Inside Talk

In conversation with Sankarson Banerjee
Chief Information Officer, RBL Bank

Sankarson Banerjee-forum-spk

Sankarson Banerjee

Chief Information Officer, RBL Bank

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Banking-beyond-borders seems to be the dominant theme in the industry with the emergence of new collaborative business models that transcend industry boundaries and create customer value beyond the frontiers of financial services. As customer-centricity becomes more deeply entrenched in the business and operating models of banks, the concept of banks as walled structures is clearly here on borrowed time. In fact, it is dismantling on borrowed time, making way for a new wave of innovation driven by the free movement of data and functionalities.

FinacleConnect got talking with Sankarson Banerjee, the Chief Information Officer of RBL Bank, to understand the bank’s outlook about the ongoing shifts in the industry and its innovative API-led growth strategy for not just creating revolutionary products but an ecosystem that powers immersive experiences.

FC: Delivering exceptional experiences at key customer touchpoints has always been crucial for any customer experience strategy. What according to you is driving the shift from touchpoints to complete journeys in banking now?

Sankarson: Always-on banking in the digital world is much like the e-commerce business. High availability, reliability, and resilience of banking software systems and processes mean that banks never shut. Customers can make payments or withdraw money at any time of the day or the night. Moreover, each customer touchpoint is greatly rich in functionality. One of the oldest technologies in banking, the ATM, also supports capabilities beyond basic cash withdrawal or balance check. Richer touchpoints, greater availability, and more channels spew massive amounts of more intelligent data making hyper-personalization not just a possibility but a reality.

In a world of multi-generational customer base, customer experience is a lot more complex. The banking needs of GenZ entering the workforce differ starkly from those of a millennial looking to invest in property. What’s more, individual customers in a single demographic segment differ in their context, lifestyle, and requirements. Offering delightful or even satisfactory customer experience is thus a matter of contextualization and personalization, of which data is the fuel and data-driven customer journeys the only way.

FC: There is a growing realization about having multidisciplinary teams working for customer journey transformation. In your view, what should be the composition of cross-functional teams working on such a transformation?

Sankarson: Not just customer journey transformation, the success of any modern customer experience transformation program hinges on the diverse customer insights and perspectives it can assimilate and then harness for benefits of contextualization, cost efficiency, and compliance. Customer experience today is no longer about segmentation, but about understanding the context of every individual customer a bank serves. For instance, our ATM usage statistics repeatedly indicate the preference towards a terminal installed at a bank branch over a standalone terminal that is nowhere in the proximity of a branch. Insights such as these are also instrumental in optimizing service delivery by exploring and using alternative channels of delivery in banking to minimize the cost-to-serve. So, an effort that was primarily led by heads of different products earlier, is far more multidisciplinary and dynamic today with involvement and participation from marketing, finance, and channels. The importance of consumer behavior professionals who can consider positions that data fails to reveal explicitly and who can question inherent biases is also on the rise.

FC: Reimagining customer journeys requires fundamental changes in the operating model of the bank. What were the changes that your bank carried out and how did you balance current/future state models?

We are organizing ourselves around customer needs instead of products to offer our customers a unified interface and a frictionless experience.

Sankarson: That’s a very relevant question. One of the great shifts underway in banking is in the way banks are organized. And that is true for any bank. Banks are typically organized around products, not customer needs. Now if a customer engages with a bank for more than one service, she has to speak with different people and sometimes is also required to submit documents more than once, which introduces friction in the whole experience. Even more so, when the underlying systems are different. So we are continually working to change that. We are organizing ourselves around customer needs instead of products to offer our customers a unified interface and a frictionless experience. While this is not only a technology-centric transition, and we are engaged in comprehensive research and behavioral analytics exercises to understand how our customers interact with us, it is vital that we get the technology and process enablers right to ensure there is no disruption in the end user’s experience. We work closely with vendors and partners to understand the risks and the nuances of exception handling, so our people can make the “one bank” approach of unified experience a success not just during the transition but for continued excellence long after.

FC: Change management within the organization is as important as understanding the customer. How is your bank enabling the workforce to deliver exceptional experiences?

Sankarson: The change we are looking at today is not incremental. It’s a step change, a leap forward. If I had to provide an analogy, I would say it’s a far cry from how messenger services of yore evolved, when runners were served a diet rich in fiber to make them run faster. Then years later, postal services came along, bringing about a revolution in communication and message delivery.

