Bangkok Bank, established in 1944, is one of Southeast Asia’s largest regional banks. The bank is a leading provider of corporate finance and small to medium enterprise (SME) lending in Thailand with approximately 240 business centres. The bank also has the country's largest retail customer base of more than 17 million accounts. Bangkok Bank’s international network includes 31 overseas branches in 14 economies, as well as relationships with more than 1,000 correspondent banks worldwide. It is the only Thai bank with a substantial presence in China, through its wholly owned subsidiary Bangkok Bank (China). It also owns Permata Bank in Indonesia.

The challenge of rapid digital customer growth

It’s the bank that never sleeps and a brand that is the envy of many. Bangkok Bank’s position as a market leader in the hyper-competitive financial services market in Thailand is evident by the stream of awards it has garnered over the years.

Indeed, as one of the largest, most successful financial institutions in Southeast Asia, it came as no surprise when Bangkok Bank was awarded Brand of the Year in the banking category by the prestigious World Branding Forum. Winners were judged based on three streams: brand valuation, consumer market research, and consumer votes.

Maintaining its strong standing amongst consumers is critical to the brand; specifically, the two most used platforms: mobile and digital banking. Ensuring that both services have 24/7 uptime, are easy to use, highly functional, and always responsive are critical.

Ian Guy Gillard, Bangkok Bank senior executive vice president, recalls that wired internet "never really took off in Thailand". As a result, digital banking had a slow start. But when mobile phones with 3G and 4G arrived, digital banking became a viable option.

"When we launched internet banking, and then mobile banking, we all of a sudden got this uptake. It took several years to hit 1 million users on internet banking, but we hit 3 million in two months on mobile. Everyone in Thailand has a mobile phone, penetration is around 140 percent…even lower-paid workers have a smartphone. And the government is very proactive as far as not having an unbanked population. You can have low [account] balances and still get access to the full stack of digital banking," Gillard explains.

Bangkok Bank currently has between 6 million and 7 million users of the mobile app—a number that’s growing every month. It hopes to increase that to between 8 million to 10 million in the next 12 months. In 2020, it conducted 819 million transactions and expects to do more than 1 billion in 2021. But, keeping up with demand has had its challenges.

"The rate of usage was growing, and customer expectations were changing. We were ahead of our competitors four or five years ago, but we fell behind. We needed to improve not just the product, but the customer experience and be able to understand what they're doing and how the system is responding to their needs. Instead of just a ‘servers up’ mentality we needed to understand the experience from the customer perspective in real time,” Gillard says.

Ensuring a seamless customer experience

Bangkok Bank had three core objectives. First, to improve uptime and performance, with better site reliability and incident handling. It also wanted to establish an architecture that would accelerate its ability to adopt APIs, enabling greater integration with partners’ products, applications, platforms, and services. And it wanted to develop tech innovations to suit each customer group along with more sophisticated products and end-to-end solutions to better meet customer needs.

"It’s critical to provide superior mobile banking services and new digital experiences that are fast, secure, and easy to use," Gillard says. “People need to be able to rely on these services and they need to be always-on.”

Bangkok Bank had been using a homegrown monitoring tool, but it didn’t have 24/7 support. Instead, it was recommended New Relic as being "easy to install and run".

"We were like blind people…we couldn’t see what was going on when an incident or issue occurred. But once we had New Relic, it gave us a lot of information—we could point to the exact issue that was happening at that very moment"

Thaworn Panchasrirat, Vice-President, Technology, Bangkok Bank

"We didn’t want to spend forever on a proof of concept, so we just went for it. New Relic One’s new pricing model, which doesn't charge per host, was very attractive for us, as we have such aggressive growth targets for our mobile app," Gillard says.

The observability that New Relic delivers has enabled Bangkok Bank to see issues such as load balancing of the web servers, so it can immediately make adjustments. "We can see when things are starting to queue up, so we can spin up or spin back down again," Gillard says.

Thaworn Panchasrirat, Bangkok Bank vice-president, Technology, said that prior to using New Relic, “We were like blind people…we couldn’t see what was going on when something (an incident or issue) happened.”

“But once we had New Relic, it gave us a lot of information—we could point to the exact issue that was happening at that very moment, and that’s very helpful,” Panchasrirat says.

Greater transparency, faster incident resolution

New Relic has also given much more transparency over bottlenecks in the bank’s transaction system. Thailand has had real-time interbank payments for more than 20 years, and mobile banking has been further enhanced via various farsighted government initiatives such as PromptPay. Traditional interbank systems are based on store and forward. But with real-time transfers, if other banks have problems with their systems, it backs up at Bangkok Bank’s systems. New Relic was able to show what was happening, which enabled the bank to design a fast track/slow track system to prioritise transfers.

Introducing new features is also more seamless. For example, the bank will have a new feature deployed to its data centre, but users won’t see it until the new app version is released, which typically takes several days. During this time, project team members can try out the feature using New Relic to measure response times. If response time is dramatically affected, the team can respond before end users get the feature, and in the worst-case scenario, a kill switch can be applied. This has created much more flexibility and certainty in rolling out features.

Since COVID-19, many staff have been working from home, which has made remote monitoring even more critical.

"With New Relic, we have the ability to be able to monitor things from outside the bank and be alerted to any issues. We integrated New Relic with Microsoft Teams, so it sends alerts from within Teams. We had luckily just finished the Office 365 rollout when COVID hit, but that's really increased adoption too with New Relic being delivered through Teams to the executive team, including our CEO," Gillard says.

He notes that New Relic’s dashboards have also been critical in providing a summary overview to management, giving them more visibility into and understanding of what’s going on with the system.

“The transparency that New Relic offers gives us the ability to invest in areas where we need to focus and also where we need to improve," Gillard says.