Who would have thought…? Just over three years ago before the world was caught up in the vortex of the COVID-19 pandemic, Barbadians were being criticised for their high degree of disinterest in the delivery of and use of services and products via online transactions.
Even with the widespread placement of automatic banking machines (ABMs) there still existed a great desire to undertake in-bank transactions even if it meant standing in line for exceedingly long periods.
Companies were literally begging Barbadians to make the switch from monthly paper bills in their postboxes to digital bills in their email inboxes.
What we are witnessing today is a paradigm shift in the relationship between consumers and business entities. The demand for digital services has now shifted to the consumer who now expects that business operators will have at a minimum an online presence where customers and potential consumers can interact.
The pandemic conditions that required self-isolation and restricted interactions even among loved ones, resulted in a 180 degree turn in our attitudes to virtual interactions.
Though there is an admission that aspects of the pandemic experience were not ideal, such as online education which has been blamed for a deterioration in the quality of educational services, the same cannot be said about the digital transformation in business.
Interestingly, there are many Barbadians who can attest to not venturing inside a banking institution since 2020 when in-bank services were severely curtailed.
Young and older customers of banks and other financial institutions have a greater appreciation for the value and convenience of ABM machines and online banking.
CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank, one of the leading financial institutions in the Caribbean, without a doubt has led the way in the digital transformation of the local banking landscape.
Its introduction of smart ABMs across the country, for example, facilitated quicker cheque deposits and access to the funds of those deposits and a host of other services.
Its branded 1st Pay facility lets its customers instantly send money locally using just the payee’s email address or cell phone number restricts the need for cash and it has become one of the hottest digital financial tools.
The other commercial banks and credit unions are also stepping up their game as consumers, once exposed to the benefits and conveniences of digital transactions, are increasingly demanding those services from financial institutions.
It was, therefore, an exciting time for business in Barbados when Sagicor, a company that emerged from our soil almost two centuries ago, became the first bank to offer its services exclusively on a digital platform.
There are no branches. Becoming a client is executed completely online, though it includes all the regulatory and compliance requirements expected of a reputable financial institution.
This is the kind of development in our fintech landscape that will assist with the ease of doing business in Barbados. People want more services, they do not want to waste time, and an enterprise is likely to lose the younger demographic of the market if you require them to turn up at a physical location to do business with you every time.
Sagicor Bank (Barbados) Limited chief executive officer George Thomas told the media in a recent interview that the institution deliberately pursued an exclusively digital business model based on what the market was demanding.
“Standing in lines, and also the heavy fees and so on, is something that as Sagicor did its market research, were some main pain points that stood out.
“Reflecting on what was the best way to come to market, it was determined that you want to give a structure that deals with those pain points and gives an elegant experience to the clients. Also, it’s very secure and safe. So that was really the thrust behind creating Sagicor Bank,” he stated.
As was discovered by businesses across all sectors on the island, the digital world can be very dangerous as hacking and ransomware attacks are an unfortunate aspect of the digital landscape.
As with the brick and mortar enterprises, the digital business sector requires a heavy investment in security against intruders and those who come to rob and cause disruption.