The Digital Banking Era: Why Naysayers Are Right—and Why They Are Wrong
BDO Unibank’s Senior Vice-President and Head of Cash Management Services Carlo Nazareno spoke at the European-PH Business Summit and shared his insights and experiences in how digital and online technology developed and transformed the Philippine banking industry. Nazareno discussed the topic in light of major factors like global trends in banking and finance, customer preferences, the impact of COVID-19 in the past two years, and how these, in turn, will further shape the future of banking.
Nazareno said that the push for digital solutions is mainly driven by the demand for convenience. As lifestyles become even more fast-paced and people’s short attention spans demand immediate gratification provided by the internet, they now want the same near-instantaneous fulfillment and completion of online tasks—whether these are bills payments or banking transactions. This type of fast-paced, instantaneous demand has changed banking into an even more customer-centric activity than ever.
This customer-centric environment leads to other related developments in digital banking. A commonly highlighted feature is getting digital banking services at a fair price.
“Fair price, of course, can mean different things depending on which country a person lives, how open a country or culture is when it comes to digital technology, and even that income bracket customers belong to,” Nazareno said.
Concerns about security have always been a pain point and a big source of hesitancy for both the clients and the institutions themselves. This is why banks all over the world have been investing heavily in security measures and infrastructure that can give adequate protection against hacking and other forms of cyberattack.
According to Nazareno, cybersecurity is already a given in today’s digital banking environment and the future of digital banking heavily relies on the level of assurance that banks and clients feel about the safety of their transactions.
The smooth flow and security of transactions in the digital age are dependent on the availability of all sorts of data. From account numbers to account names, to passwords, and all types of digital switches and codes, only the sustained availability and access to real-time streaming of data can keep digital banking running all over the world.
“Nowadays, with digital banking, long waiting times are no longer good enough. Having to wait three days for a check to clear, even having to wait one day or a few hours, seems too long already. Customers, clients, and entrepreneurs all want their money and their products available and in their hands in real-time, as fast as we can click on our touchscreens,” Nazareno explained.
Open Finance and Open Banking
The need for real-time exchanges of information is tightly interwoven with security concerns and openness to information. Nazareno explained that digital transactions around the globe make it necessary for individual customers and their banks to share personal, sensitive information with various third parties.
“This means that we need free and open channels of communication to pass on a massive amount of data every minute, every hour, and every day. Individual persons, banks, and third parties need to allow the free sharing of data—while simultaneously putting up safeguards so that these data don’t get stolen and used for nefarious purposes.”
“That is the challenge as well as the amazing reality that is digital banking today. It requires pooling together expertise in the fields of communication, IT, and cybersecurity across countries. It can be mind-boggling when we consider what’s at stake and all the complex minutiae that need to work together in sync,” said Nazareno.
He added that for digital banking to work today and in the future, restrictions on the flow of data have to be managed well—with more openness as the main goal balanced with the need for security.
Nazareno also said that banks and financial institutions around the world are working towards leveling up the capabilities of digital payments and other transactions, to the point where these can happen not only between buyers, sellers, and banks inside one country but eventually throughout a region like Southeast Asia, and finally, across the world.
“Ordering and paying for a product being sold at a village store in Norway, for example, would be as easy as having a meal delivered from a fast-food outlet in Manila to a barangay in the same city. That’s the ultimate convenience—but we are all still working on that. There are still limitations in technology, in regulations, in the banking system, etc. that need to be overcome for that to happen,” said Nazareno.
Smart ecosystems and cities
All of these realities and trends in digital transactions will eventually be merged with smart technologies that will connect data from mobile devices, vehicles, gas pumps, and all manner of digital-enabled devices. This means that when someone pays for gas using an e-wallet in his smartphone, for example, data will be collected that will then be passed on to retailers. The retailers, in turn, will be able to crunch data and find out how much inventory they would need to stock up on each month—that will make it more efficient and cost-effective for their retail operations. Less wastage and a more accurate projection of what products customers want and how much.
“Digital banking is transforming not only the way we spend and save money but is also turning our cities into smart ecosystems where the free exchange and analysis of data give rise to better products and services, better cybersecurity, and hopefully, safer environments for our families to live in,” said Nazareno.
The previous discussions on the massive amounts of data being exchanged in digital banking beg the question: with so much information being shared, who does all that information belong to now? The individual? The bank? Private corporations? The government?
Even as naysayers have been raising the specter of a Big Brother scenario, Nazareno believes that ultimately, the ownership of information always goes back to individuals and to their banks. In other words, the free exchange of data does not necessarily result in a transfer of ownership of that data.
Digital is the way forward
For Nazareno, the COVID-19 pandemic forced banks, customers, the private sector, and the government to take digital technology more seriously and grapple with both its benefits and risks. In the end, Nazareno believes the net benefit has been proven to be worth the risk.
“The naysayers were telling us that digital technology would not be embraced right away because customers were fearful about security concerns, or that the technology was inadequate, or that people would be resistant to a digital shift simply because it was too new and unfamiliar. The past two years of the pandemic have shown us that the naysayers were right in some respects. Yes, there were those that remained hesitant to embrace digital banking and payments. And yes, the cyber security threat will always remain at the top of the agenda for banks and other institutions. But they were also wrong.”
“Overall, the shift to digital banking and payments has been unprecedented and even overwhelming. The pandemic forced us to adapt—many, if not most, of us, would no longer wish to go back to a pre-pandemic way of life. The world changed because people had to, they needed to, in order to survive and even thrive. This gives us reassurance that moving forward with digital banking is the only way to go,” said Nazareno.
For more information on BDO’s online banking services and cash management services, go to www.bdo.com.ph. You may also call or visit your nearest BDO Unibank branch.