VM Group sets pace with digital servicesWednesday, March 31, 2021
BY DAVID ROSE
While other firms scrambled to become digital in the early days of the novel coronavirus pandemic, VM Group accelerated its digital road map to ensure that its members and customers weren't disrupted by the sudden nature of the shift to the online business platform.
This was the explanation provided by Group Chief Customer and Brand Officer Judith Forth Blake at a recent Jamaica Observer Business Forum. Instead of a digital focus being instigated due to the pandemic, the group doubled down on its investment in information technology (IT) so the digital migration could progress smoothly for its members. This included intelligent automated banking machines (iABMs), encouraging members to sign indemnity forms to facilitate e-mail communication and an enhanced banking portal introduced last month.
“I think we ended 2020 with a stronger business overall by all accounts. We have invested in our digital platforms. At the beginning of 2020 we didn't have a mobile banking app which we now have that's very popular. We upgraded our online banking, a client management portal in VM Wealth and an online mortgage application system in VMBS which is providing better convenience and speed in terms of pre-approvals,” Forth Blake said.
“VM Mortgage online is offering mortgage pre-approval from anywhere at any hour with no commute to the branch. If you've identified a property you'd like to buy, you'd log onto this system and get the pre-approval done. You're able to track your application with alerts and notifications right throughout the process. The speed is there, and you've heard all the benefits of the VM Wealth Client Portal. We have a stronger business in VMBS, VM Wealth and VM Money Transfer. We have started the successful migration to the digital platforms that's working well,” added VM Group President and CEO Courtney Campbell.
Things were no different at VM Wealth Management (VMWM) which grew its IT spend by 62 per cent to $74.7 million for initiatives which included new and upgraded systems covering the areas of investment and risk management, compliance management and customer experience.
“We upgraded our core systems (Opex) which gives us way more functionality and improves productivity. We launched our client management system last year because it's apart of our digitisation of processes to allow our customers to go on a portal to view their statements and effect transactions. It's the first steps in our digitisation process,” said CEO of VMWM Rezworth Burchenson.
Although many clients might have been apprehensive about the shift, Burchenson noted, “We do quite a bit of hand holding. Through Judith's team on member engagement, they're available to walk clients through the onboarding process to the main portal. Over the phone, we walk them through the steps to ensure they get online.”
As part of its digital strategy, Victoria Mutual Investments Limited's 30 per cent acquisition of Carilend bore fruit as the business' collaboration with VMWM led to new product introductions in 2020 and a successful growth in its Barbados business. Carilend's revenue grew by 260 per cent for 2020, but the start-up's net loss rose by 135 per cent to $120 million.
“In the UK, we have VM Finance business that has done exceptionally well. In 2019, we invested in Carilend, which is a fintech based in Barbados. We started to offer in 2020 VM eLoans powered by Carilend. These are unsecured loans of up to $1 million with the applications and disbursements done purely online,” Campbell said in reference to the new fintech initiative by VMWM.
Even with all these investments, Campbell reiterated VM's focus on data security, especially as the new Data Protection Act comes into force within the near future. This comes as IT risk rose across the financial sector last year with nefarious actors attempting to capitalise on the global digital migration.
“Even before the Data Protection Act, information security is a high priority matter within VMBS. It's on our risk register and we have strong governance around that matter. Our compliance with standards is monitored by our dedicated team on information security. They have done a road map on how to improve our ratings there. We have been implementing those activities that were identified and are satisfied with the progress. The progress is monitored by the executive risk management team and is also reported to the board through our finance and risk management committee. We take information security very, very seriously. We expect to be in full compliance with the data security Act very shortly,” Campbell said.
He stated his continued appreciation to the team members across the various business lines and the group's focus to ensure its various measures put in place from 2020 continue to return handsomely in 2021. One of these initiatives was the creation of VM Innovations Limited which is focused on the exploration and development of new business models to customers in financial services. The entity is led by Maurice Barnes.
“As the president of VM, I'm very pleased with how this team came together last year to protect the lives and livelihoods of our team members, our members, clients and what we did to protect the business. Our customers have indicated that they're pleased with the service we're offering, but we're not complacent. We're committed to doing everything possible in 2021 and beyond to improve the quality,” Campbell said.
“This business is owned by the people and we're in the business of transforming lives through access to homeownership and innovative investment solutions. You can look forward to more products that add value for the customer and better use of the digital channels because we will continue to drive the digital transformation strategy. You can also look forward to more financial education because that's one way VM is differentiating ourselves,” he added.
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