Leaving astounding performances and surpassing rigid barriers, K.E.D Sumanasiri, the General Manager of Bank of Ceylon, paints us a glance of this tremendous journey in the financial sector.
Q1. Give us a brief description of yourself and your career journey.
Being a people person, I believe that building human capital is the strength and the true winning formula for any leader. My personal and professional life has always built on the strength that I have invested on human capital. Till my appointment as the General Manager of Bank of Ceylon in August 2021, I have gathered exposure and experience in various faculties of banking and management beginning from a Bachelor of Science (Hons.) Degree in Business Administration from the University of Sri Jayawardenepura. I then joined BOC in 1990 and passed many roles from a Manager to Assistant General Manager and took over the position as a Deputy General Manager from April 2013 onwards. I was an Associate Member of the Institute of Bankers of Sri Lanka and the Chartered Institute of Personal Management Sri Lanka. I have also undergone training at various levels including three very special training courses-; “The Linkage 20 conversations Leadership Program” by Harvard Business School of USA, “Management Development Programme for Key Management Personal” and the “Special Management Course of higher Management and Public Policy for Business Leadership”, both via the Post Graduate Institute of Management (PIM).
I was fortunate to gather a broader experience in Retail Baking, Micro Finance, Corporate Finance and Human Resource Development, which was led by my management and leadership roles in the Bank’s Branch Network. Furthermore, I held several positions in the Branch Network as a Manager, Area Manager, Operations Manager, Asst. General Manager and Senior Deputy General Manager.
My active participation and mindful tactics during this training session as Manager (training) is worthy of mention. While serving as a Faculty Member of the Bank’s Training Institute, I readily responded to uplifting the knowledge of the staff members. I ensured that my staff members achieve both the career development and skill development which are instrumentally important aspects for a banker.
Soon after the three-decade long conflict came to an end in the Northern part of Sri Lanka, I took over the Northern Province as the Assistant General Manager and had to shoulder the responsibility to play a leading role in uplifting the livelihood of the resettled people and in doing so, made an immense contribution towards boosting the economic activities of the Northern Province. Also, I was able to strengthen delivery channels in the Northern Area by expanding the network to build financial inclusivity within the community.
With my extensive experience and expertise in Micro Finance and Retail Banking, I was able to take a dynamic role to propel BOC to a greater height in the Northern Province.
Q2. How successful has BOC been in placing itself in the upper quartile of commercial banks in Sri Lanka?
BOC is the No.1 Sri Lankan bank and is considered as the pinnacle within the Sri Lankan banking industry. According to Brand Finance Lanka ranked BOC as the No.1 Banking Brand for the 13th consecutive years, with a brand value over Rs.53 Bn for the year 2021. This accounts for the highest brand value ever scored by a banking brand in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, BOC owns the largest balance sheet in the banking industry that compromised with over Rs.3 Trillion Asset base, over Rs. 2.8 Trillion Loans and Advances and over Rs. 2.5 Trillion deposit base.
The Bank’s vision of achieving their prominence, “The nations preferred bank by providing customer centric innovative financial solutions,” has timely proven that the Banks digital transformation the introduction and usage of a series of digital products catering to their large customer base who were compelled to switch to digital options for their banking activities/transactions during the pandemic driven lockdowns.
As the lockdown nearly crippled the traditionally followed physical forms of banking services, BOC’s digital products provided better alternatives and accelerated the acceptance of digital banking.
Q3. Could you speak on BOC’s upcoming services and innovations?
We observe that our digital and online adaptation among customer base has propelled at an unprecedented level which is a good indication that our initiatives taken on building digitally inclusivity has worked out well. As the pioneer in many areas of the banking sector, BOC had identified the need of customers even prior to the pandemic situation and implemented many digital and online services which were widely used during these two years.
Our digital applications like SmartPay, B app, Smart Passbook, and other convenient services like Branch on Wheels, BOC Digi, and BOC Connect were effectively used by customers during lockdown, displaying high rates of transactions. BOC was the pioneer in introducing self-service banking areas (BOC SmartZone) in the country. Our 24/7 smart zones facilitate cash withdrawals, cash deposits and bill payments, anytime during the day. BOC has the largest network of over 1380 ATM/CDM/CRM machines in Sri Lanka.
