Tuesday, 5 March 2024

TTB Bank’s Thakorn Piyapan: “Data transformation is key to offering personalised service”

5 min read

By Foo Boon Ping

A veteran of the credit card industry, Piyapan joined TTB as president to lead its retail banking business and plans to make TTB one of the top four in the unsecured loan business in Thailand

Thakorn Piyapan, was appointed as president of TTB Bank in May 2022. Prior to this, he was the chief executive officer of Thai Group Holdings from 2020 to 2021. He served as the chairman of Krungsri Finnovate from 2017 to 2021. He also shared his expertise with the Thai Credit Card Association where he was named as chairman in 2016.

His banking experience, however, was cultivated with local banking giant, Krungsri Bank, where he worked for 13 years, and held various positions such as head of consumer, head of digital banking and innovation, executive vice president, and managing director.

TTB is the merger of two mid-sized commercial banks in Thailand: TMB, that serves mainly commercial banking and small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) customers, and Thanachart Bank, specialising in auto and secured loans. The merger was completed in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. TTB now has 10 million customers, of which around 50% are active on its mobile banking app, ttb touch.

Piyapan, a veteran of the credit card industry, joined TTB to lead the transformation of its retail banking business. Shortly after his appointment, Piyapan announced that he plans to make TTB part of the top four in the unsecured loan business in Thailand, where TTB currently ranks seventh.

Under Piyapan’s leadership, TTB announced that they will onboard an additional 250,000 new cardholders, a 200% growth from the previous year. Card spending recorded 28% growth year-on-year.

TTB also announced plans to acquire 170,000 new clients for personal loan products this year, a 270% increase from last year.

Piyapan believes that data transformation and digitalisation will be the key to achieving these goals. The bank’s ttb touch app aims to become one of the top three banking apps in Thailand within three years.

Highlights from the interview transcript:

Thakorn Piyapan (TP): The fraudster is getting smarter and smarter. Technology also advanced in another direction as well so we need to take care of our customers on another level. The way we’re going to design the digital channel in the future is more ‘give the control back to the consumer’ instead of ‘we keep the control with us’. For example, as the industry, we collect face data—perhaps, the best way to control the authentication is to use face data.

Foo Boon Ping (FBP): Yes, facial recognition.

TP: On a normal day, customer transfers, let’s say THB 5,000 per transaction regularly, but never THB 200,000, but if that transaction happens, perhaps the bandwidth triggers, asking ‘Is this an unusual transaction for you?’. Perhaps; let’s see your face. They tag with a face first. In similar things, if you forget your mobile or your wallet, and you need cash. Go to the branch and use your face to transact, and then you can get the money.

So I guess, the level of security using technology and  biometrics could be one of the solutions that both make it convenient, and make it protected, as well. So that will be one of changes that’s going to happen soon.

FBP: Is that industry-wide?

TP: It has to be coordinated among the top banking associations because the business rule has to be agreed upon. It should be standard, similar to the QR payment.

FBP: Is there a common standard for national digital ID? I understand that the Bank of Thailand is based on blockchain and advance technology.

TP: Common is good from the implementation standpoint, and from the consumer standpoint. But at the beginning of execution or implementation, it takes time. To get to the common thing is not that easy. But I have to thank the Bank of Thailand (BoT). If they did not step in, coordinate and facilitate, it is very difficult to beat that. Similarly on this aspect, the BoT is also trying to step in. Similar to what we have, a national credit bureau, a central database.

FBP: You merged amid COVID-19.  I’m sure there are a lot of plans with the merger of TMB and Thanachart. There’s very little overlap in terms of where your strengths are. COVID I’m sure accelerated some part, especially the digital part of what you wanted to do, but in getting to know the customers in Thailand it is still very traditional in terms of the branches or touch point.

TP: Perhaps today, but tomorrow it’s different.

FBP: As they get used to more digital, but also this whole shift towards inclusiveness, especially upcountry, outside of metro.

