By Nicholas Larsen, International Banker
With a presence in the region that dates back to 1837, the National Commercial Bank Jamaica Limited (NCB) has become a marquee name in Caribbean banking. Having grown organically to become the largest financial group in Jamaica, the inimitable NCB mainly operates within the banking, insurance and financial-services spheres, and today provides individual customers, small businesses, large corporations and government institutions with an unrivalled range of financial services, including retail, SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) and corporate banking; wealth and asset management, and investment banking; life and general insurance; and pension-fund management products and services.
Today, NCB is firmly committed to maintaining its position in an increasingly competitive market as the Caribbean’s premier financial institution. This commitment is partly demonstrated by the bank’s presence across the region, in nations such as Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and the Cayman Islands. It also has several subsidiaries and strategic acquisitions in the area, most notably including Advantage General Insurance Company Limited, which is wholly owned by NCB Capital Markets Limited and is the island’s largest general insurance company, and very recently the 50.1 percent stake it has taken in Bermuda’s Clarien Bank, which has a Standard & Poor’s credit rating of A+ with a stable outlook.
As such, the bank’s highest priority is to ensure that the banking needs of its large, diverse customer base are fully satisfied. From the outset, this is predominantly done by fulfilling the criteria of its three core pillars:
Innovation—using technology to facilitate greater levels of efficiency, whilst also striving to introduce the latest financial solutions into its overall product suite, thus efficiently meeting the changing needs of customers.
Strength—NCB is devoted to ensuring that its banking solutions are delivered to customers on the basis of sound risk management. The bank ensures that ethical and regulatory practices are followed as standards, whilst also being keenly aware of its responsibilities as one of Jamaica’s preeminent corporate citizens.
Expertise—the bank contains some of the brightest banking talent around, which means that customers often receive advice and guidance from the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the region. With a particular focus placed on relationship management, moreover, customers can be assured that NCB values trust and loyalty as priorities.
Indeed, while customer service is considered among the most important focus areas for virtually every bank around the world, there is ample evidence that NCB is just a little better at delivering it than most. Locally, for instance, the bank has won the highly prized Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica/Jamaica Customer Service Association (PSOJ/JaCSA) Service Excellence Awards twice in recent years, in 2011 and 2016. Although such accolades should perhaps come as no surprise, given the comprehensive framework the bank has put in place to effectively manage the end-to-end experience of its customers, one that encompasses three main facets:
Service accountability at the executive level—Key service metrics are tracked by an executive committee, which meets on a monthly basis and is chaired by none other than the NCB president and CEO.
Performance management—With detailed key performance indicators provided at the start of each financial year, employees are under no illusions when it comes to performing to the required standards. Service delivery standards are maintained for both internal and external customers, while a dedicated unit has been set up to focus on ensuring consistency in service provision across the organisation.
Service design and delivery—This segment focuses on extensive training and development of NCB staff; strong management of the bank’s internal and external processes; and innovative product development that is based on in-depth market insight and strong relations with NCB’s external partners.
Retail banking, which involves a range of products and services being provided to individuals and SME business clients, is among NCB’s most consistently successful business segments. Indeed, the retail business is so strong that the bank has opened a representative office and remittance-services business as far away as the United Kingdom. Customers who reside in the UK can thus take advantage of the bank’s pensions remittance service.
When it comes to retail banking, diversity is perhaps NCB’s biggest strength. The bank is a strong believer in providing as wide a range of products and services as possible, whilst still maintaining excellence in delivery, so as to meet the needs of its various customer segments. Deposit accounts, secured and unsecured loans, credit cards, overdraft lines, foreign exchange, personal and private banking services are just some of the most popular products and services being provided at the moment. Furthermore, given the wide range of offerings, the bank has cleverly forged strategic partnerships with local entities such as the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association and the National Housing Trust to ensure that each and every one of its customer segments is receiving sufficiently in-depth levels of expertise.
This diversity also extends to the digital realm, where the bank is developing some of the most cutting-edge innovations for customers found anywhere in the Caribbean, and indeed beyond, in order to meet and often exceed customer expectations. Beginning in 2015, NCB commenced its cohesive plan to transform its digital capabilities as a way to significantly boost the overall customer experience; the bank also embarked on the plan to support its own financial performance, especially in the face of an increasingly challenging operating environment. The four-year plan includes: firstly, building a world-class digital experience; secondly, accelerating regional expansion; and lastly, reinventing the bank’s core business.
