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Best domestic bank: NDB Bank
|Dimantha Seneviratne, NDB Bank|
Best corporate and investment bank: NDB Investment Bank
|Darshan Perera, NDB Investmetn Bank|
Best international bank: HSBC
|Mark Prothero, HSBC|
Best for premium banking services: NDB Bank
NDB Bank, winner of the award for best bank in Sri Lanka, scoops this prize too, in recognition of its years of consistent effort, innovative thinking and fruitful labour. NDB’s premium banking service, Privilege Banking, has taken off in recent years. It opened three new dedicated centres in 2018, serving NDB’s 7,305 high net-worth customers – or anyone who maintains a deposit of more than SLRs5 million ($27,800) with the bank. Total HNW deposits rose 24% in 2018 to SLRs126 billion.
At one level, the numbers underscore the nascent state of premium banking in this south Asian island. But it is a business that will see strong growth in the years ahead thanks to the wealth generated by new corporate and institutional investors.
With HNW customers embracing premium-banking services, NDB Bank is finding new ways to hone and broaden its product offering. Its elite Privilege Select service, available to clients with more than SLRs20 million in deposits, includes wealth management and liability products in local and foreign currencies.
Its premium banking team told Asiamoney in Colombo in early 2019 that plans were already under way to further stratify its HNW customer base and to expand its product offering.
The Colombo-based lender also extends banking services to customers living outside Sri Lanka – mainly foreign nationals and retired professionals, resident in the likes of the US, UK, Australia and Canada.
Perhaps the biggest development in recent years was the launch in 2018 of ‘Shareek’, a range of premium Islamic banking services designed in accordance with Shariah law. NDB Bank is the first, and still the only, Sri Lankan lender to offer customized Shariah-compliant premium banking services onshore.
Best digital bank: People's Bank
|N Vasantha Kumar, People's Bank|
Digital banking in Sri Lanka is a work in progress. Several lenders in the private and public sectors are hard at work formulating pan-institutional digital platforms or bolting on new services, then proclaiming their effectiveness and pre-eminence.
This year, People’s Bank wins the award for best domestic digital bank. A venerable state-run institution that first opened in 1961, it is a colossus in its home market, with 745 branches and 14 million active customer accounts.
Some state banks, not just in Sri Lanka but around the world, neglect to invest properly in digital, preferring to lean on and leverage their physical presence. That is not the case for People’s Bank and its chief executive, N Vasantha Kumar.
At the end of 2018, the lender claimed to have 136 digital branches dotted around the country, staffed by 500 digital agents serving 165,000 digital customers. That’s a lot of digital.
It aims to more than double those figures this year, aided by an extra 500 digital marketing agents equipped with Wi-Fi-enabled tablets and sent out into the market to help customers embrace a paperless world. It claims to be able to open a digital bank account in just five minutes (down from two or three days previously) and to issue and activate debit cards in mere seconds.
Many older customers will surely be happy to stick with paper ledgers and physical tellers, but there is no doubt that People’s Bank is going all-in on digital, and for good reason – it has slashed error levels by 70% and boosted cross-selling rates by up to 60%.
In April 2018, the lender rolled out an updated mobile app that includes 33 new features. It was an immediate hit, downloaded 100,000 times in the three weeks after its launch. In total in 2018, 310,000 customers downloaded the app, which was used to complete one million financial and eight million non-financial transactions, cumulatively worth SLRs4 billion ($22 million).
Best bank for SMEs: Hatton National Bank
Hatton National Bank describes itself as a pioneer in small and medium-sized enterprise banking in Sri Lanka, and so it is. Most of the island’s lenders take the segment seriously, but no financial institution onshore does it as well, or as comprehensively.
Each year, HNB adds many new services that cater specifically to its clientele, and tweaks and improves a dozen more. HNB boasts 10 hubs for small enterprises dotted around the country, employing 39 dedicated relationship managers and serving 51,000 SMEs.
Small enterprises are the lifeblood of the lender. In the first nine months of 2018, SMEs accounted for 31% of bank-wide net interest income, 16% of deposits, and 32% of all loans, with term loans and overdrafts combining to make up 64% of the lending mix, followed by leases and development loans (both 11%).
When HNB announces an upgrade or a new service, you can be sure that serving its smaller corporate clientele is in the forefront of its thinking. So, having spent SLRs400 million ($2.2 million) on an upgraded e-banking platform that included a cash-management service tailored to large corporates, HNB adapted the offering to cater to its small business clients.
In 2018, under the leadership of managing director and chief executive Jonathan Alles, the bank issued an additional 485 business cards to small and medium-sized firms, and approved SME insurance to 94 clients, provided by HNB Assurance. It also introduced a matchmaking solution for exporters seeking to target the German market, leaning on a long-standing collaboration with the development agency GIZ. And it continues to plough money into developing SME-focused digital services.
A partnership with Colombo-based e-commerce provider Webxpay helps smaller firms move to the digital economy, while a new software solution, HNB Appy, helps smaller companies to set up their own customised app-based site.
Best bank for CSR: Hatton National Bank
Rare is the Sri Lankan lender that fails to take corporate social responsibility seriously. It often feels like CSR is hard-wired into the industry, although perhaps that should not come as a surprise.
Sri Lanka remains a relatively poor country and still bears the scars of a 26-year civil war that only ended in 2009. Money for schools and hospitals, not to mention the cost of improving financial literacy, is in short supply, and banks are in most cases more than happy to turn provider.
At the head of the pack in Sri Lanka this year is Hatton National Bank, one of the island’s biggest lenders, and its leading provider of services to small and medium-sized enterprises.
HNB is also a pioneer in CSR, and its drive to ensure a better future for all – not just its customers – starts from within. The bank measures its internal level of power consumption (in kilowatt hours) and carbon dioxide emissions (in kilogrammes). In the two years to the end of 2018, both fell by 35%, during which the number of branches powered by renewables rose by 32, to 69.
Its green pledge is a sprawling set of ambitions, ranging from an internal drive to reduce fuel consumption by more than 600 litres a day, to convincing staff to use more environmentally friendly forms of transport (such as walking).
It has joined up with the education ministry and the United Nations to create awareness among schoolchildren of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
It also runs a host of other projects including biodiversity classes, a drive to make people aware of the importance of organ donation and financial literacy courses in schools in economically deprived areas.