We are looking at a new way of banking today. It’s not about making existing services faster. But about revolutionizing banking and looking at it from a prism of new digital innovation potential and unprecedented customer-centricity. Forces such as the rise of APIs, platforms, and emerging digital technologies are bringing in a change that’s more rapid than it has ever been. We are embracing automation and AI not only for efficient operations but also to understand customer preferences and provide contextual experiences. But, as we continue to adopt these new technologies, a deeper appreciation for the more human faculties is also becoming evidently clear. For instance, the role of a bank branch is changing. RBL continues to have a strong physical presence, but now we are increasingly looking to invest in our branch personnel to enable them to deliver on evolving customer expectations. Today, customers typically turn to the branch staff or their relationship manager for consulting and advisory, not for assistance with transactions. Therefore, while we are looking at the transformation of the workforce at all levels, the front-end frontier of change is where the result of all that transformation and our understanding of individual customers will reflect. Transformation of the front-office with a sharp focus on people transformation is a critical part of our change management efforts.

FC: Tell us one element of your digital and customer experience transformation strategy that you think is a key differentiator for the bank.

We are a bank that wants to empower these FinTechs to excel at customer-centric innovation.

Sankarson: If I were to put a finger on one such element of our transformation story, it would be a key tenet of our strategy that spans and cascades down to a variety of our strategic initiatives. It is our keen focus on being an exceptional partner bank. FinTechs and digital start-ups have the benefits of innovation and agility and banks have significant financial strengths. We are a bank that wants to empower these FinTechs to excel at customer-centric innovation. A part of our strategic efforts is directed at making it easy for our partners to use our services. Fast provisioning and integration of our APIs, launch of new services, and capabilities of a full-service bank are the key propositions that attract our partners, and augment and accelerate their innovation efforts.

We also run research labs and proofs-of-concept (POC) to co-innovate with our partners as part of a partner program. Albeit a high risk-and-reward arrangement, these co-innovation efforts create particularly great value in being able to mature a technology through innovation exchange with the partners we engage, and discovery of new value these partners create with their customers.

In conversation with Bhanu Narendrakumar
Senior Vice President, Platforms, Emirates NBD


Bhanu Narendrakumar

Senior Vice President, Platforms, Emirates NBD

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Emirates NBD is known for its constant endeavor to embed innovation and customer-centric thinking in service excellence in the Middle East. Read excerpts from our conversation with Bhanu Narendrakumar, Senior Vice President, Emirates NBD to know how the bank is transforming its customer experience strategy for new digital realities.

FC: Delivering exceptional experiences at key customer touch points has always been crucial for any customer experience strategy. What according to you is driving the shift from touchpoints to complete journeys in banking now?

Bhanu: Today, every bank is thinking of the customer journey from a viewpoint that is much broader than that restricted by their own transactions. This is a social view of life that they are moving towards. The omnichannel banking experience is playing an important role here. As a bank, if I already offer an ATM experience, I would not only like to offer a similar one on other platforms, but also ensure that a journey that starts at the ATM can progress continuously, with one transaction leading to another, and end on any of the other channels on offer.

FC: Yes, it is about different industries coming together and not only about banking anymore. This leads to my second question, which is, that today, when banking transactions originate on or are influenced by channels that are not always bank-owned, how can banks design immersive experiences that are contextual and delightful to customers?

Lifestyle banking is not about holding a customer’s money, paying interest on it and making cash available. It is about how far you can contextualize your services.

Bhanu: This is exactly the idea behind the digital bank model that banks are increasingly moving towards. Take the example of Liv, lifestyle banking from Emirates NBD. Lifestyle banking is not about holding a customer’s money, paying interest on it and making cash available when the customer needs it to fulfill a transaction. It is about how far you can contextualize your services to not only the individual customer, but to the individual customer on this day, at this hour, and at this minute. Every bank profiles their customers but how many know for instance, how an orthodox customer’s lifestyle changes on Tuesdays? This kind of intelligence is not established only through real-time analytics and AI platforms. Technology plays an enabling role but finally, it is in the use cases that use the technology.