We have also deployed POS (point of sales) machines in areas of high footfall like supermarkets, hotels, textile shops, and other merchant outlets enabling merchants to accept electronic card payments. E-commerce enabled Debit and Credit Cards of the Bank provide the convenience of online shopping for our customers at their convenience.
Branch on Wheels, introduced in 2017, was providing a great support to people during this lockdown period. We were able to send these banking vehicles to customer doorstep, even during lockdown period, enabling them to perform banking transactions at their reach. Branch on Wheel is a complete bank branch built in a vehicle, including Teller Counters, ATM, Self-Banking Kiosk, Customer lobby, lunch area and washroom facilities for staff.
BOC Digi, the self-service bank branches, were introduced by the Bank with ATM/CDM/CRM, accounts opening kiosks, Cheque deposit kiosks, and bill payment kiosks. BOC Digi provides a novel experience in self-service banking for tech-savvy young generations.
Other services such as Smart Passbook (e-passbook), e-statements, online applications via website, and Smart FD (scrip-less Fixed Deposits) provide the convenience of receiving the services online, without visiting branches during this pandemic situation.
Q4. In your opinion, what are the most helpful technological platforms and tools that your organization has introduced so far?
An extraordinary increase was recorded in the usage of some of our digital apps. SmartPay app transaction count increased unpredictably in 2021 compared to 2020. SmartPay merchants are now over 55,000. SmartPay app was introduced as a QR based payment app where users can scan the QR code at merchant outlets and pay from their account. Later this app was developed for other payments and mobile top-ups. In few months’ time you will be able to open new accounts using this app, add other bank accounts, and pay from Credit Cards. During 2021, the user’s count of this app has doubled in number.
Usage of our online banking app “B App”, also doubled each year from 2019 to 2021. During the year 2021, transaction count of B App was over 26 million for year 2021 and the total value of transactions exceeded Rs. 600 billion.
The award-winning e-passbook, BOC Smart Passbook mobile-app, exceeded total of 1,800,000 registered devices by the year 2021. Smart Passbook is the digital form of your passbook, where you can get real-time transaction updates, transaction history, and account balances on your smart mobile device. Smart Passbook is another free service offered by the Bank.
The other area that spiked during the pandemic was e-commerce. With e-commerce enabled Debit and Credit cards, customers can do online shopping by visiting merchant websites. Online shopping provides an effective alternative to physical shopping during lockdowns, online transactions of our Debit and Credit cards increased over 370% compared to year 2020.
The Bank of Ceylon was the first commercial bank to introduce script less fixed deposits (SmartFD) in Sri Lanka. About 50% of our total fixed deposits are now Smart FDs, with customers switching to the digital option during the last two years. SmartFD enables customers to open/close fixed deposits, by just sending the request, without visiting bank branches.
Q5. What is the most difficult aspect of managing people?
Even during the pandemic situation, our branches were kept open for customer services covering every corner of the country. We are proud of our staff who took the challenge of maintaining customer services during this period, taking the risk of their own lives. In addition to bank branches, we have established a strong network of offsite and on-site Smart Zones, ATM/CDM/CRM where people can transact 24×7.
Branch on Wheels, which was introduced with the theme of ‘Your Bank at Your Reach’ was designed to provide banking facilities to rural areas, according to a weekly time table. In addition to the weekly schedule, we were able to deploy these banking vehicles even at locked-down areas, with the approval of relevant authorities, during these two years. Currently we have deployed 10 such mobile branches covering the entire country.
Our newest banking channel, BOC Connect, was introduced with the theme of connecting the City with the Village, bringing the benefit of digitalization to the rural community. Under BOC Connect, authorized agents are appointed to cover the entire country, and these agents are authorized with the responsibility of facilitating cash deposits, cash withdrawals, fund transfers, bill payments, mobile top-ups, and many other payments. BOC Connect is aligned with the Digital Banking Roadmap of Sri Lanka and supports financial inclusion of the country.
Q6. What are your plans for bringing value to the bank? In the digital age, how do you envision yourself assisting the bank’s evolution and transformation?
As we discussed,BOC Connect agent banking is an important service introduced by the Bank recently. We expect to expand agent networks in rural areas, across the country, enabling rural communities to get banking services closer to their home or in their village instead of visiting a bank branch in the city.
