Digital Banker of the Year
How one Philippine bank CEO is transforming traditional banking in the country
3 Mar 2020 | The Asset
Innovate or die. That was the key message being told to Edwin Bautista, president and CEO of UnionBank, when the bank’s management team met with consultants several years ago. Operating in the highly competitive market of the Philippines where brick and mortar banking had been the traditional norm, the thought of increasing engagement with customers through digital channels back in 2015 felt like an unnecessary venture.
Nonetheless, for Bautista and his team it was a chance to reflect and future-proof their business resulting in the creation of the bank’s digital transformation journey. “We were looking at the other industries which were being disrupted by technology and told ourselves that we needed to make a change,” recalls Bautista.
Instrumental in driving change across the organization from then until now, Bautista based his philosophy of his transformation journey on one factor: the customer experience. “We pursued an aggressive digital transformation journey. It has to be anchored on customer centricity. The concept was that if we were able to deliver the best customer experience then we should be able to have a key competitive advantage moving forward,” explains Bautista.
Specifically, the bank devised several phases of transformation for the bank starting with first looking at enhancing the bank’s current core system and implementing an agile structure across the organization to finally arrive at commercialization and monetization of the bank’s digital initiatives. Despite it being a challenge, Bautista and his team were able to shift the mindset of the bank and enhance most of its systems in just three years.
However, reshaping traditional banking wasn’t the only item on Bautista’s mind as he also allocated resources of the bank towards creating UBX, the bank’s ambitious technology and innovation company aimed at experimenting and developing new types of products and platforms. For Bautista, the establishment of UBX was an insurance policy for the bank going into the future. “If the world moves into platforms, I would rather own the platform or be a dominant player in that platform,” shares Bautista.
Nevertheless, with every transformation there are always concerns and worries about the path ahead. This was something Bautista had to manage with his employees during the initial stages of the change, with some even fearing that their jobs would be lost due to additional digitalization. As a result, Bautista adopted a company policy of leaving no one behind when it comes to digitalization, encouraging his colleagues instead to be willing to learn new skills and better themselves. In fact, Bautista pleasantly reveals that the whole digitalization effort actually led to the creation of 190 types of jobs.
“For us, our promise that no one gets left behind in our digital transformation is non-negotiable. To use an analogy, what we mean here is that there is a reserved seat for each UnionBanker on the train of digital transformation. All a UnionBanker has to do is show up (and be) on-time,” explains Bautista.
In his three-year span at the helm of UnionBank, Bautista was able to achieve a number of technological milestones for the bank from growing digital account openings, to establishing blockchain-based cross-border remittance and supply chain solutions. One landmark project for UnionBank was Project i2i, a retail payment network for rural banks in the Philippines that has attracted the attention of 100 financial institutions so far and aims to change the way smaller banks interact with each other in the country.
Despite the lengthily list of product achievements, Bautista is equally proud of being able to drive mindset change at the bank. “Once we show that these buckets of digital products benefit the overall digital transformation then we can convince the rest of the organization to adopt it,” Bautista says.
Going forward, Bautista looks to the future with enthusiasm as he looks to reshape banking in the Philippines. “It’s about customers and user experience, it’s a chance for us to be a top player in a different battleground. That is why we embraced this digital transformation 100%,” Bautista highlights.   
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