People’s Bank has established its foundations on the overarching significance of its name. As the bank of the people, its history speaks of transformation, growing into a network of 737 branches, more than 4,000 connected ATM networks, and over 200 Self-Banking Units, which operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
As People’s Bank’s 8,000-strong team strives to become Sri Lanka’s undisputed market leader in financial services, its 10 million customers contribute to a deposit base of LKR 1.4tn ($7.7bn). This combines with the solid financial foundation, sound governance and best practices that have continued to augment its Fitch Ratings at AA+(lka). People’s Bank remains among the top three most valuable brands in Brand Finance’s Brand League Table, increasing brand value by 29% to LKR 45.5bn in 2019.
The European caught up with People’s Bank’s newly appointed Chief Executive Officer and General Manager Rasitha Gunawardana to discuss the future of an organisation that has taken Sri Lanka’s banking industry to new heights over the last six decades.
How would you describe the overall vision for People’s Bank?
Rasitha Gunawardana: We are not diverting from our strategic plan of becoming the leading financial services provider for the country. With our roots as a rural bank that began with the cooperative movement, the progress we have made is undisputed, but the promise of empowering people remains a strong ethos in the entirety of our operations. This means working across the full social strata and national demographic: from the farmer in the field, to the student at their desk to the business community that drives our economy, all will be empowered.
Tell us about the bank’s digital transformation and its strategy for the corporate sector.
RG: We have been developing a number of new technology platforms to meet our objectives for the bank’s digital transformation, and we need our corporates to be ready for this digital mindset. We are at the forefront of changing that psyche, urging corporates to make technology an imperative banking driver. We very recently introduced Corporate Internet Banking, Corporate Mobile Banking and the Corporate Loan Originating System, a cohort of digital banking solutions specifically for the corporate sector in order to achieve this.
How is People’s Bank evolving with new global industry paradigms?
RG: The entire global economy is connected, and the main conduit connecting the economy is the banking network. There is almost no such thing as a local bank anymore. A weakness in any given economy can create a cascading contagion. It is imperative that the entire global banking network remains strong. Banks must ensure that corporate governance and ethics meet the required standards and the decision-making process is transparent and accountable. A bank should be able to withstand stress tests and the scrutiny from rating agencies. This is the test of the global industry’s stability.
And People’s Bank is equal to this?
RG: Of course. These are aspects that have become integral to our success. Having undergone stringent audits and compliance processes, we have emerged with flying colours. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka is extremely pleased with our performance and our team must be commended for always looking ahead to ensure we reach our goals.
How important is innovation to the bank’s progress?
RG: Without innovation, we will not survive. Banking is an extremely competitive sector, so innovation is therefore integral to getting ahead. While quantitative results showcase financial soundness, a bank must distinguish itself with pioneering products and services. People’s Bank works in small teams to ensure that innovation is a bottom-up approach, encouraging the development of ideas at all levels. This approach fosters a culture of creativity, where every member of the team recognises the opportunities available and the benefits on offer.
Highlight the attributes that make People’s Bank so competitive.
RG: We always focus on our roots and the confidence the citizens of Sri Lanka have in us. We use this confidence to leverage the synergies we have amassed over 58 years of service. Innovation, and our IT capabilities have become integral to achieving our vision. By being proactive and aware of global trends, we have concentrated on developing our platforms and designing pioneering product and service solutions. This puts us on par with other banks in the world, empowering our customers to be connected citizens of the world. Our digital initiatives are geared to meet the aspirations of multiple demographics, especially the younger generations, whose banking habits are evolving rapidly. This also means we are raising the bar in technology knowledge and access among the people of Sri Lanka, connecting them to a highly networked world.
What is next for People’s Bank?
RG: We will keep our foot on the accelerator. There are challenges to overcome, one of which is a result of being a state bank, as the government is dependent on our dividends. This does have an impact on our plans to reinvest in our portfolio. However, we have begun the process of gaining parliamentary approval to change the People’s Bank Act enabling us to inject debt capital, which will provide us with sufficient risk-bearing capacity for our growth plans for the next five years at least.