The Godfather of Digital Banking -Thilak Piyadigama
Thilak Piyadigama claims that he was an accidental Banker and never meant to be or planned to be a Banker, but this serendipitous opportunity by Standard Chartered Bank paved the way for Piyadigama to excel in the Banking industry.
Thilak Piyadigama popularly known as the Godfather of Frimi is a product of St. Anthony’s College, Kandy, and is currently the CEO of SDB Bank. Although Piyadigama represents the epitome of Banking, his professional journey, in fact, could have taken a very different path but he thoroughly believes that his trust in his “gut feelings” and ability to make “calculated decisions” has made him the man he is today.
As a qualified Engineer from the University of Moratuwa, Piyadigama joined John Keells Holdings PLC in the 1980s, eventually receiving the opportunity to work at Standard Chartered Bank.
Speaking with the Entrepreneur Magazine, Piyadigama noted “I was an accidental Banker. I never meant to be or planned to be a Banker”, but this serendipitous opportunity only set in motion the wheels for Piyadigama to excel in the Banking industry.
At Standard Chartered Bank Piyadigama honed his skills striving for innovation, learning and representing the bank to the best of his abilities, leading him to become the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Standard Chartered Bank – Sri Lanka in 2000.
watch the video interview
Piyadigama’s first international posting was in Abu Dhabi, where under his leadership, Standard Chartered Bank furthered its presence in countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and Africa. Piyadigama’s final international role in Singapore, came after his placement in London whilst working for Standard Chartered – Africa.
Piyadigama strongly believes that Sri Lanka can benefit from its neighbours – Singapore in terms of development potential “Singapore’s governance and policy execution are by far one of the best in the world. Business communities find it far more efficient in nation’s that have strong regulations.”
Upon his return to Sri Lanka in 2015, Piyadigama consequently joined Nations Trust Bank as an asset that brought in new value for customer relations, technology and operations. It was here that he became an integral part of Sri Lanka’s first digital bank – Frimi. He soon became known as the Godfather of Frimi.
At present, Piyadigama is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SDB Bank and has worked with over 80 different nationalities throughout his career thus far.
SDB Bank has shifted its focus to a major digitalization program by providing a world-class banking system including mobile banking and UPay digital services, with 5,000 ATMs located around the island. “80% of Sri Lanka is still rural, but we have been able to track a large shift towards digital efficiency. Where we have seen a large growth in the use of UPay app especially during the COVID-19 lockdown.” Piyadigama explained that there is approximately LKR 650 billion transacting through Sri Lanka as physical cash [in our wallets and homes] and believes that through the promotion of digital banking, and returning even 10% back to the banks that this will aid the industry growth.
SDB Bank has been operating for over 22 years, originating from Co-operative Societies, set up to assist rural communities which act as “an expansion of Sanasa Societies” to upgrade them to better banking. As a licensed, specialised development bank, Sanasa was listed in 2017 and the majority of their shareholder became international organizations such as IFC, FMO, Triple Jump, etc. “This international interest came due to SDB’s focus on assisting SMEs”.
Piyadigama explained that over ⅓ of Sanasa Bank’s core business is based on assisting SMEs mainly located in rural areas. “The purpose of the bank is to help all Sri Lankans, but we are very rural and SME focused. 10% of the portfolio is also focused on local agricultural value chain based financing as we do have a strong drive to assist this growing sector”. Sanasa Bank at present services approximately one  million customers with approximately 50% of them being women. Sanasa also carries out several education programmes for the youth of the nation with regard to finances, management of finances, etc.
Piyadigama strongly believes in Sanasa Bank’s innately innovative, ethical services and the brand’s ability to aid in uplifting the nation’s overall economic status. “You don’t have to go through traditional development phases where we go from 1G, to 2G, etc. We can leapfrog from 1G to 5G. Sri Lanka has changed, the social fabric of Sri Lanka has changed and the need of the customer has changed. As a responsible financial services provider, we need to bring in innovative and creative methods to serve customers better.”