Swiss Banks Proven to be Innovative and Adaptable Amid COVID-19

Switzerland

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Though often perceived by the general public as sluggish, slow and not very innovative, Swiss banks have shown that that are capable of reacting swiftly and flexibly in times of crisis, according to a new paper by industry trade group the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA).

In a new paper titled How does the COVID-19 pandemic accelerate digitalisation?, the SBA analyzes how Swiss banks have reacted to the crisis, highlighting how quick they were to switch internal structures and processes to guarantee the continuation of their services to customers at the usual level of quality at all times.

According to the paper, despite the pandemic and the resulting lockdown, Swiss banks have remained reliable in fulfilling their economic role and, through the SME loan program, have quickly and pragmatically provided the economy with liquidity.

By adopting digital processes and leveraging technologies and tools such software robots (RPAs), banks were able to process loan applications and grant credit in a swift and timely manner. Institutions such as Credit Suisse, for example, were able to offer their customers a digital workflow with increased control possibilities for the COVID-19 loans within four to five days, the paper notes.

Not only have these new methods and processes allowed Swiss banks to become more efficient and reduce the error rate, customers also appear to be enjoying the experience they’re having with the new digital financial services that were made inevitable in the wake of the crisis.

According to the paper, acceptance of such services significantly increased amid COVID-19, with digital account openings at UBS surging by 82% compared to the same period last year, and the number of e-banking logins jumping by an average of one quarter compared with the same period in the previous year.

Banking post-COVID-19: the new normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how important digitalization is for the Swiss economy, and will have a long-term impact on the banking industry, acting as a catalyst for digitalization, the paper says.

With awareness sharpened and acceptance increasing, digital channels and processes will become the new normal. In this new context, it is essential that banks and the authorities capitalize on the milestones achieved and take advantage of customers’ rising demand for digital products to further digitalize the financial sector, it says.

Though the long-term consequences of COVID-19 cannot yet be assessed conclusively, the SBA highlights six major trends rapidly emerging in the sector, which the organization believes will only accelerate in the near future.

In particular, the SBA forecasts that banks will further increase their speed and scope with regards to developing digital processes without media discontinuity (i.e. having to switch between different media within the same process of information processing or acquisition).

The SBA also predicts that customer demand for financial products and services delivered through digital channels will only increase in the near future, thanks to their positive experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The use of cash as a means of payment will continue to decline, and with e-commerce booming and demand for omnichannel experiences on the rise, new and innovative cashless payment methods will emerge and continue to gain traction.

The paper notes that since the start of the lockdown, contactless payments, especially online payments, have increased significantly with UBS recording a 32% jump in contactless payments for the stationary retail segment in March 2020.

Payment services provider Twint reported a large increase in users during the crisis, recording a 50% growth in the number of transactions and over 11,000 new merchants signing up since the beginning of the year.

Another trend the SBA believes will accelerate is “smart working.” Experience during the lockdown has shown that both operational efficiency and resilience can be improved by enabling people to work remotely, the paper says.

With the digitalization of the economy expected to accelerate, investments in high quality and secure digital infrastructures is therefore forecasted to increase.

Finally, public services will follow suit and greater digitalization of the government services (e-government) will take place. The Swiss Federal Council’s eGovernment Strategy Switzerland 2020-2023 kicked off in January this year, and will seek, among other goals, to make digital channels the first choice when contacting the public administration.

Featured image credit: Unsplash and Freepik

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