We recently introduced a new account, specially designed for salaried employees and self-employed professionals, called Smart Salary Saver. With this new account, customers can send their monthly salary to account and use digital and online channels for daily transactions. Further the customer can place a standing-order with the Bank to pay all his utility bills, other fund transfers, and investments on behalf of him on time. The Bank will invest the remaining balance of the account in an investment account on a daily basis, and if the customer needs any financial support, the Bank will provide an immediate salary advance to his account.
BOC Fuel Card was introduced in January this year, enabling individuals, companies and government institutions to manage their fuel consumption efficiently. Fuel Card is a prepaid card with auto top-up facility to be used exclusively at filling stations. Vehicle owners who maintain a fleet of vehicles can use this card and keep a control on fuel usage by drivers. Fuel Card eliminates the necessity of carrying large amounts of cash on a daily basis for refuelling.
We have planned to re-launch our SmartPay app with many more features, and to replace B App with a more user-friendly new banking app. You will see many more digital banking solutions coming up during this year, which will be developed in line with the innovation within financial technology around the world. Our objective of all these efforts is to provide convenience in banking to our customers and delight them.
Q7. How would you build a 5-year plan?
We experienced a significant increase in usage of digital and online channels during last two years. But we feel we have to encourage more customers to adopt these digital facilities and improve penetration levels of digital channels. We have provided Smart Zones in almost all the branches facilitating self-service in cash deposit, cash withdrawals, and bill payments. But, still we observe long queues at branches for cash deposits, withdrawals and bill payments.
When there are over 10.9 million internet users and 7.9 million social media users in the country, we can see only few million mobile banking users in total. Customer adaptation to digital products are more important for us to stay inspired to provide more digital services in coming years. If the financial institutions happen to build more and more physical branches while providing more and more online channels, it will not be a good solution in long run.
Customers with smart mobile devices with data connection can make their payments, fund transfers, mobile top-ups etc. using apps such as SmartPay and B App. Therefore, people do not always need to carry cash with them. With digitalization, now people can do online shopping and make payments from Debit or credit cards. They can make payments at Supermarkets, hotels, and at most of the other shops using debit and credit cards. Hopefully, by next year, they will not need to carry cash even for transport payment, as banks are in the process of introducing a transport card.
By using digital and online channels, people can enjoy the convenience of banking by performing transactions anywhere at any time.
Q8. What is your approach towards Sustainability?
For any business organization, it is important to have its operations engaged around sustainability of economic, social and Environmental aspect. I am sincerely proud to say that we at Bank of Ceylon since its inception have taken these notions into consideration at all times. Being the leading Sri Lankan bank, we believe we have the responsibility to set an example in the banking and financial industry as a good corporate citizen and to adopt these norms that are necessary to safeguard the community and its environment whilst envisioning the business sustainability of our organization.
The Bank conducts strategic CSR activities, aligned to its long-term sustainability and goals, which are aligned to the United Nation’s SDG initiatives. Despite the pandemic situation, the bank ensured to continue its support towards empowering children to stay inspired about education with sponsorships to educational programs and scholarship programs that were targeting students throughout the country.
Among key actions undertaken by the Bank in order to restore healthcare system in the country, is the funding of the Government for the import of vaccines, as well as financing a national Covid call centre, operated by the bank in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, with the aim of assisting and connecting affected persons and critical healthcare providers.
On environmental sustainability strategic importance is given to green growth and it has converted over 50 of its branches to Green buildings that are certified by the Green Building Council Sri Lanka. Seven of its green buildings branches have won Platinum and Gold certifications from the same council. Overall the bank generates a total of 2,122 MW of renewable energy through its entire solar-energy system to the National Grid annually. It noteworthy to mention that out of total energy consumption of the Bank, 10% is generated through renewable sources earning. The bank is also the largest banking entity to receive ISO 14064-1 certification for its Greenhouse Gas Emissions. As part of its strategic goals, the Bank continued its recycling drive as well as increased automation processes to save approximately one million A4 sheets per year. Further, the bank sponsors a reforesting program “Haritha Arana”, a hundred acres in “Hurulu conservation forest”.
Q9. State in brief- what are your strengths and how do you see yourself nurturing them to fit into your new role as the General Manager?
I am a people person and therefore I find the situational leadership style much appropriate in my trade, to serve people better.