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The pandemic forces a traditional bank to operate in a new way

Driven by digital pressures, old banks are learning new tricks

Paul Siy is Chief Technology Officer of BDO Unibank, the largest commercial bank in the Philippines

Gavin Allen: What challenges has BDO faced over the past few years, and how have those challenges been met?

Paul Siy: It was very difficult in the beginning when we started during the pandemic. We did not really have any tools in terms of being able to provide digital services in terms of, let's say, working from home, or even providing our staff with the necessary capabilities so that they could work remotely.

We changed all that very quickly during the pandemic. We were able to deploy tools that will allow our people and our systems to be accessed remotely. We beefed up our digital banking capabilities so that our clients, if they choose to transact with us, either digitally or in the branch, can do that.

We built a new data center infrastructure. We allowed data to be replicated from one data center to another, which is very important. You have to make sure your data is preserved, whether it's running on data center A or data center B. And you could easily switch between those two areas once your application either goes down, or you want to switch quickly to another data center.

The other thing that we did was really beef up our digital banking capabilities. During the pandemic, we saw a large spike in the number of users using mobile banking. It probably went from the normal level to about two  to three times that in a span of weeks.

Gavin Allen:Through sheer necessity.

Paul Siy: Through necessity. Because of the pandemic, there was a lockdown. I think most cities, most countries experienced that. The only way you could transact was digitally.

Gavin Allen: So what productivity gains has all this enabled you to have as a bank?

Paul Siy: Well, one of the things that we recently deployed with Huawei was Wi-Fi. We have enterprise Wi-Fi in a lot of our locations. All of our users used to be connected via cable. Now, they can work more freely with the Wi-Fi that we put up with Huawei's help.

The other thing that we've done is, going back to the data center scenario, replicate databases from one data center to another without any lag. And that has really helped us.

A third project that we're working on now is moving our backups from the old traditional tape into storage media, which will allow us to really manage a lot of the risk and also have the ability to quickly backup and restore a lot of the data that we might need.

Gavin Allen: You've obviously really adapted to these changes and embraced them, and as a result, you’re giving a better service. Are you surprised that not all banks have been quite so agile?

Paul Siy: One of the things that I've always sort of prophesied was a change in culture.Frankly, in the four years that I've been at the bank, the first two years were really focused on changing the culture of the team and the way the team thinks. They have to accept change.

I mean, just look at what's happening in the technology world. With the implementation of AI, the speed at which technology is changing is just amazing. If you, as an organization, are not culturally adapted to change, you're going to have a very difficult time adapting to the changes in technology and to the changes in the world.

Gavin Allen: And what will AI do, do you think? That's clearly going to bring even more changes.

Paul Siy: One of the key things is putting more AI into the storage, into the networks that we purchase from Huawei. Maybe acquiring more adaptive capabilities in terms of looking at where the faults could be, where the problems might lie, or predictive analysis, so that if there are issues that could happen in the near future, the system would alert you.

In addition, we're looking at other ways that we can use AI. We're trying to build chatbots now that are very much conversational. You might think that you're talking to a person, when there’s actually an AI bot behind it. That holds a lot of promise.

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