Digital banking in Central America: making it personal

Even before the pandemic struck, BAC Credomatic had big plans for digitalisation, but the events of 2020 became the catalyst for technology to give banking the human touch


As the biggest banking group in Central America, with operations throughout the region, it is unsurprising that BAC Credomatic would lead the way in digital penetration for banking in the area. With a key customer base of individuals and SMEs, however, COVID-19 hit the region with no less force than anywhere else, and while technology and innovation remained vital, so too was retaining the personal feel people also needed in the midst of a pandemic.

Say ‘digital banking’ and you will likely think of mobile and online banking platforms. In fact, digital banking requires a complete transformation of all activities, programmes and roles, the automatisation of all banking processes, and the digitalisation of middleware, in order to get the different tools and systems to exchange information. In the banking industry, the transformation from traditional towards digital banking has been shaped by new technologies such as the cloud, big data and artificial intelligence.

These new technologies have forced the industry to improve customer experience in order to retain clients while staying ahead of the game. This means creating high-value digital services, ensuring their viability, and optimising their efficiency and profitability. The risk of not doing so is to alienate a client base in a region that still has problems with financial inclusion and a high proportion of unbanked populations.

At BAC Credomatic, therefore, the focus has been on listening to customers, monitoring customer interaction through digital platforms, and pivoting and adjusting the customer experience in order to make it simpler and more accessible. These efforts to streamline internal processes and improve their platforms have allowed the company to make great leaps in its digital adoption indicators.

BAC Credomatic’s digital customer penetration grew by almost 10 percent between 2019 and 2020 (from 33 percent to 42 percent). Over 1.6 million customers access its services via digital platforms every month, and four out of five do so through its mobile platform. Of course, the unavailability of banking in-branch accelerated this adoption more than it would have if the pandemic had not struck, but BAC Credomatic always intended to develop and innovate in this way.


Customer-driven innovation
Constant innovation is a strategic priority for all forward-thinking banks, and in fact the journey towards a more digital and customer-centric organisation began in 2017. The aim is to offer solutions that although complex from a behind-the-scenes perspective, actually make the customer experience seamless and straightforward, driven by a strategy focused on what customers in the region actually need.
Its digital banking platforms are not simply a by-product of that digital transformation.

The bank also made great progress with its customer service channels, which ensured customer interactions were smooth and agile

Robust online and mobile banking platforms allow customers to carry out virtually any type of transaction, but the bank has also taken the digital transformation to its physical assets. This led to branches being redesigned to emphasise relational banking and create well-thought-out spaces for self-servicing, meaning customers still have a physical place to bank should they wish, but are given more autonomy and convenience while doing so. The bank also made great progress with its customer service channels, which ensured customer interactions were smooth and agile.

Once COVID-19 took hold, social distancing measures were implemented that put the new digital platforms to the test. Fortunately, some of the digital transformation efforts that had been ongoing for years were prioritised throughout the pandemic, allowing the bank to take immediate action. Like many other organisations worldwide, BAC Credomatic leaned heavily on WhatsApp, and although servicing through this platform was already in place, it predictably skyrocketed last year given its accessibility to customers.


BAC has your back
The pandemic is clearly having a significant impact on people’s spending, saving and credit usage in all regions, and Central America is no exception. As a socially responsible financial entity, BAC Credomatic has the duty to support their customers throughout the crisis that we face globally. For this reason, BAC Credomatic implemented several financial relief measures in all the countries where it operates. From Guatemala to Panama, these measures took into account each country’s individual situation, while safeguarding the local operations’ solvency, risk appetite, and business continuity. For individual clients, measures included delaying payment of instalments for personal and home loans for various months and delaying payment of credit card debt.

These measures were applied across the board, no questions asked. Additionally, the bank offered customers exclusive benefits for essential purchases such as those made in supermarkets, pharmacies, hospitals and clinics. Offering tailored relief measures for its personal and corporate banking customers based on each client’s particular situation as well as for specific countries’ needs allowed the bank to individualise its response to the pandemic while further securing its reputation as the region’s leading financial institution. The measures were communicated to clients directly via email, on the website, and through BAC’s customer service channels. Its chatbot was amended to make sure frequently asked questions regarding the COVID-19 relief measures were easily accessible to all customers.

Customer responses to the pandemic have been varied, but there was of course definite concern around financial wellbeing. Perhaps surprisingly in a year where unemployment rose worldwide, BAC Credomatic’s experience was that most people turned from using credit to using their debit cards. This creates a challenge for a bank trying to maintain its margins, and these changes in customer behaviour led it to build a personal finance manager (PFM) for its clients, which will be released shortly.

Even though these relief measures are substantial, the bank maintained all liquidity indicators within a desirable range. Needless to say, financial risk indicators are being monitored constantly to ensure that the bank can continue providing the support that its customers need during these trying times, while ensuring the solvency and continuity of its operations.


Instant engagement
Pioneering digital banking in a region with a growing middle class and against a backdrop of global connectivity and instant-access information requires agility and responsiveness. Brand awareness in a noisy online world is vital, and banks of all stripes have increasingly been engaging customers digitally and by other means to gain a competitive advantage in the market. At BAC Credomatic, this means actively listening to the needs of customers, using an experience management platform called Medallia.

This allows businesses to stay in tune with their brand strengths and weaknesses with regards to processes, products and services, and obtain feedback and opinions directly from the customers themselves. Having this platform allows BAC Credomatic to react to customer needs in a timely manner and to design solutions that are built with a customer-centric perspective. In addition, it allows it to develop strategic tools that add value and diversify its services and digital platforms in order to offer customers a seamless experience.

Understanding customer needs allows the bank to create new platforms that not only improve the customer experience with the bank, but also allows its corporate customers to grow their businesses in turn, generating a positive impact on the region as a whole. In the early 2000s, BAC Credomatic was the first financial entity in the region to offer a mobile banking app. It was also the first to offer NFC payments with tokenised credit cards through a banking app. Coupled with extraordinary contactless penetration within merchants of all sizes, BAC Credomatic offers completely cardless and contactless experiences.


Musical outreach
During the pandemic, various industries pivoted and adapted in order to not only retain but delight their clients, and BAC Credomatic implemented a number of innovations to do just this. One initiative that was mobilised in record time was a programme called ‘momentos online’: a series of concerts featuring local artists in five of the six countries where it operates, streamed live via Facebook and Instagram. Another successful initiative saw a webinar series targeted to supporting SMEs as they navigated the emergency situation and pivoted to keep their businesses afloat. These initiatives have been very well received by customers, with close to 6,000 social media mentions related to momentos online throughout the pandemic, 96 percent of which were positive comments.

As banking adapts to the new reality it faces throughout the world, BAC Credomatic will surely continue leveraging its regional scale in each of the six countries where it operates, promoting the use of digital channels but always prioritising the wellbeing of its clients and employees. Here is an organisation that is making every effort to keep its customers at the centre of every initiative it undertakes.

Constantly researching the markets means the bank understands its customers’ behaviour in order to find solutions that appeal to and resonate with them. Looking forward, the bank will resume sending a UX team out to the field on a weekly basis to get customers’ input on new products and prototypes, which will yield extremely valuable results.

These insights lead the bank to adjust its language to make its products crystal clear for all customers. The institution is excited to give its customers a voice to express their opinions, which will be added to the 40,000 customers regionally who already provide feedback every month. BAC Credomatic can use this information to improve the digital experience even further. Technology is an enabler, but the customer will always dictate the clearest path to follow.