Equitas SFB is get­ting dig­i­tal-ready

V.R. Srid­ha­ran, CTO, Equitas Small Fi­nance Bank, dis­cusses the tech­nol­ogy ini­tia­tives in the bank and how it got trans­formed into a dig­i­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion in a small pe­riod of time

Banking Frontiers - - Highlights - Mo­han@bank­ingfron­tiers.com

Equitas Small Fi­nance Bank com­pleted an en­vi­ous task of tran­si­tion­ing from an NBFC into a bank in a short span of 10 months and launch its op­er­a­tions in Septem­ber 2016 as one of the first small fi­nance banks in the coun­try, thanks to its vi­sion to cre­ate a best in breed tech­nol­ogy land­scape. The bank’s CTO, who was re­spon­si­ble for the cre­ation of the tech­nol­ogy in­fra­struc­ture, V.R. Srid­ha­ran, says the goal was to set up a sys­tem, which lever­ages an open ar­chi­tec­ture en­abling easy in­te­gra­tion with other ap­pli­ca­tion plat­forms. “Equally im­por­tant for us was to en­sure in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity and com­pli­ance to the reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment. We wanted a tech­nol­ogy setup, which would not only be com­pa­ra­ble to the best banks, but also give us the com­pet­i­tive edge in our cho­sen cus­tomer seg­ments,” says he.

This vi­sion was piv­otal in driv­ing the in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy in­duc­tion plans of the bank, says Srid­ha­ran, and adds this was ac­com­plished in just about 10 months. “We have set up around 375 new bank branches in a record time of around 12 months as part of this jour­ney. We have also made a sig­nif­i­cant cap­i­tal in­vest­ment in tech­nol­ogy as part of this tran­si­tion,” he adds.

CUS­TOMER CENTRICITY IS CORE

Srid­ha­ran main­tains that cus­tomer centricity and em­ployee em­pow­er­ment formed the core drivers of the IT team’s en­deavor to cre­ate a state of the art tech­nol­ogy setup. Scal­a­bil­ity to meet the busi­ness growth, need to de­liver change quickly to meet busi­ness de­mand and be­ing fu­ture proof were the other key con­sid­er­a­tions in this tech­nol­ogy jour­ney and one of the sig­nif­i­cant fea­tures was set­ting up of an En­ter­prise In­te­gra­tion Layer as part of this transformation pro­gram, which en­abled the core sys­tem to in­te­grate eas­ily with other ex­ter­nal ap­pli­ca­tions.

“The cus­tomer seg­ments that we cater to on the lend­ing side are the un­banked and the un­der banked. The in­tent, there­fore, was to cre­ate a bank­ing plat­form, which would lever­age dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies in as­sist­ing them to have a bank­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that is sim­pli­fied and has­sle free,” he elab­o­rates.

FO­CUS AR­EAS

Which are the core ar­eas that the bank had fo­cused while ini­ti­at­ing the tech­nol­ogy transformation - dig­i­tal as a whole, mo­bil­ity, self-ser­vice, cus­tomer de­light?

Re­sponds Srid­ha­ran: “The in­tent when we com­menced this transformation pro­gram was to en­sure that the tech­nol­ogy stack is able to de­liver cus­tomer de­light and con­ve­nience, which will en­able the cus­tomer to ac­cess the bank any­where, any­time. Cus­tomer centricity has been a key con­sid­er­a­tion in de­sign­ing our dig­i­tal of­fer­ings and we have adopted dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to suit the re­quire­ments of our di­verse cus­tomer seg­ments. With that out­look, even dur­ing the startup stage, we laid down our re­quire­ments to have a strong omni-chan­nel pres­ence. We not only strength­ened our dig­i­tal ser­vices to cus­tomers, but also en­abled branches and ex­ec­u­tives with ro­bust dig­i­tal ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

He adds that cre­at­ing a strong API layer has led to quick de­ploy­ments on in­ter­net, mo­bile and tab of­fer­ings both on self­ser­vice and as­sisted ser­vice ca­pa­bil­i­ties. This has also en­abled the bank to quickly in­te­grate with its fin­tech part­ners.

SMAC A KEY CON­SID­ER­A­TION

He re­veals that SMAC (So­cial, Mo­bile, An­a­lyt­ics & Cloud) has in­deed been a key con­sid­er­a­tion for the bank while ini­ti­at­ing tech­nol­ogy projects. In fact, mo­bil­ity and cloud have be­come a fun­da­men­tal wayof-work than an ex­otic re­quire­ment, he says, adding: “Our de­ci­sions on ini­ti­at­ing tech­nol­ogy projects go be­yond these en­ablers, into the realms of user ex­pe­ri­ence, au­to­ma­tion, self-ser­vice, and be­ing firstto-mar­ket. The world is mov­ing from mo­bile-first to AI-first, and with our dig­i­tal ini­tia­tives, we are now align­ing our tech­nol­ogy roadmap ac­cord­ingly.”

Srid­ha­ran also talks about the bank’s strat­egy to have a mix­ture of off-the-shelf pack­ages and in­ter­nal de­vel­op­ment of ap­pli­ca­tions to drive the busi­ness so that

there are tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits. So, in or­der to en­able faster turn­around times, the start­ing po­si­tion has gen­er­ally been that of ‘buy’, rather than ‘build’. “How­ever, this comes with its own chal­lenges and part­ner de­pen­den­cies. Over a pe­riod, we have come to re­al­ize that one size won’t fit all. Hence, we be­lieve that ap­pli­ca­tions that are cus­tomer / agent fac­ing which re­quire a rapid pace of de­vel­op­ment and change are well suited to in-house de­vel­op­ment. Ac­cord­ingly, last year, we took a bold de­ci­sion to re­place a crit­i­cal COTS (Com­mer­cial Off The Shelf) prod­uct with an in-house ap­pli­ca­tion due to the chal­lenges we faced with the de­liv­ery and sup­port from the OEM. This ap­pli­ca­tion is used by our cus­tomer fac­ing staff and im­ple­ments com­plex work­flows and de­ci­sion trees. We are proud to have con­cluded its na­tion­wide roll­out re­cently and are con­fi­dent that we can cre­ate in-house de­vel­op­ment ca­pa­bil­i­ties where needed,” he re­veals.