But underlying all of NCB’s digital aspirations is the firm belief that having the most innovative suite of financial products is essential for satisfying the changing needs of the bank’s customer base; it will enable greater efficiency within the bank, and it will propel NCB’s customer-service capabilities to the next level. In terms of specific examples, fully automated processing—from origination straight through to fulfilment—is now being utilised for more than 30 percent of unsecured loans, while processing times are now also being reduced for secured loans using similar methods. Digital solutions have additionally been sought for online account opening, which in turn is drastically lowering wait times and improving the overall in-branch experience. The bank is also rigorously examining its digital ecosystem, mainly through adopting a thorough learning process, testing new platforms and collaborating with technology specialists where appropriate to deliver the highest quality standards.
In terms of maintaining its dominance in the local retail market, NCB is also focusing distinctly on delivering a handful of key accomplishments. Among them is a branch-optimisation programme that is enabling its customers to choose from an increasing variety of offerings in the same branch location. This optimisation has been cemented by the bank’s decision to integrate its general insurance business, which underlines its ethos of a branch being a representation of a “financial store”, as well as by boosting its self-service offerings, specifically through additional functionality for simple transactions commonly done in-branch.
On the corporate-banking side, NCB consistently realises billions of dollars in annual operating profits, which is in no small part a testament to its commitment to providing the best all-round experience for its vast customer base. Again, it is NCB’s unwavering desire to expand its digital acumen that lies at the heart of this experience. With technology usage being notoriously low in Jamaica, especially via non-branch channels such as mobile and online banking—Internet penetration remains well below 50 percent in the country—the bank has persevered over the last few years and created a robust digital strategy to ensure its customers are happy to utilise such channels.
NCB’s digital expansion is also partly responsible for allowing the corporate-banking division to drive down its costs, as is the recent introduction of a dynamic cost-optimisation and efficiency programme. And by ensuring the bank remains firmly within its risk-management parameters, NCB has been able to become more cost-efficient without having to take on more risks—clearly a welcome outcome from a regulatory perspective.
With such a diverse product suite being offered to its customers, moreover, it therefore makes sense for NCB to promote diversity within its organisation. Indeed, it does just that. The bank recognises that a major reason for its sustainable competitive advantage is its ability to identify talented individuals with the requisite mix of competencies, vision and resilience to propel the organisation forward and achieve its strategic objectives. As such, its policy is to recruit, develop and retain high- quality and empowered employees, irrespective of background. And with learning and development being critical components of NCB’s overall sustainability, the bank ensures its employees are trained, educated and developed into innovative, entrepreneurial and creative thinkers, equipped with the competencies required to propel the organisation forward.
What’s more, those competencies are not solely confined to the branch or the office. The bank has cultivated an impressive range of corporate-social-responsibility initiatives, which enable staff of all levels to contribute to the wider community. Such initiatives help to support a wide range of important social causes—especially in the areas of community, education and sports development—while more than J$1 billion in total has been donated by the bank over the years through its philanthropic arm, NCB Foundation. Specific programmes include the Grant a Wish Christmas Campaign, which is in its fifth year and through which members of the community have the opportunity to receive monetary gifts in recognition of their contributions to the community; and the Jamaican Education Initiative, which enables the bank to invest some of its operational proceeds into funding education efforts for Jamaican youth. Through the bank’s longstanding partnerships in the community, moreover, NCB has been able to contribute substantial amounts towards public services—including a major hospital, which resulted in an increase in the number of specialised beds made available in the intensive care unit, and the construction of 10 homes for needy families across the island via the Food for the Poor organization.
Looking towards the future, NCB has already cemented a comprehensive set of goals that are to be achieved by 2020. Such goals primarily aim to improve the overall customer experience, especially through digital means, end-to-end sales fulfilment, greater usage of multichannel options and the nurturing of a collaborative culture of high performance. The bank aims to set the B.A.R.in the financial-services industry, via three distinct themes and six specific initiatives:
1. Building a world-class digital experience
a. Develop distinctive digital capabilities.
2. Accelerating regional expansion
a. Expand in priority markets.
3. Reinventing our core business
a. Enhance sales and service excellence;
b. Focus on payments innovation;
c. Develop and engage our people;
d. Improve customer experience and optimise efficiency.
Clearly, such a well-thought-out plan should put NCB in good stead for the future. And as the preferences of Jamaican and Caribbean customers continue to evolve further over the coming years, through its forward-thinking, innovative approach, Jamaica’s top financial institution will be able to meet their needs in as seamless a manner as one would expect.