When you have full knowledge of the customer and technical ability, you can not only facilitate his search for something but also guide him to further quests. For instance, if the customer uses Uber, you can guide him to pay using your mobile banking app. You present it in a way that the customer does not feel your bank is pushing its services, but rather that it is there as a partner along the journey.
In the age of ecosystem banking, every bank has a share in the market, and its returns are linked to the contribution it makes to customers. This is the whole philosophy of banking today; it is not merely about using technology to facilitate services, which is a bank-centric view. It is about being highly customer-centric.
If banking is a lifestyle element, how does a bank use technology to facilitate it? Simply by keeping the technology as open as it gets, which means the bank must make its service layer as open as possible. As a bank, I should be able to consume services from third parties and also offer my own services in the most secure manner. I must pay special attention to security and compliance and yet be open enough for others to connect with me. This is where blockchain and open banking come in.

FC: Right, thanks for that. When you execute this model you have to keep one eye on the future and also be able to deliver on the demands of the present. So how do you balance this? How did Emirates NBD go about executing this in a balanced manner?

Bhanu: It’s a very apt question for what Emirates NBD is now going through. We are in a market and region that is highly competitive, and where the expectations from a bank are not those of a bank. While that is said of my business counterpart and my end customer, the technology itself is undergoing a two-year long transformation journey. So the theme of transformation is to cleanse, rationalize and build a robust platform for the business and having done that, mature into a state where the technology solutions are more robust and enable faster time to market. While that is the end objective, it is not achieved over a timescale of weeks or months; sometimes it may take up to a year. At the same time the market will not wait for us to finish the customer journey and then say, produce a real estate offering on Blockchain. That doesn’t happen. So one also has to balance transformational delivery with business as usual (BAU) demands. It’s easier said than done but unless you do it nobody is going to support you in the transformation.

So how do we do it? The objective is to transform either the process or the platform, but what we deliver is use cases, not platforms or processes. Our transformation revolves around business use cases that help us to define it. Because we are delivering a use case, our business goals are also achieved. Are we aligned 100 percent with the BAU demands? The honest answer is one will slow down for the other, and how far and when this must happen changes from case to case. This requires a really good understanding of all stakeholders, be it technology, vendor partner or even business counterpart.

FC: Right, that is indeed very insightful. But when there are so many stakeholders involved, how do you get everyone on board? How do you measure success when there are so many stakeholders and how do you tie the KPIs of your employees as well as stakeholders to get them to deliver on a common organizational goal?

Bhanu: These kind of operational goals for both business and IT are achieved only when there is a banking vision; it can never be a technology vision. If you are transforming a process or a platform it is only a supporting pillar for the bigger vision of the organization. You only need to make it clear that what you are doing is supportive of end-user KPIs and benefits, which will turn into dollar KPIs. I think that’s the first contract we enter into with business and service providers. Take for example, a contract for digitizing an auto loan through various channels. The easiest way would be to pick up a solution from the market, and roll it out to a dealer in 3 months’ time. But when you are able to sit down and reason out that by spending an extra couple of months one can create a differentiating solution for not one dealer, but the entire network, then the whole game changes.

The minute we broaden the goal, it raises a partner’s perception about the partnership potential and our confidence in our understanding of the partner’s needs. So how do we now measure the KPIs? For the partner who was looking at a single dealer, but is now covering the network, this makes for a good enough KPI between his organization and the tech vendor. Now, when he is out there consuming almost 3/4th of the market that is his KPI to my stakeholders. So we both have our share of gains. We are able to establish our technological strength and avoid being tied down to any rigid solution that we might end up carrying as a technical debt forever. The partner, despite spending a couple of months more, earns an exponentially bigger yield than what was envisaged in the first place. Our staff is engaged because their contribution comes from their creativity.

How did we achieve this? These days the whole world is moving to DevOps and Agile frameworks. The minute we enter into this operating model of delivery, we can no longer call ourselves technology or label someone else a consumer or business counterpart. The minute it is a team delivery, the KPIs are shared; as the technology counterpart we start thinking of how much automobile sales the dealer will bring in to give our product folks 10 percent of that share. So the outlook has changed completely. Our KPI is just 1/10th of the bigger picture.

FC: Yeah, it’s more about understanding who you are dealing with…

Bhanu: It’s actually about packaging your own KPI into that of the person who is seeking the service.

FC: That’s insightful. That brings us to the last question. Customer journey transformation programs are usually organization-wide. So there are bound to be pitfalls. For example, some banks cannot scale up, some fall short when it comes to prototyping. What according to Emirates NBD are some of the key pitfalls that banks must avoid?

