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The different dimensions of digitalization: Swedbank

Publish date: 19 August 2021
Ģirts Bērziņš leads Digital Innovation at Swedbank. As we launch our Digital Transformation community, we wanted to get his thoughts on all things digitalization. 
If digitalization is a strategic priority in your institution, how is this priority translated into organizational terms?
I would say that digitalization is not a strategic priority, digital is the cornerstone of our service model. Digital is the only way to enable services to reach any interaction point in which a customer wants to meet us – in digital and physical channels, in channels of our own and beyond. We have defined Swedbank as “a digital bank with physical meeting points.” Organizationally Swedbank has a group level unit of digital banking that is building up solutions for all customer touchpoints in a coordinated and centralized way. We are operating our Swedbank Open Banking digital platform that connects us to potential third party partners to build services together for our common customers.
What new profiles are needed to drive a successful digitalization strategy and where do you find inspiration in other sectors/industries?
We are clearly living through a fourth industrial revolution. This phase of digital industrialization is characterized by standardization of technologies to enable modularity and interoperability between all participants of digital ecosystems – beyond traditional industry and country borders. It is similar to the processes that happened during the second industrial revolution when electricity was standardized and enabled plug and play for mechanical machinery. Now it is time for informational machinery to plug and play, to specialize for the best and scale. This is what inspires us every day. We want to step up our customer value delivery, connect customer information assets, and enable friction-free finances.
What are the dimensions of your digitalization strategy (infrastructure, processes, channels, way of working, etc.)?
We have a clearly defined strategic direction that sets the purpose, vision, foundation, and values (see picture). As a clear verification engine, there is a customer promise defined – “together we make your financial life easier.”
Beyond the benefits already achieved and the expected benefits of digitalization, what are the obstacles and what are the dangers to avoid?
The first thing to realize is how the new digital journeys require a mindset change. You are cannot be alone anymore. Your digital service must elegantly fit into digital journeys of customers and this means more ability and capability to partner with many other players within the digital ecosystem, including your competitors and challengers. It is very rewarding to bring the customer experience to a completely new level and scale your services far beyond traditional channels. To reach high modularity, a lot of effort is required to transform technological platforms to be open and connected, at the same time ensuring security and resilience of the whole digital value chain.
How can digitalization be reconciled with the need to humanize customer relations?
The paradox of the digital revolution is the more we move into digital the more a humanized service, interaction, or interface is expected. First, interfaces demanded deep knowledge of information technologies to get the needed result from the machine. Now, we are reaching capabilities of machines to engage in natural language conversations. Therefore, it is important to consider digital as the tool, not as the goal. The goal still remains the same – make the customer experience superb, providing real value to the customer. If it is good enough, the customer will be ready to share part of the value created and that part enables a healthy business model.
How can digitalization be 'sold' to the company's employees?
Digital is bringing changes for bank employees, especially the ones directly engaged in customer service. Before digital and in the early stages of digital, a bank employee was deeply specialized in complex processes of financial services and had a knowledge-defined distance from a customer. Digital has simplified services, automated processes, and today’s customer support specialist has become more like a customer itself – an advanced user of digital services. Therefore, digital is natural. There is no other alternative either. Especially if digital is made with the promise “to make your life easier” – would anyone really choose the opposite?
To what extent has the Covid crisis changed your digitalization program?
The pandemic has not brought major new components into our digital agenda. That is because the bank was already in an advanced stage of digital transformation. However, it forced some reprioritization. The load and the demand for some services had sudden peaks and thus respective capacity adjustment had to be carried out – both for customer-facing services and for employee tools now deployed from “home offices.” One more consequence of the pandemic is that crime has now fully moved to digital and is trying to strike points in the value chain that are not strong enough. For example, social engineering attacks towards customers have reached record levels and big efforts are being made to introduce preventive communication and technological enhancements. 
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