The Art of Innovative Banking – Harsha Wanigatunga, CIO of Seylan Bank PLC

Harsha Wanigatunga, the Chief Information Officer of Seylan Bank PLC, believes that technology is an art for innovative banking – innovate to create convenience, meet a need and be profitable. He emphasized that technology should never be used for the sake of having the latest technology, but to create tangible value.

He first worked at Lockheed Aerospace for NASA for the Space Station Programme and Space Shuttle Programme. At Chase Manhattan Bank (presently known as JP Morgan Chase), he developed innovative banking solutions using advanced technologies such as object oriented distributed systems. Following his return to Sri Lanka, he worked for Virtusa with Fortune 500 companies in the USA in managing the development of advanced business systems. He headed roles in HR where he pioneered Strategic HR practices that reaped significant results. He was then headhunted by LankaClear to lead the implementation of Sri Lanka’s retail payment systems in the capacity of DGM – IT and Operations. This included the revamping of the cheque clearing system between banks and other paper based payment instruments. Under his leadership and initiative, LankaClear pioneered in implementing LankaPay (Sri Lanka’s interbank ATM network, real-time payments, etc.) and some of these systems were a first in the country, region and globally. LankaPay became the first entity to receive the much recognized PCI DSS certification in Sri Lanka. 

According to Harsha, Seylan Bank has a talented team. As a priority he restructured the IT team and introduced key strategic HR practices that enabled them to give their best and function as a highly engaged collaborative team. He led the team to systematically re-architect and update the full technology stack which facilitated cost reduction in the longer run, higher security, creating greater agility and speed in application development. Further, Data Warehousing and Analytics enabled Seylan in obtaining deep insights.

On the topic of digital transformation, he stated that his vision for the future is for all Sri Lankans to adopt a digital lifestyle suited to the local context which can be achieved through localized strategy and good execution.

“While the Banking sector in Sri Lanka has made significant improvements in this area, there is much more to be done. The public needs to adopt digital channels at a faster pace. In order to achieve this, there should be an increase in communication to win consumer trust and educate them on the convenience and security made available within digital transaction platforms. Further, the government will need to introduce the eNIC where an individual’s identity can be electronically verified, adopt PKI based digital signing to eliminate physical signatures and finally key institutions should be computerised where details of individuals can be electronically validated (e.g. land registry and utility companies). Digital adoption will minimize paper utilisation, thus creating a greener environment. Availing tax concessions for electronic transactions will promote digital payments and will benefit the country as well as businesses.”

Furthermore, describing the digital footprint of Seylan Bank, the industry expert stated, “The bank has adopted the mobile first approach on many applications, where applications are designed targeting smartphones first and then on larger screens. In addition, all the major banking functions a customer would do could can now be done via Internet Banking/Mobile Banking. Payment apps have now become quite popular, and thereby smartphone based applications are widely used for making payments (e.g. person to person, utility bill payments and payments at shops).

“With the introduction of LankaQR (QR Code based payments) spearheaded by the CBSL, the popularity is rapidly increasing in the use of payments apps and digital payments, so much so that even the way-side shops are adopting digital payments. Further, to better facilitate payments, Seylan offers a range of credit cards enabled with EMV (chip) for greater security and NFC for contactless payments with Visa and MasterCard. Seylan Bank has one of the largest mPOS deployments, which enables POS at a very competitive rate. We have a strong presence and highly secure offerings for payment gateways that facilitate eCommerce. The bank has a white labelled payment gateway, which facilitates a merchant to come on board in a matter of a day or two. Further, Seylan has a strong foreign remittance network, which provides the local beneficiary immediate access to received funds.”

In addition to the vast improvements in Digital Banking in the Retail Banking sector, there has been significant growth in digitalisation for Corporate Banking at Seylan, where Corporate Internet Banking provides a wide suite of services for payments, cash management, and payments to government institutions, and more.

Seylan Bank has a wide spread secure ATM network, CDMs for cash deposits and bill payments, and cheque deposit kiosks for the convenience of its customers.

“Many of our internal processes are automated with workflow systems. This greatly improves the TAT (turnaround time) that benefits our customers with speed of service. Furthermore, with the extensive use of Data Warehousing and Analytics, we can provide more targeted and tailor-made services to our customers,” Harsha added.

IT security in the Banking industry is a major concern for both the customers and the bank, therefore, Harsha has taken the necessary steps to strengthen the bank’s IT security infrastructure.

“In the past few years, the bank has invested significantly in IT security and has completely re-architected its network security infrastructure creating multiple layers of vertical and horizontal layering that creates strong depth of defence. Seylan Bank has many firsts in Sri Lanka, the bank was the first to implement SD WAN, to achieve Connected Thread Defence (CTD) and many more. Consequently, when the staff had to work from home during the first outbreak of COVID-19 in the beginning of the year, the bank was fully equipped for the situation, as the IT security infrastructure was already in place. When it comes to cyber security, Seylan maintains a constant intense vigil on the local and global security risks and accordingly improves the systems to counter these threats. Therefore, the customers can be confident and assured that their best interest is at heart.

Speaking about the technology expertise required to revolutionise the Banking industry, Harsha stated, “Sri Lanka undoubtedly has the technological expertise. The key is to have a compelling vision, believe in ourselves, resolute drive to execute, and a strong desire to continuously improve.”

With a proven track record of over 25 years of global experience in IT, revenue growth and transforming organisations by the synthesis of innovation, strategy and strong execution that delivers results, Harsha has been actively involved in the country’s digital and retail payment transformation.

As the CIO, Harsha’s aim is to continuously improve and enhance customer convenience and experience through digital channels and better banking services. In order to achieve this, he emphasised the need to have a strong focus on keeping abreast with the ever changing technology landscape, continuously improve on security and enhance the product offerings.

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