For the past four years, Tanjil Chowdhury has led Prime Bank, one of the most reputed and renowned banks in Bangladesh, with a visionary approach dedicated to reshaping the financial industry towards a transformative future. In this insightful conversation, he elaborates on his strategic vision for the times ahead.
Please elaborate on your aspiration to position Prime Bank as a preferred banking choice for the next generation.
Prime Bank’s goal is to provide banking solutions for every household. While traditionally, we have been very corporate-heavy, we are now committed to providing comprehensive banking services for individuals. Our core priorities remain the same. We will continue to focus on financial risk management, diversity, equity, inclusion, and achieving net zero carbon emissions. We are constantly trying to reduce our carbon footprint by being strategic about the types of investments we are making.
The next generation of bankers are millennials and Gen Z, the largest age group in Bangladesh. Prime Bank is well aware that this demographic prefers mobile payment methods, automation, and empowerment, so we are creating a digital roadmap aligned with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) who has been mandated to guide this transformation. We are strengthening our ATM infrastructure and increasing development to take the lead of Cash Recycling Machines (CRM). These will reduce queues and waiting time at the bank and clients will get the choice to avail deposit and withdrawal services through these smart machines. Digital banking applications and our native FinTechs are crucial for supporting this.
Banks must be able to integrate solutions both in the front and the back end of digital platforms to engage with the next generation of consumers in a meaningful way. This is why we have overhauled our digital banking app, MyPrime. Our strategy is to onboard every new client through a new electronic Know Your Consumer (eKYC) system and offer tailored services. Our clients will receive curated services with just the touch of a button, and as more features and automation are integrated into MyPrime, our customers will be financially empowered. Prime Pay, which is a web interface for corporate clients, is being upgraded to provide enhanced services such as L/C openings, cheque issuing, blockchain transfers and supply chain financing. We have also opened a 24/7 trade desk and added factoring to our service solutions.
How would you describe the current state of the banking industry, and how do you perceive digitalisation influencing the sector?
In a culture that values instant gratification, there has been a dramatic shift in how banks and financial institutions engage with customers. The key to effectively reaching and communicating with these customers is quick service integrated with technology.
The introduction of digital banks is reshaping the industry, creating a level playing field for everyone. While there is some apprehension from traditional and new banks, customers overall stand to benefit. Increased competition among financial institutions is leading to a pursuit of loyalty, ultimately improving the customer experience.
Governance has become a key issue during this time. Recognising that a lack of governance and compliance has hindered banks from progressing, there is a noticeable shift towards better governance standards and more inclusive banking practices. The traditional approach to banking, including risk management, needs to be revisited in this digital-heavy ecosystem to align with the evolving needs and expectations of customers.
BANKS MUST BE ABLE TO INTEGRATE SOLUTIONS BOTH IN THE FRONT AND THE BACK END OF DIGITAL PLATFORMS TO ENGAGE WITH THE NEXT GENERATION OF CONSUMERS IN A MEANINGFUL WAY. THIS IS WHY WE HAVE OVERHAULED OUR DIGITAL BANKING APP, MYPRIME.
What innovations do you see reshaping the banking industry?
Prime Bank has been a pioneer in introducing innovations such as digital account opening, digital nano loan services, and gold financing. Looking ahead, there is anticipation of integrating emerging technologies not only at Prime Bank but across the banking industry. This includes the convergence of virtual assistants, quantum computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the rise of Decentralised Finance (DeFi), involving peer-to-peer financial services on public blockchains. These technologies are expected to create transparency and security in transactions, reshaping the banking experience profoundly.
There is already a noticeable shift with core banking systems embracing cloud banking. This revolutionary move enables banks to be more flexible with their services. While traditionally, banks solely determined a client’s creditworthiness, those quick to recognise that consumer empowerment is imperative in this changing landscape are expected to succeed. Financial education is also emerging as a crucial aspect, and banks incorporating financial learning into their services are likely to experience better customer engagement.
In alignment with these trends, Prime Bank is working towards offering bundled services, recognising the challenges of encouraging customers to download multiple apps for various needs. The focus is on providing a one-stop solution through collaboration with various technologies across different platforms. Additionally, wealth management, especially for Gen Z and Millennials, is an untapped market with significant potential. Prime Bank aspires to transition into a new banking structure, positioning consumer and retail banking fully within a digital ecosystem through a comprehensive super app.
What is your vision for developing a financially inclusive society, and what role do you think Prime Bank is ready to play to ensure that?
Prime Bank has made significant strides in promoting financial inclusivity, particularly with the introduction of our early wage access loan. This fully AI-based loan incorporates a dynamic alternative credit scoring system developed through extensive collaboration with our partners. Through the application of AI, we have successfully engaged with customers in previously untapped segments. This initiative has allowed us to venture into markets we hadn’t considered before, focusing on providing loans of various sizes and durations. We initiated this effort with customers in the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) sector, tailoring the product to the specific needs of RMG workers with small loan amounts ranging from 5000 to 10,000 taka for short durations. Encouragingly, we observed a remarkable 99.9% repayment rate, indicating the success of our approach.
Moreover, Prime Bank is actively promoting diversity and inclusion within its workforce. We are committed to engaging and employing differently-abled individuals and those with special needs. In addition, Prime Bank has pioneered solutions tailored for women, led by a dedicated team focused on empowering women entrepreneurs. This effort goes beyond mere symbolism, as we engage in critical analysis to understand and address the specific needs of women in banking. Looking ahead, our digital banking solutions aim to extend our network into remote areas of Bangladesh traditionally underserved by orthodox banking channels. This ongoing effort aligns with our vision to be the bank for all, reaching not only the affluent and educated but also those in minority groups, underprivileged individuals, and inaccessible regions.
ONE OF THE REASONS PRIME BANK HAS BEEN SO SUCCESSFUL IS ITS RECEPTIVENESS TO CHANGE. BUILDING ON STRONG FUNDAMENTALS AND LEARNING FROM PREDECESSORS, THE BANK HAS POSITIONED ITSELF FOR THE NEXT PHASE OF THE BANKING INDUSTRY.
What advice would you like to give future bankers entering the industry in the coming years?
I would encourage individuals from all disciplines to consider joining the banking industry, without limiting entry to those with a finance or economics background. The evolving banking environment welcomes people with various skill sets, and there is no specific requirement regarding socioeconomic or academic backgrounds. What matters most is on-the-job experience.
It is crucial to have a younger workforce leading the way in adapting to technology. The natural shift towards technology adoption will be spearheaded by the youth, taking over from the more seasoned bankers who will eventually retire. This generational change is expected to act as a catalyst for embracing new technologies and approaches.
One of the reasons Prime Bank has been so successful is its receptiveness to change. Building on strong fundamentals and learning from predecessors, the bank has positioned itself for the next phase of the banking industry. Prudential guidance from the board, a commitment to governance and compliance, and a focus on a culture of adaptability contribute to the bank’s success.
The bank maintains a process-driven and performance-oriented approach, believing that good performance leads to profitability. Lastly, the dedication of the workforce, including the younger generation poised to become future leaders, has played a crucial role in the bank’s success. Their diligence and commitment have been instrumental in navigating challenging periods and contributing to the bank’s achievements.
Photographs: Kaushik Iqbal