Economies across the globe are gradually restarting after months of tightened measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic has irrevocably disrupted the way in which people work and live. How will the way of running a business look like in a post-COVID world?

Nothing drives change more than when survival depends on it. The COVID-19 outbreak has accelerated the increased use of technology in almost every facet of the way we live and work. This is a seismic change in the way society and economies will operate. What will this mean for businesses in the months and years ahead?

Digital services will be first port of call for most people

Digital services have become the first port of call for most consumers. Goods and services purchased online by United Overseas Bank (UOB)’s credit card members in Singapore rose more than 50 per cent in March 2020 compared with the year before. Traditional brick and mortar shopping, such as buying groceries and retail spending moved online at take-up rates never before seen.

To serve customers who are now used to the convenience and accessibility of buying online, companies will need to rethink their business operating model and how they engage customers differently.

It is not enough just to create a digital sales channel.

Digital channels must at the core be customer-centric. It must work seamlessly in tandem with other touchpoints along the entire customer journey, from face-to-face interaction to service resolution in person, via the phone or online.

For example, at UOB’s high street wealth branches, our wealth advisers use an artificial intelligence-based service to provide clients at the branch with personalised investment advisory to assist them in making risk-based investment decisions confidently. We ensure that each engagement point provides a customer-centric experience to build a relationship of trust for the long term.

Getting to this seamless, truly omni-channel experience is key as companies invest in their digital services. Businesses that are embarking on their digital journey should take the opportunity to start off on the right foot with a relentless focus on the customer.

Security is paramount to maintain customer trust

There is a saying that trust takes years to build but only seconds to break. With this shift in customer behaviour towards digital services also comes a responsibility by companies to uphold the trust customers place in them by ensuring that their data is being protected.

Reports by cybersecurity organisations such as the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore found that there has been a sharp increase in cyber-attacks during the pandemic as cybercriminals look to take advantage of this digital shift. Companies must continue to invest in their digital infrastructure and processes to safeguard against the risk of cyber threats.

At UOB, we have invested in building a standardised regional IT platform across Singapore, our Asian subsidiaries and overseas branches. This enables us to drive and scale innovation across the Group without compromising on security. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw the fruits of these ongoing investments.

For example, in Thailand and Indonesia where we have launched our digital bank TMRW for the region’s digital generation, our customers were able to make all banking transactions, from opening an account to making payments or funds transfers, within the TMRW mobile app. This fully-digital process meant that we were able to fulfil regulatory requirements such as authenticating the identity of new customers through video calls via the app even as they stayed home and stayed safe.

In Singapore, our digital solutions integrate seamlessly with our other touchpoints in a true omni-channel experience for our customers who span different generations and life stages and therefore have different banking needs. During Singapore’s circuit-breaker period, we were able to serve all of our customers without disruption, whether they were visiting those of our branches that were open or doing their banking through our digital and mobile services.

Workplaces go virtual

The other permanent change we expect from COVID-19 is the increased mobility of the workforce. The impact of strict work-from-home measures during the pandemic saw many technology teams working around the clock to ensure that their colleagues had remote access to their enterprise network and systems so that essential services can continue to operate. For example, at UOB close to 80 per cent of our global workforce transitioned to work from home within mere weeks.

For the majority of the workforce, this capability to be able to work from home and still be able to access the necessary secure enterprise systems, conduct virtual meetings and collaborate with colleagues across different work sites have changed work habits at an unprecedented pace and scale.

Businesses have experienced first-hand that it is possible to continue to operate outside of their offices with the right digital capabilities, security and risk management measures in place.

It opens opportunities to reimagine the way in which we work and grow our businesses beyond this crisis.

However, it is unlikely that work will be 100 per cent from home – after all, humans are social beings. To build a stronger future workforce, businesses must ensure that they also place a priority on their employees’ mental well-being even as they tap technology to transform the shape of work for them.

Preparing for what comes next

The COVID-19 crisis has shown the crucial role technology plays in connecting our lives and our economy.

Even as our way of life, businesses and economies were disrupted, we saw how quickly countries, companies and communities were able to pivot if they had the right technology infrastructure in place. For example, with the sophisticated suites of digital solutions that banks in Singapore already offered, customers were able to fulfil their banking needs without disruption.

A digital way of life will be the new normal. To capture the opportunities amid this seminal moment of change, all businesses must embrace new business models that will enable to serve the digital-first consumers and companies of the future.

This article was authored by Susan Hwee, Head of Group Technology and Operations at UOB and was first published by The Business Times. This article shall not be copied, or relied upon by any person for whatever purpose. This article is given on a general basis without obligation and is strictly for information only. The information contained in this article is based on certain assumptions, information and conditions available as at the date of the article and may be subject to change at any time without notice. You should consult your own professional advisers about the issues discussed in this article. Nothing in this article constitutes accounting, legal, regulatory, tax or other advice. This article is not intended as an offer, recommendation, solicitation, or advice to purchase or sell any investment product, securities or instruments. Although reasonable care has been taken to ensure the accuracy and objectivity of the information contained in this article, UOB and its employees make no representation or warranty, whether express or implied, as to its accuracy, completeness and objectivity and accept no responsibility or liability for any error, inaccuracy, omission or any consequence or any loss or damage howsoever suffered by any person arising from any reliance on the views expressed and the information in this article.