise new ways to commit cybercrimes every day, we make every effort to stay ahead of them by continuously improving the reliability of our network and the security of our systems. Key to this process is our existing governance structure, which covers the oversight of strategies, policies and procedures, which manage information technology and cyber-security.
For this period, we continued to make substantial investments in global technologies and certifications, and we added a number of advanced security features to all of our systems, including our fleet of ABMs and Bank on the Go kiosks. Additionally, we have almost completed the phasing out of magnetic-strip credit cards, and most of our customers have been upgraded to chip-enabled cards for added security.
Another security measure is the implementation of dual-factor authentication, using the RSA Security Token. Customer education also continues to be a major thrust for us, and we utilise all appropriate media to accomplish this.
We have also collaborated with several key players in the financial industry, since addressing the issue collectively will drive a heightened sense of alertness among our customers and the public. This move was even endorsed by Jamaica’s Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology under its National Cyber Security plans.
During your time as CEO of NCB, what do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment? And what has been your biggest challenge?
Since becoming CEO of NCB, the company has seen quite a number of successes, but I would not consider these individual accomplishments. As CEO, I’m responsible for leading a team who share a common goal and the motivation to achieve and exceed all targets and expectations for our business. Being able to effectively lead, motivate and earn the respect of my team is the big win for me. I am fully invested in my team, and our success is just one of the dividends.
On the other hand, challenges are all a part of the process. I consider every challenge to be an opportunity to improve, change and grow. In fact, I have yet to meet a challenge that does not present the prospect of becoming a faster, simpler or stronger company. If anything, the discomfort brought on by the challenges we have faced have kept us on our toes and motivated us to find ways to be better.
What are some of the ways NCB ensures that its employees remain well informed and well trained with respect to the changes that the bank is undergoing, especially pertaining to digitalisation?
Our Group Human Resources & Facilities Division continues to deliver on its core mandate of driving the development and direction of strategies for the efficient management of the Group’s human capital.
In order to achieve operational excellence, we ensure that focus is placed on key policies and practices that include constant learning and development of staff. Being agile allows for radical shifts. As such, we commit to relentless renewal of our staff through constant training.
Our Corporate Learning Campus (CLC) is the learning and development arm of the Group Human Resources Division. As a registered tertiary institution, the CLC supports our vision to build a motivated, engaged and high-performing workforce by providing next-in-class learning and development solutions. Our people are our only sustainable competitive advantage, so we must continue to create the environment that fosters continuous improvement in staff competence, performance excellence and engagement.
Today our learning model embraces hybrid learning using physical and virtual modes of learning and incorporates internal and external expertise in course development and delivery.
What is the N.C.B. Foundation, and why was it set up?
We understand that the size and reach of our business positions us to accelerate social change and improve the lives of people in the communities we serve.
The core function of the N.C.B. Foundation is, therefore, to support nation-building through education, community development and sports, and youth leadership and entrepreneurship. We take our role as a responsible corporate citizen seriously, so we are dedicated to funding initiatives, projects and programmes that positively impact our communities in the various jurisdictions in which we operate.
Since its inception in 2003, we have allocated funding of over US$16 million towards finding solutions for some of the fundamental issues facing our society today. Through these kinds of investments, we hope to elevate, enable and empower our people, drive innovation and leadership, and lead the change that the world needs, starting at the grassroots community level.
In what specific ways does NCB attempt to reduce its overall impact on the environment?
The NCB Group is committed to caring for and protecting our environment. To this end, we have enforced our environmental policy as well as taken steps to use “green” technology throughout the enterprise where feasible.
This includes the discontinuation of burning waste at our locations, opting instead to go paperless where we can and recycling where possible. We have also installed LED lighting, rainwater collection and distribution, air-conditioning upgrades and sewage-disposal upgrades. Several of our locations have been outfitted with solar technologies, and we continue to promote energy efficiency through upgrades of mechanical and electrical equipment.
We are continually assessing and finding ways to minimise the impact on the environment.
Mr. Hylton, it seems that you are determined to continually assess and find ways to make NCB better in every way. Thanks for your time today.