Last year in May, managing director of Ansa Commercial Bank Robert Le Hunte told Newsday that he had the formula for taking the bank to the next level.
He said the formula was simple – have a proper proposition, have a good plan and invest in the right people.
Some nine months later and people can see the formula in practice, despite the bank posting a $9 million loss in the last financial year.
In an interview with Business Day, Le Hunte said the bank has proven itself over the past nine months by growing its customer base and sales significantly.
Now with the bank making investments it is ready to take the lead in digital banking and to promote and teach the country about “digital-first thinking" with a re-launch in the middle of the year.
Despite posting the loss, Le Hunte said he was quite comfortable with the results of the efforts of the bank over the past financial year.
“When you look at the results of the nine-month period, we have done very well.”
“We tripled the numbers of customers that we had as a bank. We increased the number of loans and advances that we have been giving to our customers, by as much as 250 per cent; and we have done a tremendous job of managing our delinquent loan portfolio – bringing it down from about 17 or 18 per cent to the vicinity of five per cent.”
He said despite the challenges of last year the bank’s progress would have shown that Ansa Bank was one of the fastest growing banks.
“We all know the challenging environment that we had to work in last year, with covid19, a state of emergency. We also had to hire new staff to run a new institution.”
Le Hunte said two major factors contributed to their loss over the last financial year, which he considered one-off items.
He said the bank had to make some additional provisions for what was considered buffers which were put in place against inherited loans from its takeover of Bank of Baroda last April. That totalled about $6.5 million.
The bank also spent another $5 million on IT fees that had to be paid to the Bank of Baroda.
“In absence of those two fees we would have been showing a profit,” he said.
But the bank is ready to focus on the future, and that future is digital, Le Hunte said.
“A lot of products and services that you see elsewhere, they are not able to be provided here in TT,” he said. “So we went about purchasing and investing in a lot of technology – investing over $100 million more into the bank so as to improve our technology to allow us to launch what I would consider a brand new digitally-driven bank.”
He said the venture of turning the bank digital also contributed to losses but believed that with the older infrastructure of the former Bank of Baroda needing to be replaced, it was the perfect time to get the technology to re-invent the bank and its processes.
“We had the opportunity because we are a small bank and we had to buy brand new technology from start to finish. We were able to go out to the market and get the leading and most cutting-edge technology in commercial banking and digital banking and put them together to try to eliminate as much of the pain points that the customer experience.”
But he said going digital is not just about installing technology. He said there should be a culture of digitisation. He said everyone from the board of directors to the tellers would have to have the same obsession with digitisation.
“You have to have an obsession with trying to find lifestyle approaches for your customers. You have to have an obsession with data collection and technology. Those are the things that come together to make a digital culture in an organisation.”
Le Hunte said the difference between Ansa Bank and other banks will be this digital-first thinking, which along with the technology would serve to treat all the pain points of banking such as long lines and long waiting hours.
How will this differ from the digital banking systems in other banks?
Le Hunte said its technology and know-how will be stiff competition for traditional banks and their legacy technology systems.
“There is a saying that goes, you cannot put lipstick on a pig,” Le Hunte said. “Basically that is the problem with a lot of the banks, their systems work on a lot of old technology. A lot of it has been around for years. What some banks attempt to do is take that technology and put new digital technology on top of that. When you do that the system itself is not digital from end-to-end.”
“A lot of the banks are giving you a digital face to what you are doing but the processing of what you are doing in the back end is still being done manually.”
“From time to time the two technologies that you put together do not interphase right, and that is where you would have some of the problems.”
He said while technology is there for bankers to do some things, it is just a hassle to get it done in traditional banks because of their legacy systems.
“What we are going to put in place are the mechanisms and the constant updates so that we could understand the approaches so we would always be geared to dealing with you as a customer and making sure that your experience with the bank continues to be beneficial.”
He said one of the differences between Ansa Bank and others would be that it will have a state-of-the-art contact centre which would be available for longer hours. Another difference is that the bank’s staff would be trained in managing the new digital systems and would be able to help customers get acclimatised.
“You will still have the option to come into the bank but you will be able to spend less of your time and gas money by being able to communicate with us via telephone and technology. Your phone will now become your branch.”
The digital drive will also assist its customers in the agricultural and SME sectors. Le Hunte said that because one of the key founders Anthony Sabga was a small business owner who through his business savvy was able to grow the business into the major group that it is today, the bank has a soft spot for the small businessman.
“We are working on a number of ideas,” Le Hunte said. “We are looking at developing a small business incubator that would help small businesses.”
He said the key to helping small businesses is being able to help them make the right decisions, and the bank will tool itself and its staff with the technology and know how to guide small businesses.
“What differentiates success from failure in small business is not just money. It is guidance and mentorship.”
“It is showing and helping people in need to make the right decisions. We plan to set up our small business unit that is geared to helping and developing sustainable banking. The small business sector is going to be key.”
Getting the job done
Although the bank intends to use digitisation to provide the best results for its customers soon, Le Hunte said its recent successes were not because of its new-age tech. He said it was because of the right mix of people that were willing to get the job done.
“We provide what we like to consider at Ansa Bank as no-frills banking.”
“We have a culture of getting it done.”
He said although new technology and systems were the mechanisms that would promote the digital-first banking module that Ansa Bank intends to follow, at its core, the digital-first thinking is highly dependent on people.
“We have a young dynamic team that, when you come to Ansa Bank, the objective is not to say we can’t, but to find out how can I make something happen, and we go through that process.”
He said a lot of the success the bank has seen thus far is because of its young, energetic team of people that deal with customers in a forthright manner.
He added that along with the youth and energy of the staff there was also the wisdom and knowledge of the senior staff.
“We have as our chairman Mr David Dulal-Whiteway who has experience having been a former CEO of Republic Bank, we have Mr Larry Howai, a former Minister of Finance on our board.”
Le Hunte also has a wealth of experience as managing director of some banks and banking subsidiaries, from Barbados to Ghana.
“With that combination, we have been able to attract a number of customers.”
“Admittedly they are still not yet getting that A-1 grade technological service, but they have decided to stay with us as they continue to bank.”