HSBC Bank Malta has announced a shift in focus in the bank’s business strategy to ensure increased customer-engagement and empowerment, placing the client at the heart of the bank’s operations, according to Daniel Robinson, Head of Retail Banking and Wealth Management (RBWM) and Michel Cordina, Head of Commercial Banking (CMB).
The bank has recently emerged from a challenging 18-month period, in which de-risking and financial crime risk management were the priorities – with the aim of strengthening the institution and ensuring stability and long-term sustainability. Now, however, attention is being turned towards the clients’ needs and priorities.
“We are part of an amazing group which is strong, professional and with hundreds of years of experience,” Mr Cordina stated. “And in line with group strategy, the bank is entering a new chapter and is now focused in getting the bank to growth mode and improve ways of working.” Emphasising the importance of sustainable – and compliant – growth, Mr Cordina went on to specify that the bank’s main purpose is “connecting customers to opportunities, enabling local businesses to thrive and the Maltese economy to prosper.”
“We’ve got to help our clients grow,” continued Mr Robinson, noting the necessity of “having more conversations” as well as “exploring new avenues in which we can engage with them. We are focusing on designing the right propositions and products for our clients.” He pointed to HSBC Fusion – aimed at small business owners – as an example. Launched towards the end of last year, this service makes it easier for small and micro companies to manage their business and personal bank accounts through a single set of log-on credentials. It also provides access to a dedicated banker, available in each of the bank’s branches, thus offering these entrepreneurs greater support in the growth of their business. “The feedback we’ve got since launching is very positive,” Mr Robinson said. “We’re about to reach our first 1,000 clients, we’ll reach around 3,000 by the end of this year, and we’ll continue to grow.” He attributes this success to the physical and digital ease of access provided by the proposition.
Indeed, customer connectivity is a priority for the bank and is also one of the main deliverables for growth in CMB, according to Mr Cordina. He referred to the bank’s global network, providing access to expertise and specialized financial knowledge which can be leveraged “for Maltese business customers in such areas as project finance, foreign exchange, hedging, trade finance and global payments.”
The Head of CMB also referred to the investment being made in the upskilling of the business community, through events organized by HSBC Malta, such as the recent talk with HSBC Group’s renowned Global Head of FX research, David Bloom, who, together with leading local economist Dr Gordon Cordina, provided the bank’s business customers with a view on the changing face of global trade.
“There is a thirst for knowledge,” Mr Cordina emphasised. “And we will continue to work with our customers and strengthen our commercial banking relationships so that they can benefit first-hand from HSBC’s international expertise and commercial solutions.”
Mr Robinson explained that the priority for the bank is to “very thoughtfully and very overtly” re-engage back with their clients by “enabling our people to meet with them” by reducing the number of processes, improving the bank’s systems and providing the bank’s staff with the ability to approve actions, without many levels of authorisation. “This is not only about investment technology solutions, but sometimes it’s about giving a little more authority to where the knowledge is, which is in the customer-facing teams,” Mr Robinson added.
Moreover, empowering staff has also meant opening up the channels of communication internally and “reversing the flow of information”, according to Mr Robinson. A new scheme, launched at the end of last year, has put into practice this approach, with the bank’s employees having been invited to propose changes to processes and systems. This has resulted in over 100 changes in six months, with many more expected. Indeed, the bank has now selected two branches – on Merchants Street in Valletta and one in Mosta - to act as live test sites for any improvements suggested by staff, with the view of extending those changes to the bank’s entire network of branches. “Our role is to support and listen to what our staff want us to fix, not the other way around. We need to act upon their ideas because they frequently are the better ideas,” Mr Robinson asserted.
This respect for the bank’s team also extends to the commercial banking division. Mr Cordina emphasised the constant training and career development planning undertaken with his colleagues, who are also able to avail themselves of the educational opportunities offered by HSBC Group and HSBC University. “Our people are trained to become real professionals in anything they do”, Mr Cordina stated, going on to outline the various training initiatives on topics such as relationship management, customer service, credit risk, trade, financial crime, cyber security threats and GDPR, as well as “personal development skills in all areas of management and leadership.” Staff retention is a priority, with the bank even offering a pension plan, designed in collaboration with the Malta Union of Bank Employees (MUBE), which involves contributions from employees being matched by the bank.
Technology plays a pivotal role both in the redesigned corporate centre, as well as in the bank’s revamped processes and systems, even in the areas of Retail Banking and Wealth Management. “Technology is what makes people’s access to the bank easier,” Mr Robinson explained. “It puts the ownership in the hand of the client, allowing them to give you the information they want to give you.” Indeed, the bank has initiated online on-boarding for business customers and student accounts; online Know-Your-Client (KYC); a new wealth management questionnaire which assesses the client’s risk appetite; and a reduced dependency on paper with the introduction of greener soft copy initiatives. Moreover, HSBC Malta was also the first local bank to introduce contactless cards as well as Touch ID and Face ID, both of which are available on the HSBCnet platform and Personal Internet Banking, and the respective mobile banking apps.
“We’re putting the control back into the clients’ hands,” Mr Robinson stated. “This is not about developing applications for niche segments. Our focus is on what our clients want. They’re asking for control and for better and easier access and this is what the bank is doing.” Mr Robinson also referred to the videos produced by the bank as well as the its social media platforms, as examples of the ways in which it is trying to reach out to customers by keeping channels of communication open, with the aim of “helping our clients understand their banking needs.” Mr Cordina continued to elaborate on this by specifying that as a group, HSBC has invested over 2.3 billion dollars in technological innovations, which have also been implemented locally and been of benefit to Maltese business customers. “Such investment is also evidence of our commitment to the Malta business community and shows that we care for our customers,” the Head of CMB concluded.
The full version of this interview originally appeared in The Malta Business Observer