23 June 2021

Banks should adopt a people-focused mindset

Banks have played their role in stabilising economies during the pandemic and it seems they’re being recognised for it.

The ABS-commissioned Banking Trust Index for Singapore (BTIS) report found that there is high trust in banks in Singapore. In fact, the banking industry is trusted more than businesses and NGOs1. The survey also reinforces that trust requires constant nurturing. Indeed, customers said they would trust banks more if greater accountability, transparency and customer and community focus was shown.

So what else can banks do to maintain and build trust?

Embedding a customer-centric culture

Banks need to shift away from a product-focused mindset to one that’s people-focused. That is, putting our customers and their best interests at the heart of everything we do. And there are several ways to achieve that.

First, banks need to blend technology with empathy. We need to meet people where they are, and the digital space is increasingly the venue in which most customers are comfortable with. To achieve this, banks in Singapore have made significant investments in digital platforms to give customers personalised omni-channel experiences that is just a click away.

However, in times of uncertainty or when it comes to making a difficult or highly technical decision, a “human touch” is often still appreciated.

It is important for banks to have the ability to serve our customers and support their evolving needs through a blend of digital and human interactions. Being able to make one-on-one connection, be it in person or through real-time communication technology such as live chats, can make all the difference. This is why it’s critical to maintain several channels of contact – from mobile banking app, websites, branches to call centres – available.

Keeping the customer at the centre of everything we do also means working internally to ensure that employees are equipped to meet their evolving needs. Upskilling and regular training is essential as it will help build financial advisors’ knowledge and confidence to guide customers on their financial needs. And the final piece is to introduce a remuneration framework that rewards people for demonstrating the right values and purpose.

Banks in Singapore have worked hard to improve on these key areas over the years. For example, HSBC’s incentive scheme for our sales teams around the world is holistic and centred around meeting customer needs, without a product bias. Our employees are assessed not only for performance, but also values and positive behaviours. The aim is to ensure each employee remains open, dependable and connected to our customers while in pursuit of performance excellence.

Banking with a purpose

The pandemic has highlighted how truly connected we are, and that everyone has to play their part to help make the world a better place. Societies around the world now expect banks to help address social and environmental issues like gender inequality and climate change, and rightfully so.

As major engines of growth in the global economy, banks hold a variety of roles: asset owners, employers, financial market intermediaries and investors. This means that the industry as a whole can not only allocate financing to activities that can bring about positive change to societies, they can also help to encourage positive behaviours amongst their counterparts and customers.

One area that banks can help shape the future is on sustainability. We now have the opportunity to build back better and help reboot our economies by transitioning to green, moving away from high-emission pathways and changing the behaviour of businesses and people.

Working with regulators to strengthen trust

The BTIS report also highlighted that governments’ regulations contribute to the Trust perception of the banking industry. This highlights the importance of working with regulators to protect customers and encourage confidence in the financial industry.

Global regulators, like the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), have been pivoting to greater transparency and fair dealing, especially in the use of customer data. Together with the financial industry, MAS has created principles of fairness, ethics, accountability and transparency (FEAT), to strengthen internal governance around the application of AI and the management and use of data2.

HSBC is a member of the Veritas consortium3 sponsored by the MAS where we are one of the co-lead of the Fairness and Transparency work streams. The methodology and metrics developed would help the industry address challenges in the responsible use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data Analytics (DA) as part of their business operations.

Putting it together

The world is constantly evolving, and banks have to adapt; not only with their customers changing needs, but also society’s expectations.

That is why for banks to stay relevant, we cannot lose sight of their core purpose: to safeguard and responsibly look after other people’s money, and to continue to contribute to society in positive ways.

A contribution piece by Anurag Mathur, Head, Wealth and Personal Banking, HSBC Bank (Singapore). A version of this piece was first published in the Business Times Singapore on 23rd June 2021.