Empowering Digital Transactions to Prepare the Country for the Next Decade – Chief Executive Officer of SDB bank, Thilak Piyadigama

Kickstarting his profession as an Engineer after achieving his qualifications from the University of Moratuwa – Thilak Piyadigama ended up setting foot in the world of banking and is now the Chief Executive Officer of SDB bank. Central Bank of Sri Lanka recently appointed him the Chairman of “Working Group of Financial Institutions to Coordinate Implementation of LANKAQR ” across Sri Lanka. The ‘Rata Purama LANKAQR’ initiative was actively driven by Thilak, who played a key role in the implementation of the project island wide.

His pioneering journey began when he joined John Keells subsidiary, Keells Business Systems Ltd., as a technologist for nine years before taking up a similar role in Standard Chartered Bank in Sri Lanka. There, he embraced banking and got down to taking his career at SCB internationally, starting from the UAE, where ongoing with the role of a regional head of technology, he was responsible for ten countries in the Middle East and South Asia. Then, as he took on the part of a strategist, his responsibilities shifted to setting up operations in new countries, one of which was opening a new SCB bank branch in Afghanistan in 2003. From there, Thilak proceeded to London and worked for SCB, Africa. Last but not least, he joined the SCB business headquarters in Singapore for 8 years, working for global functions before heading back home to Sri Lanka, at which point, his career as a banker continued to reach heights.  

After 16 years overseas, Thilak worked as the Chief Operating Officer at Nations Trust Bank, Sri Lanka, for two years. While at NTB, he became a salient part of the launch of Sri Lanka’s first digital bank, Frimi. From March 2019 onwards, he took on the position of CEO at SDB bank, during which efforts were made to create improvement, bank profitability, brand awareness, and the digital aspects. 

One of the most significant achievements made by SDB bank is launching of  UPay App. Thilak describes the UPay app as a “package of financial services. This is with consideration to the fact that it allows users to make payments and purchases using the LANKAQR. Built behind the app are bank accounts with both credit and debit cards linked in and banking built in that is primarily meant for the SDB bank account for users to look at their account balance, transactions, make fund transfers, etc. UPay also provides services such as e-channeling and other lifestyle options that aren’t often found in other banking apps. The launch and presence of this very app make transactions smooth and accessible anywhere, at any time of the day. 

It consists of unique features that elevate user experience, especially amongst digital aficionados. When asked about the special features of the UPay App, Thilak talked about the first feature being UEarn, which is said to work as a referral program. This works when a user of UPay extends an invitation to friends and family through the help of a link, after which once the invitee signs up, makes the first payment, and becomes a part of UPay; the user earns 50 LKR by default. As the invitees continue to complete the transaction, the user earns a share of the profit. “It’s like the contributor model of YouTube or any other social channels. That’s unique in the sense that we share the pie,” added Thilak. 

The second feature discussed was USell, which allows the user to become a digital merchant with the help of a QR code dedicated to the user. Again, this feature works effectively, especially in cases of small businesses. Thilak considers “those two to be unique and very impactful” features. 

Thilak says the growth of mobile usage is a plus point for UPay. “Sri Lanka has about 30 million mobile phone connections and also 80-90% of internet traffic comes through mobile phones”, he says. In addition, Thilak also speaks of the challenges faced by UPay, such as “the need for more smartphone uses to scale the platform” as wellthe minor setback of users thinking twice to use UPay due to money involvement, which can only be overcome through awareness and is a “gradual process”. Another challenge faced is the lack of such apps amongst women, who are known to be decision-makers often. “It becomes a thing to be addressed as decision-makers are not app users”, Thilak adds.

However, given specific challenges, Thilak is proud to announce that they have 61% of Sri Lanka’s landmass out of 14,000K Gramasewaka units. UPay is working on achieving the remaining 39% landmass and getting more users across Sri Lanka. 

When it comes to values, Thilak quotes that “the most sustainable impact you create in your journey is what matters”, as he believes it is essential to create a positive impact and to inspire while loving and enjoying what you do at the same time. 

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