Q&A with UnionBank SEVP Ana Aboitiz-Delgado on Digital Transformation

Ana Aboitiz-Delgado is the Senior Executive Vice President (SEVP) and Chief Customer Experience Officer, as well as Chief Digital Channels Officer of UnionBank of the Philippines. UnionBank is the first to offer a fully digital banking experience in the country.  She is also one of the recipients of the 5th Mansmith Market Masters Awards for Senior Mentors, the first and only recognition for senior marketers not just for corporate performance but also for excellence in mentoring young marketers.  Following Union Bank’s successful transformation in the market, Ana tells us about her journey of making this forward-thinking vision come alive.  

Q1: At a time when most banks in the Philippines were expanding physical branches, UnionBank went all out into creating the digital channel. What pain points, both customers’ and company’s, did you intend to solve with this innovation?   

A1: As we saw a sharp rise in the use of digital channels and technology across all aspects of our lives, we became convinced that we needed to be the bank that would make banking fit most seamlessly into our customer’s digital lifestyles. For so many years people put up with long lines and waiting times at branches, limited branch hours, so many paper forms, unexplainable interbranch fees and so many more inconveniences that were the result of traditional banking constructs. We saw an opportunity to break away from that and redefine banking to be something that can uplift life and not get in the way. While we went all out and launched new digital apps and platforms that offer purely digital banking services, we also recognized that some customers still preferred physical experiences but did not want the hassles of traditional branches. We rethought the role of the branch and launched The Ark, our digitized branch format which makes banking at all our branches efficient, personalized and responsive to our customers needs and preferences.   

Q2: Other banks are sure to catch up with digitalization sooner than later, especially with the COVID pandemic situation hastening its development. What differentiation or even distinctiveness does UnionBank want to be known for in the digital banking industry?   

A2: Digitized services in banking has become a hygiene factor. Differentiation will mean providing customers products and services that are personalized for their specific needs. Much of what will make us distinct will be how we will do this at scale for millions of customers by combining innovative experience design and the use of artificial intelligence and data science .   

Q3. How have you leveraged the power of data in the digital channel?  

A3: The use of data and analytics is pervasive across our organization and is central to powering our digital business model. We use it in risk modelling, fraud prediction and prevention, collection optimization and in the personalization of marketing offers to name a few. The most powerful role data has played in our organization is in allowing us to deliver high touch experiences at scale. In the age of traditional banking, the number of customers you could provide high touch service to was limited by a bank’s branch network or how many bankers you had. With data and a well-designed digital platform we can now achieve high touch service delivery at scale without the limitations of a physical branch network. This model allows our bankers to focus on delivering great service to those that still prefer face to face banking, while we can still achieve personalized servicing to millions more on digital channels.    

Q4. What did you find most surprising in the changes in the consumer behavior in their shift from traditional banking to digital banking?   

A4: I was amazed at how quickly our customers adapted to the new way of doing things. Often times it takes people many years to change habits especially when it relates to high trust activities like banking. The sharp increase in adoption of digital over the last few years even prior to the pandemic gave us confidence that we made the right strategic choice to go digital and in focusing on removing the friction in banking experiences..    

Q5: How is emotional connection with digital clients achieved?   

A5: Our goal is to be the bank that customers love which requires us to connect to customers at a personal level. This means that we need to 1) ) understand customers needs deeply and solve real problems 2) be authentic and build the highest level of customer trust and 3) use human centered design to create customized products and services. We start with our customers’ needs first in order to understand the underlying pains, motivations and aspirations THEN we design the products, user interfaces and experiences around that. I always remind our teams- we must design intentionally and that means taking a step back at every stage of the design process to ask things like: ‘How can we make our customer lives easier at this moment in the journey? Or ‘How can we design out anything that’s creating pain or annoyance in the process?’ or when looking at errors they may encounter we ask ‘How can we lead a customer to the solution with the wording of our error message rather than just tell him he’s encountered an error which he already knows to begin with?’.    

Q6: How is team culture redefined in a digital-driven organization?  What is mentoring like under a digital culture?  

A6: What sets a digitally-driven organization apart from a non-digital one is its ability to deliver superior products and customer experiences as its main differentiator and it uses technology and a different way of thinking and working to achieve this. For an organization to be digital- driven it needs to have a clear purpose, be agile, experiment regularly, and empower its people to make values-centered decisions across the company. These pillars are key to ensuring that the organization can anticipate and respond to rapidly evolving customer preferences sustainably over time. Mentoring in this type of organization starts with accepting that the mentor won’t have all the answers and must learn, unlearn and relearn together with the team. Mentors need to make sure that there is a compelling vision for people to aspire toward and align to while keeping the teams adaptable on how to get there.   


Josiah Go is Chairman and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. 

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