Baiduri Bank CEO: Digitisation must pair with personalised, human service

Brunei's financial services are joining the global trend to digital transformation – but it must go hand in hand with personalised, human advice, says Pierre Imhof

May 30, 2018

Brunei’s wealth depends on its oil and gas sector, representing more than 60 percent of the country’s GDP. Decades of diversification efforts have yielded small progress, although in recent months the country has seen significant FDI windfalls from China, with investments now totalling over $4bn. Baiduri Bank is one of the leading banking groups in Brunei, and its CEO, Pierre Imhof, discusses the country’s continuing work to diversify its economy, how Baiduri Bank is participating in those efforts, and digitisation in Brunei’s financial services.

World Finance: Pierre, how urgent is Brunei’s need to diversify its economy?

Pierre Imhof: Oh, definitely it’s very urgent. As you rightly said, for many years the country was relying on the oil and gas income. Definitely it is something which is very important to the country. But it’s time now to move forward.

For example, there are bodies like DARE, Darussalam Enterprise, which is helping SMEs and the private sector to develop and diversify. There is another body, the Brunei economy development board, the role of which is to attract foreign direct investment, and as you mentioned earlier, you see more and more investments from abroad. Especially from China.

It’s good for Brunei that oil and gas prices have increased in the last few months, but I think there is now an awareness by everyone in Brunei that diversification is a must.

World Finance: How is Baiduri Bank participating in these efforts?

Pierre Imhof: We are working to develop products which are designed to help small companies to finance their working capital, to finance their acquisition of premises. But we have also other products which are not strictly related to financing.

For example, we have corporate credit cards – now you know even companies are doing a lot of payments online, so it’s important. For smaller companies which do not have always the means to have a full website, we have developed an app, MerchantSuite, to allow these companies to let their clients pay online.

We have mobile applications, we have internet banking of course; so, a lot of services going beyond pure financing.

World Finance: And on the retail side, how are you helping customers take control of their finances?

Pierre Imhof: It’s very important that for our retail clients we give them not only the expected services from a bank; but also advice, to make sure that our clients are well aware of what they can do and what they should do.

So for clients who have excess liquidity, who have some money to place: to advise them where to go, what to do, depending on their risk appetites. And we make sure that when we talk to our clients that they will not be in a situation of over-indebtedness.

But we go beyond that. We also have what we call a free financial assessment, where we provide to our clients some additional information or additional advice for them to know how to plan their retirement, how to finance the acquisition of a home. So, we are giving a lot of very personalised advice to our clients.

World Finance: And how is Brunei’s financial sector evolving along with the global trends in financial services?

Pierre Imhof: There is a real digital revolution all around the world. Now it affects the financial environment – all banks. And we are working in an environment in Brunei which is techno-savvy. So definitely the country is moving forward to good modernisation of the banking environment.

World Finance: And how is Baiduri Bank positioning itself in this context?

Pierre Imhof: Baiduri Bank wants to offer to its clients what they expect in terms of digital banking.

Definitely when it concerns banking transactions, it is very important that it is easy, fast, and simple. In that respect with the digitalisation that is what we want to achieve.

But we also want our clients to have access to more personalised and human advice: an account officer, a relationship officer, with whom they may talk, from whom they may get advice, either on the phone or physically in our branch network.

Digitalisation is great, but it has to go together with a personalised banking service.

World Finance: Pierre, thank you very much.

Pierre Imhof: You’re welcome, thank you.