The economy of the Dominican Republic has demonstrated impressive growth in recent times, averaging 5.1 percent annually during the decade between 2008 and 2018 (see Fig 1). Over the past five years, it was confirmed as the fastest-growing economy in the Latin America region. This expansion has helped to reduce poverty and expand the middle class, but not all citizens have benefitted equally from such growth.
Until relatively recently, many still lacked access to the basic financial services needed to ensure they benefitted from the advantages of this economic prosperity. Some of the country’s financial institutions, however, have worked hard to change this. Through new digital deployments, financial inclusion in the Dominican Republic has progressed substantially over the last few years.
One organisation in particular, Banco Popular Dominicano, has done more than most to ensure that individuals in the Dominican Republic have access to the relevant financial services. Founded more than 50 years ago, the bank has witnessed huge developments in the country’s economy.
The Dominican Republic has been on an upward trajectory for several decades, and Banco Popular Dominicano has been there every step of the way
After President Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship came to an end in 1961, the Dominican private sector developed quickly and, at the same time, commercial banking services expanded to provide the capital required to support the country’s economic growth. There have been dark times since, including a banking crisis in 2003, but every country’s economy has its peaks and troughs.
On the whole, however, the Dominican Republic has been on an upward trajectory for several decades, and Banco Popular Dominicano has been there every step of the way. From the very beginning, the bank has focused on the democratisation of banking solutions and implementing essential social initiatives. World Finance spoke to Francisco Ramirez, Executive Vice President of Personal Businesses and Branches at Banco Popular Dominicano, about how this ethos continues to drive the bank forward even as it pursues new digital innovations.
What digital products and services does Banco Popular Dominicano offer?
Banco Popular Dominicano has a wide range of digital products and services that allow our customers to interact with the bank to fulfil all their financial needs. Our mobile app – the most downloaded app in the Dominican financial sector – offers our customers a handful of digital solutions for their individual needs, making their day-to-day lives easier. Alongside the capabilities provided by our online banking services, we possess the most visited and best-positioned website in the country within the finance industry.
To better facilitate transactions, we have deployed the latest generation of smart ATMs, through which customers can make online withdrawals and deposits, as well as pay their loans and credit card bills with either cash or funding from their accounts. This is a highly convenient and efficient process. We have also opened digital channels where customers can give us their opinions and suggestions or request additional information.
How have customers reacted to new digital deployments?
On the whole, customers have reacted very positively to our new digital technologies. Today, more than 80 percent of our transactions are digital and more than 50 percent of our clients are using our digital platforms. Moreover, according to the research we have gathered from various client surveys, our digital capabilities are our most valued attributes.
Our new digital centre, launched in September 2018, has continued to strengthen our digital leadership in the Dominican Republic’s banking sector, keeping us in line with the latest international trends. The digital centre brings a new concept of banking to the country, including more modern service solutions. It encourages the use of self-service channels among our clients and functions as a platform to launch technological innovations, as well as serving as a laboratory from which we will continue to strengthen our leadership. The centre, which incorporates an educational space that hosts talks on personal finance, industry trends and innovation, has been well received by our customers.
What are some of the main challenges the bank has faced when trying to engage in digital transformation?
Changing the habits and mindsets of our clients so that they are aligned with digital developments has been one of our main challenges. Also, we must continue to deepen our innovation culture, technological infrastructure and cybersecurity protocols so we can rapidly deliver innovative products, channels and services better suited to our customers’ changing needs.
What is the current state of financial inclusion in the Dominican Republic? Has it improved in recent years?
According to the World Bank’s Global Findex database, in 2017, the Dominican Republic surpassed the Latin American average for financial inclusion, with 56 percent of Dominicans over 15 years old possessing a bank account. This represents tangible growth in comparison with 2011, when this figure stood at just 38 percent.
How important is sustainability to Banco Popular Dominicano?
Since we opened in 1964, Banco Popular Dominicano has been committed to creating positive change in banking for the benefit of all Dominicans and the environment. As the largest privately owned bank in the country, we feel it is our duty to play a prominent role in creating a more sustainable world.
That’s why we have decided to take part in the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, a global partnership between the United Nations and the global financial sector, which aims to build a sustainable future through the principles of responsible banking. We are the first Dominican bank – in fact, the first in the Caribbean region – to join this initiative, and we are very proud to do so.
What are some of the bank’s key CSR programmes and what benefits have they delivered to the Dominican people?
Banco Popular plays an important role in promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, with our work being recognised by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as falling into its ‘nationally appropriate mitigation actions’ category. This acknowledges our efforts to mitigate CO2 emissions and is the first Dominican environmental project to appear on the international registry of the United Nations.
We have 11,255 solar panels installed on the roofs and parking lots of our 54 offices, and we were the first Dominican institution to generate solar energy for consumption. Recently, we also installed our first photovoltaic charging station – a pilot unit that was launched in May 2019 and allows for the recharging of electric and hybrid vehicles using solar energy. We offer this facility for free to the bank’s customers and visitors.
In addition, for two decades we have been supporting Plan Sierra, the most important sustainable forest management programme in the country, through which our employees are actively participating in reforestation – a vital initiative for the island’s sustainability.
Internally, we promote a culture of responsibility in our employees, encouraging recycling and introducing ecological and recycled paper for our operations. There are already departments that have considerably reduced their consumption of paper and have started transferring all their operations to digital formats. Our model of digital transformation is a key driver for sustainability.
How does the bank encourage entrepreneurialism in the country?
Innovation is a core aspect of our operations. We remain committed to this approach by offering innovative products and services that suit our customers’ needs. Our agile digital banking model and advanced financial facilities support this drive.
We encourage an entrepreneurial culture throughout the country via several programmes. One of them is Challenge Popular, a design marathon in which participants are tasked with producing the best proposals for services or products during an intense 48-hour creative process. Another is Impúlsate Popular, a competition that seeks to encourage young entrepreneurs to grow their innovative projects and grants them access to seed capital for their business initiatives. Last year, we also launched a programme to support SME clients that want to become franchises or acquire an established franchise.
We also have Banquero Joven Popular, a CSR initiative that seeks to educate schoolchildren about the function of ethical and sustainable banking while improving their financial education, entrepreneurship and leadership skills.
What plans does Banco Popular Dominicano have for the next few years?
In our 55 years of activity, we have earned the trust of the Dominican people through the introduction of initiatives that add value to their lives. Our focus in this area has led us to develop and maintain innovative financial services that achieve a better user experience and more memorable customer service.
In the coming years, Banco Popular Dominicano will continue to focus on stimulating digital sales, improving digital experiences, promoting innovation, transforming traditional branches and strengthening cybersecurity, all while adhering to our model of responsible banking.