TP: I just joined this bank nine months ago to help the CEO in the transformation for retail banking. Thanachart is well known in auto lending, which is one of the biggest portfolios. TMB is pretty much on the commercial side and the market is a pretty sizable portfolio as well. Things have been smooth enough. The mix of the portfolio has been organised. 

I love this bank. The reason I joined is because of our motto—our direction is to help Thai people to have better financial well-being. We will do things that are unique, that matter and are different to the consumer. This thing, maybe is good for the business aside, but if it’s not good for the consumer’s eye or from the customer’s side, we will not do it.

FBP: You have cost of living crisis, with inflation and the oil price, which is interesting because we do a consumer survey.

TP: But why don’t we help the customer to reduce that pain of doing a debt consolidation? You reduce  the burden from the high interest rate of the unsecured product, and using your collateral either car or home, refinance one. Last year, we helped nearly 2,000 customers to do debt consolidation.

We need to do this more. And also the central bank appreciates it. They would encourage all the banks and we also encourage all the other banks to do the same because this is the only solution where we can actually help the consumer prosper.

FBP: So, this is responsible financial management.

TP: For those who do not have the house or car as a collateral,  but they do have the personal loan or credit card with multiple banks, we do the same thing. We use the balance transfer. This country is not doing this regularly yet because everyone has maintained their status quo.

FBP: And so going back to your roots to banks, TMB and Thanachart are strong in the secure side of the business, and TMB more on the SME and also mortgage. But, you are also seen as very innovative, TMB in terms of the first one to move the industry with ‘all free’—no transaction fees and stuff, and you win a lot of customers that way. And also in using your branch, technology teleconferencing for financial planning.

TP: I guess, as you noted, brands used to be the center of the relationship. But now, I guess the relationship with the bank has to be in four different channels where the most traffic is: one is branch, second one is mobile. The third one is still a call centre. The fourth one may surprise you; it’s actually your website or your social media. This is the fourth high-traffic engagement channel.

But now, the transaction frequency at the branch is reducing and moving to the mobile. But certain transactions still remain as important to the branch, if they want to deposit a big amount of money, or they want to withdraw, or the owner of the company wants to get a consultancy, if they want to get to know about the mutual fund, sometimes they walk to the branch.

FBP: So, electronic know-your-customer (e-KYC) is already in place.

TP: Already. But it’s just how you do it. Like I said, in the past, we onboard by product. We have to onboard the customer first with the relevant information. And then, based on your information, even though today, you open just a savings account. But because you provide this information, we say by the way, we can pre-approve this amount of the mortgage, auto loan, for this amount. One day, if you wish to have this service, you can click this one, but within a certain period of time.

FBP: And your app will not just be a banking app. It will be a super-app, right?

TP: When we combine the strengths of the two banks, how it translates into the monetisation of the bank—we have the auto section, but I guarantee if you go to another bank, there’s none of this yet, because we have the largest portfolio. We actually allow the customers to add the information of their car, and we can actually pre-appraise the value of your car. 

FBP: If you’re looking to sell or to buy a new one…

TP: And then if you wish to have someone facilitate, just click and our representative will contact you and connect you to the used car dealer.

FBP: You can do the same for your house?

TP: Exactly. But if you happen to have the mortgage with another bank, perhaps, if you move it to us because you’re accessing this product or that product, that’s why we are able to give you this kind of competitive pricing, but I guess this is how we monetise data, portfolio. This could be the untapped opportunity.

FBP: And it’s very timely because we are going through a rising interest rate environment.

TP: That’s why the CEO gives the directions that going forward, we call the three ecosystems. My car is auto ecosystem.  We have the network. We have a dealer, we have everything that we know. We have ‘my home’, because we are number four and number five in mortgage.

FBP: The cost of the service is low.

TP: We reduce the rate because we’ve got the salary deduction for you, that’s why we dumped the price.

FBP: But, they can access your contact centre?

TP: Yes. Contact centres, they remain. We built a virtual assistant for our customer.

