Thirty-four years ago in 1986, our country went through a major tipping point and transformation called the People Power Revolution, which, and despite some hiccups, has converted our country from the then “sick man of Asia” into one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies over the last decade.
Today, for a completely unexpected reason, because of the coronavirus pandemic, we find ourselves at another tipping point. And the question, I believe, in most people’s minds today is “will we be able to move forward and transform again?” There are no easy answers here.
As you may know, UnionBank of the Philippines (UnionBank) was the first universal bank to embark on a total digital transformation. While our journey and experiences here are incomparable to today’s pandemic, I hope it might offer some insights for you.
When we started our digital transformation journey four years ago, we commissioned a world-class management consultant group to help us define the future of banking amid the tremendous economic, technological, and demographic changes happening around us.
Their conclusion and recommendation hit us like a bullet because they said the only way forward was to digitize or perish.
Thus, what we expected to be a strategic plan overhaul became an existential threat. So, the first insight was that the “new normal” is not “back-to-(old)-normal.” There is “no looking back.”
After recovering from this shock, I remember asking myself, “Where do I begin? Is it with technology, software and systems, etc. or hiring more millennials?” I didn’t realize that the key first step revolved around colleagues that were already beside me.
It took an innocuous team-building exercise, that was intended to make the managers comfortable with technology to lead me to this next insight.
“ I learned that with the right tech and effort, 'old dogs can learn new tricks' and that the first step in digital transformation is 'people culture transformation,' with the intention of leaving no one behind. ”
We were a group of around 30 with both “veterans” and “millennial newbies” in a team-building workshop. The activity before us was a robotics coding program, including assembly of a “micro-race car” by each one of us. Then, the micro-race car was to run in a “race” following a “pre-encoded race track” that needed a correct program to “guide” it.
When I heard this, I remember thinking that we, the “old guards,” are going to get creamed by the “young guns” in the group. To my (and most everybody else’s) surprise, the eventual “race winner” was our 60-plus-year-old (then) chief operations officer.
That day, I learned that with the right tech and effort, “old dogs can learn new tricks” and that the first step in digital transformation is “people culture transformation,” with the intention of leaving no one behind, which is my second insight.
UnionBankers with backroom roles “shuffling paper” were suddenly “energized” when we told them that we wanted them to try out process planning or even “customer-facing” roles, as our new digital core systems took over their manual tasks. We realized that, precisely because of their familiarity with the process and issues, they knew — instinctively in many cases — where, and even “who,” the real “pain points” were.
This was vital not only in solving the problems but, more importantly, in ensuring that we would always have empathy for customer centricity as job #1, which is my third insight — not just customer experience. Customer centricity is the “common ground” that unites many different perspectives.
This constant blending of old and new, legacy and cutting-edge in UnionBank soon made us realize the true meaning of agile, which is my fourth insight.
It is beyond just being flexible or nimble. Rather, it is the willingness and ability to make immediate “360-degree” turns if that is what it takes to deliver customer delight beyond satisfaction.
That’s why today’s UnionBank has cross-functional “squads” and “teams” woven into its various departments and centers. These squads and teams can quickly form up to tackle big challenges “over lunch break,” “during happy hour” and sometimes even “during weekends.”
Fast forward to today, where UnionBank has received more than its fair share of awards these past four years. To me, the three things that are most gratifying about these awards are that: several are “three-peat or more” awards, practically all key function areas of the bank have been awarded and several of the more recent ones were voluntarily bestowed as a “Judge’s Choice” or “People’s Vote” awards. These show that: UnionBankers are continuously transforming, our transformation has permeated the organization and our single-minded focus on customer-centricity is appreciated where it truly matters — our peers and customers.
So, today — and despite the pandemic — the world continues to evolve and transform. Conditions change. Technologies change. People change. Businesses change.
But one thing does not change, and that is purpose, which is my last insight.
This is why one of UnionBank’s most precious awards, to me, has very little to do with “outstanding financial performance.” This award was for being one of the “most helpful banks in Asia-Pacific during COVID-19” from the BankQuality Consumer Survey group, covering 11,000 bank customers in 11 countries in the Asia Pacific. When we shared this news, yes there was the usual “laughter and cheer” but also more silent “smiles of fulfillment” that only come from one who knows that they are making a difference in the lives of many, instead of just making a name for oneself.
UnionBank’s digital transformation journey continues to revolve around UnionBankers who are “regular Filipinos,” which to me is a sign of hope for our nation’s future.
Beyond our flexibility, adaptability and pagsasamahan, we are a resilient people. We all have the same ability to be agile, embrace the new normal, undergo culture change, and thus achieve our innate purpose to give a better life, especially to those who will come after us. Let us, therefore, continue to have faith in Divine Providence and in each other, as we endeavor to “co-create a new Philippines” and leave no one behind.
Edited by Rica Delfinado