Migration of legacy systems, implementation of cloud platforms, improvement of chatbots with enhanced AI algorithms and new omnichannel systems are the main investment drivers of Brazil’s biggest banks when it comes to technology and networks.
The 21 leading banks in the country invested around 35bn reais (US$6.69bn) in technology last year, compared to 30bn reais in 2021, according to banking association Febraban.
More recently, however, banks such as Bradesco and Itaú have started to look closely at 5G.
Itaú entered into a multi-year agreement with Telefônica Brasil for 5G at its branches, while it has also teamed up with TIM. Other banks are also evaluating the technology.
BNamericas updates the ICT spending strategies of the country’s four largest banks – Itaú Unibanco, Banco do Brasil, Bradesco and Santander – and takes a look at how they performed in 2022.
Cloud, artificial intelligence/machine learning, and big data/analytics, together with an agile methodology development approach, comprise the core pillars of Itaú’s technology investments, according to the bank.
In cloud, Itaú said it achieved its goal to migrate around 50% of more than 3,700 services to AWS’s cloud by end-2022.
“I told you that 2022 was a key milestone for the bank’s digital transformation,” CEO Milton Maluhy Filho said in an earnings call.
In December 2020, Itaú tapped Amazon Web Services to carry out the cloud migration in what is seen as one of the largest AWS contracts in Latin America, part of a 10-year deal.
“We managed to reach our goal of 50% of our platforms modernized with state-of-the-art technology and totally decomponentized. As regards the competitiveness of our platforms, we reached the modernization of 70% of what we understand is relevant to the client journey,” Maluhy Filho told the call.
But “rather than looking at the absolute figure of 50%, I prefer to look at this evolution because it’s what impacts the user experience,” he added.
According to the CEO, the migration allows Itaú to respond faster to customer problems, increase ability to deliver products, correct mistakes and deliver new features to production.
Itaú is now investing in solutions development double what it invested in 2018 and this digitization has led the bank to reduce by 42% its infrastructure costs in the period.
At present, the bank claims to implement 1,434 digital transformation initiatives.
With the digitization comes the reduction of the physical footprint. Itaú ended the year with 402 “digital branches” in Brazil, 11 more than in September, and 3,800 physical ones, considering Brazil and its other Latin American operations. The number of Brazilian physical branches fell 18% in four years.
The share of digital interactions – contracts, transfers and payments made in all channels, except for cash – by individuals with the bank reached 94% in the fourth quarter, up from 91% in the same period 2021.
Meanwhile, online account opening flow grew 22% and digital acquisition of products and services increased 1.3x year-over-year, according to the bank.
Itaú is also betting on startup investments and partnerships, including through M&As, and has a corporate venture capital fund on the equity side. Venture capital investments were made in startups Monkey, Digibee, Paketá Credito, Liqi, SAKS and Tenchi.
Meanwhile, commercial technology partnerships include Locaweb, Samsung, PayPal, Telefônica Brasil and Apple, and in the M&A and JV sector, Totvs (Techfin), ZUP, Ideal, Orbia, Avenue and Pravaler.
Itaú said it invested 2.9bn reais in business and technology in 2021. It did not disclose specifics for this line for 2022.
Santander said it ended December with 90% of its operations running in the cloud, although the bank does not specify private or public cloud or both, because the bank claims to have the country’s only tier IV datacenter in operation.
On a global basis, Santander’s strategy involves a multi-cloud and hybrid environment, bundling private cloud with public cloud from AWS and Microsoft.
Of Santander Brasil’s 60.1mn customers as of December, 31.8mn were considered active clients. And of these, 20.4mn were digital customers, up from 18.3mn in December 2021. Santander defines digital customers as those who have accessed any digital channel in the last 31 days.
The bank’s digital channels saw 541mn total visits per month in 2022, having generated 45mn contracts during the year (up 17%), with 97% of customer interactions now occurring via digital channels. Also, the bank gained 8.9mn customers in the year, 67% of which originated from digital channels.
All this push led the cost to serve digital customers to fall by 31% year-over-year in December to 18 reais per client, according to Santander.