FBP: Which is a very interesting area, chatbot and AI.

TP: But the other differences that we are going to do right now as I said, we will build safe control on the governance as part of the feature. The customer will choose TTB to bank with us and use our mobile banking app because we protect them. It’s not an option now, but it will be a main feature that you select us because we do this.

FBP: Your mobile app, ttb touch, today you have what?

TP: We have 10 million customers. Active is around seven million but now onboarding nearly five million.

FBP: So, about 50% of your customer base are using touch.

TP: When you merge these two banks and a lot of customers become dormant, they may not be getting the better service. Active is around seven million, nearly five million is already active on the mobile.

FBP: I think there’s an ambition to make touch one of the top three apps over the next two to three years. What would be the critical success factors to make your user base larger?

TP: It has to be what’s in it for the consumer to use your product. What can TTB mobile banking app do to actually answer the customer pain point? People honour convenient, fast service and a personalised service that they want. The second thing is that we want to be relevant. Relevance means that you have to know, not just bombarding. Instead of sending notifications, we personalise it. For example, if tomorrow is my due for mortgage, I perhaps send it to you and say: ‘Oh, we looked into your balance. It’s actually not sufficient for the mortgage bill tomorrow.’ So you want to move from the other account to this one.

So, I guess the marketing part is personalisation, including the event trigger models. For example, you swipe the credit card to buy an airline ticket for an international trip. The next message is you have to buy the travel insurance, and this is the direction for you on this one. We use technology that predefines the relevance next in line that’s going to be filled.

FBP: Talk about one of the important channels: social media. We know banks are working with some messaging platforms like Line. How do you look at that as an opportunity?

TP: Not a single platform has won the customer yet. Line is perhaps very good for service. But not entirely, anyway. Because if you spend time with Line, you know that sometimes it’s just too much bombarding. A lot of traffic is the benefit, but it’s not entirely good and happy for the customer.

Facebook used to be one, but now it’s become very noisy. And now we have TikTok and YouTube. I guess it’s very tough for marketing at this moment because the evolution of social media is still continuing. The cost of marketing actually increased while the effectiveness is reduced.

FBP: So, which new technology can be leveraged by a bank that is agile? A lot of things are not in the technology, but in how you manage it, and your attitude towards being a first mover.

TP: I keep discussing with the team that digital transformation is one thing, but data transformation is much more important. I would recommend that whoever wants to start doing a digital transformation, has to do data transformation together. But perhaps you have to do this one first because the digital transformation will be much easier.

FBP: So, your immediate focus is launching touch or the new version.

TP: Of course, there are multiple channels where customers interact. How we can actually transform the legacy of the physical branches or physical channel, I think that has yet to be seen. I cannot release the information but you will see a drastic change in the way we run the branches.

FBP: You will be looking at some level of consolidation of branches?

TP: Yes, even the ATM has to be transformed. The number of cash withdrawals has reduced. As you know, everyone is into digital money and scanning for everything which five years ago didn’t exist.

FBP: So, e-wallets and digital wallets will become more popular.

TP: It has, too. Those who are well-educated—they’re not going to go back to the physical anyway. I guess, last five years is the first transformation for the banking business, I think from now on the second wave of transformation, we just do not know where it’s going to lead.

FBP: The first is digital. The second is AI, intelligent banking.

TP: It’s actually the data that will be the next direction for the bank.

BP: Now, we see a lot of wallets especially multi-currency, cross-currency, a lot of ambiguity in terms of spread, exchange and exchange spread. How do you see that?

TP: Most of the banks paused during COVID. So we used that time to develop something for when the country is open. We just launched the multiple currency deposit account. But then in the future, we will manage the facility in such a way that it’s like a travel card but we give interest.

We give the interest on the FCD (foreign currency deposit) account by the currency type. If you go to the US, you can pay in US dollar from this particular account, you don’t have to convert again. Because we keep it right there. I think this will be the next wave of how we play in terms of the cross-border and to structure a comprehensive product.  

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