Bhanu: We have observed that banking professionals get carried away by technology, product knowledge or creativity in delivering customer journeys. Unfortunately, we overlook how simple and easy the journey is for the customer, and focus on this only when trying to scale things up for segments that were not originally planned. This is a common mistake made by all service providers. And it always gets corrected. Who corrects it? The end customer! We are now trying to bring the customer very early into the project lifecycle. It is a good idea to identify the most enthusiastic customers and allow them to “author” the customer experience. The benefit is mutual – for the customer it is a matter of pride to design the Emirates NBD customer journey and for us, it is the security of knowing we are very close to what the customer wants. Sometimes this could be quite far from what we originally conceptualized.

The second thing is risk and compliance. As banks we want to keep things customer-friendly, which means that risk and compliance management usually gets second preference. But this can be a showstopper.

FC: How important is CXO sponsorship to customer journey transformation?

Bhanu: It can never happen without board sponsorship or at a minimum, senior leadership support.

In conversation with Samir Khare
Group Chief Information Officer, FMB Capital Group


Samir Khare

Group Chief Information Officer, FMB Capital Group

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As part of our third interview of the series, FinacleConnect spoke with Samir Khare, Group Chief Information Officer, FMB Capital Group. Samir weighs in on what it takes to drive and deliver customer-centric banking, and offers insights into the Group’s efforts to create greater customer value in these times of exponential change.

FC: Today industry cross-overs are creating new value for the customers, and a banking transaction can originate on any non-banking channel such as a ride-sharing application or a music streaming service. How can banks design immersive customer experiences in this new world?

Samir: The objective for banks in an evolving digital lifestyle should be to make the customer’s journey as frictionless as possible when it comes to the movement of money, as in the case of digital payments and settlements. When transactions take place on a plethora of non-banking channels, a focused approach for collaborating with service providers is of paramount importance. The implementation of this approach requires banks to invest in and leverage an open banking ecosystem that can enable the banks’ customers to use and pay for services digitally. And an ecosystem works best when all the partners and participants benefit from it, so it goes without saying that such an open banking ecosystem should also enable the customers of digital service providers to leverage the payment ecosystem.

An ecosystem works best when all the partners and participants benefit from it.

FC: Reimagining customer journeys requires fundamental changes in the operating model of a bank? What were the changes that your bank carried out and how did you balance current / future state models?

Samir: Reimagining customer journeys clearly requires investment in dedicated time and resources for technology, process, and design improvements. However, an investment in the education and evolution of customers is equally important. The amount of investment and effort required depends on the maturity model of the geographies of operations.

At FMB Capital Group, the products our customers use and the way the customers interact with the bank dictate the focus on re-designing customer journeys. There is a major push to continuously improve the transaction experience of banking services on the customer’s mobile. At the same time, we are also investing in customer education through a well-planned push campaign to make our customers aware of alternative channels of delivery and drive greater adoption of these digital channels. Additionally, a comprehensive look inwards for process re-design using automation tools and digital solutions is also underway.

We expect a combination of these efforts to result in an evolving operating model. We are keenly aware of the need to ensure that customer transition from current operating models to evolving models is a seamless experience and does not have a jarring impact.

FC: Change management within the organization is as essential as understanding the customer. How is your bank enabling the workforce to deliver exceptional experiences?

Samir: Getting people to understand the possibilities of digitally-enabled banking is the starting point to get them to adopt change. These people could be customers or a bank’s workforce.

We are focusing on programs that educate and expose our employees to these possibilities. Also, one of the critical tenets of the organization’s values is customer-centricity. Our Human Resources function is running multiple activities and initiatives to drive customer-centric thinking across the organization. These initiatives have support and sponsorship from the business and the senior management to ensure that customer-centricity becomes a deep-rooted culture.

FC: How can a bank build or transform customer journeys for the future, to adapt to emerging digital technologies and growing scale?

Samir: It is the end of banking as we know it. The new world of ecosystem-driven banking is different from the traditional full-stack monolithic banking structures. Thus, the shift in focus towards increased efforts to collaborate rather than owning and building solutions in-house is imperative. In our view, driving great customer outcomes with a successful ecosystem-driven strategy requires a four-pronged approach: