[Sponsored Article] Digital banking, or e-banking, has continued to evolve in the past few decades. Today, it has probably become the most important channel for banking services. With significant technological advancements in areas like big data, artificial intelligence (AI), mobile technology and cybersecurity, etc., digital banking is brought to another level. The outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 has impacted our daily lives in many ways, including how we access banking services. The crisis accelerates the trend of switching to digital and sparks a new demand for an even broader range of banking services to be offered online. “During challenging times, whether they can get to a branch or not, people need their banks to be there for them and to help keep the costs of managing their finances to a minimum so that they can have the funds to support their priorities in life,” says Maggie Ng, Head of Wealth and Personal Banking, Hong Kong at HSBC. That’s why the Bank has acted swiftly and launched a number of initiatives last year to enhance its digital services in response to the crisis. These initiatives included mobile account opening for integrated and investment accounts, remote securities trading, FlexInvest investment fund services, and virtual meetings with customers via video chat, among others. In addition, 26 fees and charges were removed. Digital banking needs continue to grow Ng shares that the Bank has seen significant growth in the use of its digital services with nearly 3 million active users, which is equivalent to over 40% of Hong Kong population, as of end December last year. Moreover, 95% of HSBC’s retail transactions are now conducted through online channels, showing that increased familiarity has given rise to wider adoption. “In the course of unfortunate disruptions caused by the pandemic, our various digital tools have proved to be highly valuable to customers, enabling them to bank with us anytime, anywhere and manage their finances entirely via digital,” she adds. Looking ahead, as vaccine rollout plans have begun in a number of markets and governments have learnt how to better manage the impact of the pandemic, Ng believes that things will eventually return to normal, but the trend of going digital will continue into the future. Online channel will become the major channel for banks to connect with their customers, especially the digital savvy millennials. “In 2021, we’re entering a ‘restoration phase’ for the economy and many are cautiously optimistic. But the reality is that habits formed during COVID will persist, and we can expect this to apply to the demand for digital banking services,” she comments. Banking made easy Yet, she emphasizes that it’s not just the external environment that has driven their swift responses to customers’ digital banking needs. “We have been making sustained investments in growth, technology and innovation over the years. Particularly over the course of last year, I would like to thank my colleagues for their dedication to delivering innovative solutions in a timely manner.” Indeed, as the largest bank in Hong Kong, HSBC has always stayed at the forefront of the industry. For instance, HSBC’s PayMe app was among the first payment apps in town that allowed transfers to anyone instantly, regardless of your banking relationship. Another example is the recent launch of HSBC Life Well+ insurance solution, which links wearables like Apple watches with HSBC’s digital platform, as financial and physical well-being often go hand in hand. It is also the first of its kind in the market, encouraging policyholders to walk 9,000 steps a day by offering valuable rewards. Ng explains it is because the Bank firmly believes that technology and innovation can bring better services to all customers at lower costs. The team has a comprehensive digital roadmap and will continue to roll out various digital solutions targeting different types of customers in order to meet their specific needs. Cementing HSBC’s leadership in wealth management in Hong Kong HSBC has been particularly focused on investing in digital wealth capabilities, pioneering new solutions that enable first-time savers, self-directed investors and those who prefer more customisation to access wealth management services on mobile and other devices. In fact, HSBC’s digital wealth sales in Hong Kong has seen high double-digit growth year-on-year. She elaborates, “FlexInvest, a new mobile service that we launched in January last year, allows customers to invest in unit trusts with as little as HKD100. Besides, our loyalty stock trading programme, ‘Top Trader Club’ on our EasyInvest App, rewards both high and low volume traders. For Jade and Premier customers, we have introduced Wealth Portfolio Intelligence Service powered by BlackRock’s Aladdin Wealth Technology that helps them gain more in-depth understanding of their portfolios by employing similar tools that institutional investors use to analyze risk exposure across different assets. As the leading wealth manager in Hong Kong, we will continue to advance into the digital wealth space.” Blending digital and in-person services The future of banking is about customers being able to choose where, how and when to bank. Ng points out, “long-term customers will still prefer a mix of digital for routine transactions, and the human touch for more complex transactions, such as wealth planning and investing. This is the area in which customers are less likely to switch permanently to online solutions. Hybrid services will be a better fit.” She continues, “our digital platforms will continue to evolve with more services and features added to support this need. With the help of technology, branch employees and relationship managers can access insights and information more efficiently to support our customers across various life events and challenges.” In addition, Ng advises that mastering new data sources and AI will be critical to anticipating customers’ needs. Late last year, HSBC launched phase one of an Automated Quality Management (AQM) system – a voice processing solution powered by AI – at its contact center to detect if terms and conditions are presented accurately to the customers before they purchase a service or a product. “In 2021, we will implement the next phase and dive deeper into how customers want us to serve them.” Looking to the future, Ng reiterates that their goal is to put a bank in customers’ pockets. “This is more than just having access to transactional services, but creating a highly personalised mobile-first experience.” She is confident that HSBC will continue to grow with Hong Kong in the future. The Bank is committed to providing solutions that meet customers’ financial needs, and help them realise their aspirations and dreams.