An interview with Bea Teh-Tan


Sainsbury: What are your priorities for the next 12-18 months?


Teh-Tan: In the Philippines, Citi has the enviable position of being the largest foreign bank and the acknowledged leader in various segments – from wealth management to credit cards.


For the next year and a half, my focus will be to stay the course and pursue pockets of opportunities as they become available. Many, if not all of them, will involve best in class technology.


We are very excited by the opportunities globally in our consumer bank. For 200 years we have been innovating from pioneering the ATM, to the first credit card, and more recently with our new hi-tech branch strategy that embraces modern technology and is called Smart Banking.


Asia has been at the forefront of our growth and many innovations such as Smart Banking were launched first in Asia. We are now the world’s leading digital bank, and we already see 98 per cent of all transactions taking place outside a branch in Asia.


Sainsbury: What are the greatest opportunities to leverage technology to reach the unbanked or underbanked in the Philippines?


Teh-Tan: Mobile banking offers the most potential when it comes to reach. We already have a large number of mobile phone subscribers in the Philippines that use SMS in their daily lives.  The challenge or opportunity depending on how you look at it, is to channel their behaviour into converting their phones into a mobile wallet.


One other opportunity is our partnerships with public sector and non-profit agencies, which are affording us venues to reach the unbanked or underbanked sectors. One such instance was with Action Against Hunger (AAH). As part of its emergency intervention program for the families affected by Tropical Storm Washi, AAH needed to disburse funds quickly, within one month, to over 2,000 typhoon victims in the Philippines on behalf of a major donor. Citi recommended a customized Citi Prepaid Card program and we established a closed loop system so that cards could only be used at the designated grocery store, as opposed to withdrawing funds via ATMs or at any other merchant. We were able to issue the cards to beneficiaries in two weeks.


Sainsbury: Citibank has unveiled new smart ATM technology. What opportunities do you see for this technology to enhance engagement with customers?


Teh-Tan: We unveiled the Citibank Express to Philippine clients late last year, and it continues to generate a “wow” reception from users. A first in the world, this next-generation banking machine allows clients to get scanned receipts of check deposits, complete overseas funds transfers, book time deposits, request for statements, inquire about foreign exchange rates, and so much more. All these using a completely new customer interface that makes screen navigation much more intuitive and simpler. 


The split-screen machine can display personalized promotions and offers, and allows clients to speak with a CitiPhone officer on one screen while conducting business on the other. It has also been built with Near Field Communication (NFC) and biometric capability as well as scanning and embossing functions to allow for a future roll out of additional functionalities, such as instant printing of an ATM card, issuance of manager’s checks and more over time. 


Sainsbury: What opportunities are there to leverage social media as a route to customer engagement? 


Teh-Tan: We are seeing a marked shift to online and mobile banking as more and more industry players invest in this space. 


In an annual survey that Citi runs across Asia Pacific to measure consumer financial intelligence, we saw a dramatic rise in online banking users from prior years.  In the Philippines, three out of four polled say they now do almost all their banking from their computer or mobile phone. They have discovered the convenience of checking their account balances, paying bills and transferring funds from the comforts of their home or office. These three ranked among the top online banking services availed by survey respondents. Nearly eight out of 10 also gave high marks for the quality of online banking services, saying they are satisfied or very satisfied. 


With a growing captive audience, Citi recognises that social media is one channel we have to tap to offer our platform of online and mobile banking services. Our share of voice is growing, as we design more and more relevant offers that generate user comments. We have a growing community of fans and followers and we have started to design promotions uniquely for our social media audience. 


Sainsbury: How is the role of the bank branch changing in the Philippines? 


Teh-Tan: Citi continues to tap the latest technologies to enhance our client experience and also improve the way we serve them in our branches. One such investment can be found in our new Smart Branch that opened in Makati late last year. We redefined retail banking and we are proud to have changed the landscape for our clients and for the industry. 


When they enter the branch, clients are welcomed by intuitive touch screens and high definition media walls. This was designed to attract, engage, and connect clients with products and services, all on demand. 


With technology as enabler, we are giving customers control over their banking needs. We re-engineered our processes, adding simplicity and speed, to create instant and paperless transactions that are so much easier for our clients. 


For one, clients enjoy the ability of opening an account from a tablet that Citi Service Associates carry around the branch. A global first, Citi Philippines offers clients the convenience of opening accounts from an iPad as they comfortably lounge anywhere in the branch. 


Another example is our video chat facilities which provides customers with the opportunity to obtain additional expert opinion and consultation from Citi specialists at any other location on a real time basis via video phones. 


Sainsbury: Citi is the largest global bank operating in the Philippines. How can you leverage the global technology infrastructure as a competitive advantage in consumer banking? 


Teh-Tan: We’ve been leveraging on that competitive advantage for years now. As a result, Citi has built a reputation for innovation, for consistently breaking new ground both for our products and our services. Some of our firsts in the Philippines include: Pioneering wealth management banking services for consumers in the early 1990s, launching the first international credit card issued from the Philippines, introducing a rewards program for cardholders, to encourage loyal spending, and opening the first call centre service in the country with the 24-hour CitiPhone, redefining bankers’ hours. 


Sainsbury: You are new to your role. How do you plan to encourage innovative thinking within your team? 


Teh-Tan: Citi has introduced several venues to encourage innovative thinking, and I plan to build on these venues in my new role, as I have been mining them in my previous role. 


My focus will be on encouraging the team to challenge the status quo – there is always a better and faster way to do something, and if we engage our clients, the best ideas can come from those conversations. 


Sainsbury: What advice would you offer young executives that are looking to work in retail banking? 


Teh-Tan: Don’t go looking for a job, but a place where you can build a career.


Sainsbury: Are you a technology person outside of work? What are your favourite gadgets currently? 


Teh-Tan: Yes and no.  I appreciate that technology allows me to simplify and organize my life in and outside of work. However, I have to admit that my children tend to monopolise the use of these gadgets and they do seem to know how to maximise them more than I could. 


Sainsbury: Every leader, particularly at your level, has a legacy they wish to be remembered for. What is yours?


Teh-Tan: I have an open door policy and that’s because I place a high value on communication.  As a leader, it’s crucial that you can connect with everyone in the organisation and you do not isolate yourself. It’s important to me that my team can approach me with their ideas, concerns, feedback without fear and know that I am there to listen, help and encourage. One of my priorities is to build a team that understands and values open communication, honesty as well as the courage to challenge and raise their hands to explore new things.