Open finance and energy
Santander Brasil has received to date 3.4mn active inbound consent requests in open banking (open finance), which is reportedly 2.7x higher than outbound requests. This has enabled the bank to increase its portfolio by 100mn reais through the use of data, it said.
With a focus on innovation in sustainable business lines, the bank recently created Energia+, an e-commerce channel that enables customers to digitally simulate and acquire solar energy generation projects for homes or commercial properties, streamlining the buying process.
The bank has also expanded its footprint by offering new services and entering markets through both organic and inorganic growth, including dozens of acquisitions and partnerships over the last two years.
BANCO DO BRASIL
Investment in digital acceleration is listed as one of the seven pillars of Banco do Brasil’s 2023 guidance. In Q4, the bank invested 52.7mn reais in security and 659mn reais in information technology.
Since 2016, Banco do Brasil has invested over 25bn reais in technology. The bank claims to have one of the largest technology parks in Latin America, processing up to 14.6bn transactions per day.
The number of clients using the digital channels (internet and mobile banking) reached 27.1mn in 4Q22, up from 26.9mn in the previous quarter, with 92.4% of all transactions carried out through these channels.
Digital platforms represented 30.4% of personal loans granted, the state-owned bank said.
Banco do Brasil has two teams that develop with partners solutions for four verticals: blockchain, 5G/IoT, artificial intelligence and smart fields.
In cloud, the bank claims to have expanded its processing capacity by including solutions such as open finance, PIX, chatbots and Mappiá during 2022.
Banco do Brasil said that enabled new businesses and innovations through artificial intelligence, and solutions such as Minhas Finanças Multibanco, BB no Metaverso and voice-activated transactions.
Regarding virtual assistants, in the last quarter the bank saw a 29.5% increase in unique users compared to 4Q21, and it maintained the transfer rate to human assistants at 5.7%.
Energy, CVC and workforce
For 2023, the bank expects to expand its operations in the carbon market, with the development of new technologies for mapping potential projects among its customer base together with the expansion of strategic partnerships.
Banco do Brasil has also been doubling down on corporate venture capital (CVC) bets.
In addition to investments in funds such as Astella Investments, Indicator Capital and SP Ventures, the bank has two exclusive funds: one under the management of MSW Capital, specialized in the integration between corporations and startups, and the other with Vox Capital, specialized in impact investments, both focused on fintechs, govtechs and startups that improve customer experience.
The bank’s exclusive funds ended the year with four investments: Aprova Digital, Bitfy, Pagaleve and Yours Bank.
Finally, the bank in December opened a selection process for new talent that includes 4,000 vacancies and 2,000 for the reserve register, half of which are for technology positions.
Bradesco, the second largest private sector bank in the country after Itaú, will grow its digital initiatives through partnerships with startups, among others, as it seeks to deepen its relationship with customers and cut operating costs.
The bank’s digital channels represented 98% of all transactions at end-2022 and were responsible for more than 33% of the loans granted in the year.
Overall, the bank ended 2022 with 77.1mn clients, and roughly 70% of this base are considered digital accountholders. Bradesco also claims to have 16 large digital platforms serving clients in its ‘exclusive’ and ‘prime’ segments.
Meanwhile, the bank’s Digio neobank unit closed 2022 with 5.1mn accounts, up 45% over a year earlier.
“The bank’s digital transformation continues at a fast pace. Bradesco is now, above all, also a digital bank, presenting growth in the number of transactions, credit origination and in all the products and services we offer digitally,” investor relations officer Carlos Firetti said in an earnings call.
Bradesco targets reaching 75% of digital channel transactions running in the cloud by 2025, with Microsoft Azure as the main provider.
Its mobile app uses cloud infrastructure provided by IBM, while the bank’s virtual assistant BIA was created based on IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence platform, and launched in 2016, the first such use case in the country.
This digital drive has allowed the bank to merge or shut down a sizeable number of physical branches and to reduce its workforce, while expanding its base of personnel dedicated to IT and digital transformation. Bradesco ended 2022 with 2,864 brick-and-mortar branches, down from 2,947 in 2021 and 3,395 in 2020.
Last July, Bradesco activated the first 5G signal in branches in Brasília using the public 3.5GHz band.