Business
JM | Sep 16, 2021

Scotia Jamaica’s digital moves paying off

Al Edwards

Al Edwards / Our Today

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Scotia Group Jamaica, headed by CEO Audrey Tugwell-Henry has made a concerted effort to utilise digital technology to enhance its operating performance.

This move has paid dividends.

Getting customers to move away from their traditional banking behaviour of going into branches to engaging with digital platforms is no easy feat, but its necessity is particularly apropos during this time of COVID.

Scotia Group Jamaica has assiduously staged a comeback and has chalked up improving performances. For the nine months ended July 31, 2021, it reported net income of J$7.28 billion, representing an increase of 31 per cent compared to J$5.56 billion for the same period last year.

“We are very happy with the performances of all our business units – our commercial bank, our investment business, our insurance  business.”

Audrey Tugwell-Henry, president and CEO of Scotia Group Jamaica

At a recently held press briefing, Tugwell-Henry said: “We are particularly pleased with the performance based on the challenges that we are facing not just as a country but as a global community as we navigate the difficulties of this pandemic.

“We are very happy with the performances of all our business units – our commercial bank, our investment business, our insurance  business. There has been significant growth in our core book of business for example our mortgage portfolio, which grew 11 per cent year over year. There was strong double digit growth on our deposit books which shows the growing confidence our customers have in us.”

Digital sales up 53 per cent

Underpinning this success is the quixotic combination of Scotia’s traditional conservatism and steadfastness, which are hallmarks of the brand and the pivot to a digital approach and the employment of 21st Century technology to banking transactions.

Some banking entities might have viewed this move as incurring additional costs with no guarantee that customers would make the adjustment. Bankers are known to wear both belts and braces but this was a bold move on Scotia Jamaica’s part.

President and CEO of Scotia Group Jamaica, Audrey Tugwell Henry. (Photo: Contributed)

Explaining the rationale behind this move, the Scotia Group boss said: “We have accelerated on our digital agenda and that has made it easier for our customers to do business with us by providing low cost transaction services while at the same time they don’t have to do too much face-to-face interactions, particularly in light of what we are experiencing with this COVID-19 pandemic.

“Right now we are seeing our digital sales increase as high as 53 per cent. We are confident that with many parts of our business, we will be able to forge ahead using our digital platforms. Also, we believe with our staff now able to work from home, even within the context of the COVID spread, we will be able to still meet the needs of most of our customers. In terms of customers having ongoing access to banking services, we do have robust and well-built digital platforms to provide support to transaction processing as well.”

 Banking and COVID

The COVID virus and its successive spikes in infections has impacted banking and has proved most challenging, compressing the operating environment. Tugwell-Henry does not view this as insurmountable.

Scotia’s digital offerings has won favour with customers and its competitors have cast an envious eye over just how well it has done with this transformation exercise.

In May of this year, Our Today conducted a poll asking the question, “Which is the most user-friendly bank in Jamaica with regard to online banking services? A whopping 50 per cent of respondents selected Scotiabank.

Scotiabank’s downtown Kingston branch in Jamaica. (Photo: OECS Business Forum)

So, looking into the future, what does Scotia Group Jamaica’s CEO see?

“We believe, notwithstanding the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of the Delta variant, we will be able to operate very well in combination with the efforts of the Government (to slow the spread of the virus). The business operating model that we have in place has a very strong digital focus. We think we will be able to navigate Q4 very well and deliver strong results.”

Scotia Jamaica’s earnings are better than last year’s but still some way off from what it was in 2019. Nevertheless Tugwell-Henry remains unperturbed, declaring: “We believe recovery is imminent. We are seeing very strong growth and better performances in some areas of our business, particularly in terms of our mortgages. We are very optimistic on the impact our investment business will have on our numbers. Although full recovery to where we were in 2019 is not yet there, we believe that we can accelerate performance.”

Other banking houses in Jamaica are looking to reap rewards from digital technology and become competitive in this area. Tugwell-Henry will be fending them off by pursuing a customer-first strategy, the essence of which is to make it easier to do banking.

“When we think about digital, yes there is competition, but we believe in employing digital technology in a practical way. The questions we need to answer are; how can we meet the needs of our customers and how can we simplify the way in which our customers do business with us? We are pleased that our customers have chosen to do most of their transactions on our digital platforms.

“ Today, only 4 per cent of total retail transactions happen in a branch, with 96 per cent of  transactions taking place non-branch or on a digital platform.

An untrammeled look into Q4

In the fourth quarter, Scotia will be accelerating its digital transformation programme as it continues to provide convenience for its customers. It plans to focus even more on its customer-experience and to that end has built out a customer-experience unit where difficulties and issues can be escalated to. It will also be stepping up its lending and capital market solutions.

“As we look to Q4, we recognise the pandemic is still here. We are planning for ongoing difficulties. We are being very assertive in terms of how we take on the market.

“We believe with the vaccination programme the government is embarking on, we will be able to get more Jamaicans vaccinated. As long as we can stay ahead of the game in preventing Jamaicans from getting very sick and our hospitals from being overrun, if we can keep the productive and business sectors open, we think that our Q4 will remain robust.

“Specifically as it relates to Scotia, we have made significant investments in digital technology but not just in terms of transactional processing but also in the financial products we offer. Our customer can access loans, credit cards and deposit products via this way. We are pleased that our existing customers can open a second account within five minutes or less by using our mobile banking platform. We are seeing increasing numbers of customers using digital methods for their banking requirements on a constant basis,“ said Tugwell-Henry.

Perrin Gayle, senior VP, Retail Banking — Scotiabank Jamaica.

Perrin Gayle, senior vice president – Retail Banking, added: “What we are seeing is overwhelming acceptance in terms of the changes we are making with our digital offerings. In the last six months the ability to open an account in less than five minutes has been successful. We are seeing a substantial take-up in customers. We continue to refine the process.

“As it relates to sales, we are seeing very good take up in terms of our retail lending products via the digital channels. This signifies that this is a method that our customers would like us to do more with.

“We recently made updates to our mobile app and we continue to innovate and add features. One of those features involves making it easy for users to send their payment information via WhatsApp to someone who needs to send funds to them.”

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