Featured today in our exclusive interview series, Philip Koshy, general manager, Modern Exchange, shares how digitalisation seems to be the only solution in the current situation and for the future. Excerpts:
What is your brief assessment of the position of your company in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly during the peak season of Ramadan when business in Oman faced a challenge like never before?
Every industry has been affected across all industry, especially exchange companies like us where we are into mass retail business. Cross border remittance and cash currencies are the two major streams of revenue of the exchange companies which has come down by 30%, compared to the first quarter of 2020. Cash currency business has come to a complete halt.
Normally, the month of Ramadan is a blessing for industry, especially for exchange companies, as it is the desire of every expatriate to send money to their dear ones on this special occasion. However, due to the current pandemic, the business is less than in normal months and we have witnessed a big decline compared to last year’s Ramadan business.
What plans/strategies did you adopt to maintain your operations during the lockdown period over the past 2-3 months? How beneficial did this prove to be?
Information technology is the only solution in the current situation and also for the future. We have been advocating for moving the remittance business onto a digital platform which could help us to move the exchange companies to cashless transactions.
We have introduced our mobile app/online remittances in 2018. However, the app became effective and convenient for the customer during this pandemic. The Central Bank of Oman (CBO) has enabled acceptance of all Oman issued debit cards for doing remittances through mobile apps or the internet anytime, anywhere. In addition to that, CBO has given an approval for simplified EKYC, enabling customers for non-face-to-face registration. During the lockdown, we also introduced a payment link service to help our blue collar segment of customers electronically.
Thanks to CBO, for their timely approval for opening the payment gateway for exchange companies, as it has helped exchanges to fight back COVID-19 by encouraging customers to move to digital platforms. This helped us achieve the objective of the government initiative to avoid moving in public and to keep social distancing.
Looking ahead, what are your immediate and short-term plans that you believe will help the company recalibrate and move forward with renewed purpose?
The adverse impact of COVID-19 will continue for months, even after it comes under control, and therefore, cost effective business operations is the only solution, besides moving towards digitalisation.
What immediate changes are required in your workplaces, with regard to physical infrastructure, employee welfare, work culture and business promotion, in view of new guidelines related to COVID-19 (social distancing, hygiene/sanitation, health and fitness)?
COVID-19 is the common enemy of every individual and, therefore, it is the responsibility of the individual and corporates to support all government initiatives and follow their guidelines to fight against it. It is our moral responsibility towards society to follow all the guidelines set by CBO and the municipality, from time to time, such as, keeping social distancing and running operations at branches and headquarters with a bare minimum staff.In addition to that, we have reduced working hours at branches on a rotation basis in order to maintain social distancing between the staff.
What do you see as the most feasible solutions for mitigating losses experienced due to the lockdown (cost-cutting measures, downsizing staff, enhancing performance, increasing work hours, any other).
Do you consider these as short-term or long term measures?
Again we believe in investing in technology to enhance the performance and be more vigilant on operational cost.
What are your primary concerns regarding building/maintaining your company image, post-COVID-19, as well as improving performance to regain connections and trust with your consumers/clients?
We believe that our engagement with customers has gone up more than the normal months. We are the only exchange company conducting live streaming with topics like ‘Talk to doctor on Covid’, yoga, and airing motivational speeches to keep our customers safe and healthy. In addition to that, we have conducted the first ever e-concert of Pankaj Udhas (popular Indian ghazal singer).
Did you have the option of working from home for your staff during the lockdown and to what extent was it helpful? Will you continue to offer that option as part of your new strategy?
Yes, we had an option for our staff to work from home and it was extremely beneficial. Surely, this is an option which we can consider for the future as well.
What lessons were learnt from this crisis that would help redefine your corporate goals as well as helping your company experience sustained growth in the years ahead?
Every company should have a strong contingency plan and should at least do a drill session once in a year to ensure that their contingency plan works. The lesson learnt, is to be less dependent on bricks and mortar and move on to digitalisation.
What additional challenges do you anticipate in 2020/2021 and would you now place greater emphasis on risk management so that you are not caught off-guard again?
Since we are FIs and considering the nature of business, risk management plays a vital role and, therefore, we are giving great importance to ‘Risk Management’ and accordingly investments have been made. However, we are fully complying with the guidelines from CBO and our Management has aligned its activities as per the international standards to avoid such possible threats.
In your opinion, how important it is for staff to undergo training to realign themselves with the company’s policies/new strategies as well as to immerse themselves in a new work culture that the pandemic has dictated?
It is imperative that staff must undergo thorough training to cope with the requirements which includes training for identifying suspicious transactions, transactions related to fundraising for fake charities, fraudulent investment scams, email and SMS phishing attacks, business email compromise scams, ransomware attacks, etc.
We have these topics in our annual training programme and impart training by coordinating with prestigious institutions and using our internal faculties.
How long do you envisage it will be, if at all, that your particular sector is performing at pre-COVID-19 levels?
As informed earlier, our business is a customer service industry and, if the industry is affected, then the layoffs would be more, and this will directly impact the remittance industry. This impact will go on for at least one year.
Are there examples of new thinking in other sectors that your ’s could adopt to good effect?
Digitalisation is the key and our all our efforts are aimed at achieving the desired results with our online app. EKYC, transactions through payment links, etc are innovative, make life easy for our customers, and is a boon for our business.
What is the No.1 positive aspect you would take from the last three months?
Apart from innovation, team work is the only one aspect which helps us to overcome the challenges and excel in this field. The fact is, for every business, there is some bottleneck. But, the successful businessman would try to change the bottleneck into an opportunity.
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