In mid-March, the fallout from COVID-19 was starting to be felt in Canada and Scotiabank’s Chief Digital Officer Shawn Rose was in a race against time.

Banks were dealing with a flood of calls from customers looking to defer their looming mortgage and other loan payments, most of which were due on April 1.

Rose’s team, and a cross functional group of Scotiabankers, developed a range of solutions that would allow customers to request loan deferrals online. Within a week, call wait times shrunk from more than an hour to mere minutes and applications were passing through the system.

However, it wasn’t the hard work in those few days that made the difference, it was the years of investment in the Bank’s digital strategy and co-ordination with various other departments of the organization that allowed it to pivot so quickly when needed most, Rose said.

“Our platforms allowed us to shave days, and hours, and minutes off of the angst that people were having at this moment,” he said. “There’s a super strong foundation in people and partnership, process and technology, that took a number of years to put together.”

This rapid digital response to COVID-19 is a key reason why Scotiabank has won the award for Best Bank in North America for Innovation in Digital Banking from The Banker, a Financial Times publication.

Scotiabank's rapid digital response to COVID-19 is a key reason why the Bank won the award
Video, Scotiabank's rapid digital response to COVID-19 is a key reason why the Bank won the award

Prior to this award, the mobile banking app released by the Bank last year has garnered several awards and Scotiabank’s online banking platform also received the number one ranking in the J.D. Power 2020 Canada Online Banking Satisfaction study. 


 “Clearly, the resources and investment that Scotiabank has put into digitally transforming both its technology stack and its workforce have paid off during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Joy Macknight, managing editor of The Banker. “The bank’s ability to respond quickly to developing client needs, as well as helping them to access banking services digitally, clinched this year’s regional award for innovation.”

These wins are the result of a co-ordinated effort to transform the Bank, after it committed in 2017 to become a leader in digital banking.

“Since that time, we built a winning team, prioritized our customers’ banking experience, and created an industry-leading mobile banking app,” said Brian Porter, President and Chief Executive Officer of Scotiabank.  “When we commit, we deliver. This award is evidence that our investments were the right ones for the Bank and for our customers.”

Scotiabank has 1,000 top technology professionals at digital factories — local hubs for technology teams with expertise ranging from software to mobile user interfaces and engineering — in Canada, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru.

Scotiabank rolled out five digital factories, that were designed to be central places where employees develop features for use by the Bank, but also can be tailored to suit the local market.

The first was in Toronto in January 2017, followed by Bogota, Colombia in February, Mexico City, Mexico in March, Lima, Peru in October and Santiago, Chile in November.

This strategy allowed the factories to have local expertise, and the Bank to tap sought-after technology talent more widely.

“Without the talent, you can’t build software at scale,” said Rose said.

Another key component of the digital strategy was building the Canadian mobile platform infrastructure to be applicable across countries and channels. As well, Scotiabank’s global design framework enables designers and developers in five countries to share the same components and code. The Bank’s technology and talent was put to the ultimate test when COVID-19 hit, and physical distancing precautions increased the number of customers banking digitally.  The Bank also had the job of distributing government relief. Since the crisis began, the Bank has delivered relief to roughly 360,000 Canadians and their businesses – and almost 2 million applications globally, through a tightly-coordinated, digitally-enhanced process.

In conjunction with COVID-19 efforts by various teams throughout the Bank, Rose pivoted roughly 100 employees from departments including engineering, design, product and digital marketing  to focus on Scotiabank’s response, including new features and programs.

“It was not difficult for us, other than the hours, to roll out relief efforts,” he said. “Because we had a really strong platform with great people, and fantastic partnership with our colleagues across the Bank.”