Srid­ha­ran says the bank has en­vi­sioned a goal of achiev­ing dig­i­tal lead­er­ship in the next 3-4 years, and as a part of this roadmap, it will fo­cus on cre­at­ing strong col­lab­o­ra­tive part­ner­ships with fin­techs. It is con­stantly on the look­out for part­ners who can add value in cre­at­ing tech­nol­ogy led prod­ucts and ser­vices.

PAPER­LESS, STRAIGHT THROUGH

Some of the key ar­eas that the bank will con­tinue to fo­cus on are: be­com­ing paper­less and straight through, val­ueadded prod­ucts and ser­vices to the SME clien­tele, build­ing strong dig­i­tal wealth man­age­ment ca­pa­bil­i­ties and process au­toma­tions for im­prov­ing ef­fi­ciency of the back­end op­er­a­tions.

“In­no­va­tion will be an in­te­gral part of our dig­i­tal agenda in cre­at­ing unique value propo­si­tions for the cus­tomer’” he says, giv­ing out the ex­am­ple of the bank’s ‘On­line Self-Ser­vice Ac­count Open­ing’ ca­pa­bil­ity us­ing an in­ter­ac­tive video form, which en­ables the cus­tomer to open a sav­ings ac­count in less than 6 min­utes, a first of its kind in In­dia.

The bank has be­come fully func­tional with self-ser­vice ca­pa­bil­ity for its cur­rent, sav­ings and de­posit ac­count cus­tomers and the fa­cil­ity is avail­able both on the browser and as mo­bile bank­ing apps on IOS and An­droid. A sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of the bank’s cus­tomer base use it ex­ten­sively to man­age their ac­counts and pay­ments.

FASTAG SER­VICE

An­other ser­vice that the bank has been of­fer­ing lever­ag­ing tech­nol­ogy is the FasTag ser­vice. “We have been the first small fi­nance bank to start is­su­ing FasTag elec­tronic toll col­lec­tion tags en­abling tran­sit pay­ments and are one of the few small fi­nance banks to of­fer a wide range of pay­ment prod­ucts to our cus­tomers,” says Srid­ha­ran. “For ex­am­ple, we are a cer­ti­fied Pay­ment Ser­vice Provider (PSP), which al­lows our cus­tomers to ac­cess their bank ac­counts through third party ap­pli­ca­tions as well, us­ing Uni­fied Pay­ment In­ter­face (UPI).”

The bank is also con­stantly adding func­tion­al­i­ties to its on­line and mo­bile bank­ing of­fer­ings to pro­vide greater cus­tomer con­ve­nience and de­light. It is com­ing out with a cen­tral­ized fa­cial recog­ni­tion ca­pa­bil­ity for cus­tomer au­then­ti­ca­tion on mo­bile bank­ing.

COM­MER­CIAL VI­A­BIL­ITY

Srid­ha­ran says the bank has al­ready em­braced emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies like ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, ma­chine learn­ing, ro­bot­ics and cloud com­put­ing. “How­ever, at the same time, we are of the view, that we will not keep chasing the lat­est tech­nolo­gies just to stay cur­rent. What is more im­por­tant for these emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies is to add value to our busi­nesses – in ar­eas such as cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence and op­er­a­tional ef­fi­ciency. Our in­vest­ment de­ci­sions in these tech­nolo­gies will be de­pen­dent on the com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity as well,” he has­tens to add.

SE­CU­RITY SYS­TEMS

While lot has been said about dig­i­tal pay­ments and cash­less In­dia, what is less dis­cussed is the re­li­a­bil­ity of se­cu­rity sys­tems for dig­i­tized bank­ing. Srid­ha­ran says as the dig­i­tal foot­print of the bank in­creases, se­cu­rity within the dig­i­tal en­vi­ron­ment be­comes paramount for any or­ga­ni­za­tion. Se­cu­rity, he says, is more a jour­ney than a des­ti­na­tion, since it is some­thing that will re­quire con­stant en­hance­ment to get ahead of the threats that ex­ist in the dig­i­tal world. “At Equitas, we place con­sid­er­able im­por­tance on pro­tect­ing our in­for­ma­tion as­sets. We set up a full-fledged in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity prac­tice within the or­ga­ni­za­tion much be­fore we tran­si­tioned to a bank and have been con­stantly mak­ing the ‘right’ in­vest­ments in both peo­ple and tech­nol­ogy to en­sure that our in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity is best in class to pro­tect the bank. We con­tinue to keep this our top pri­or­ity and have a team of se­cu­rity pro­fes­sion­als who en­sure that the bank is pro­tected ad­e­quately,” says he.

DIG­I­TAL SAVVY

Is there a plan to cre­ate a dig­i­tal only ser­vice unit of the bank?

Re­sponds Srid­ha­ran: “Equitas has made sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ments in its dig­i­tal ca­pa­bil­ity and will con­tinue to do so in the com­ing years. The dig­i­tal of­fer­ing will com­ple­ment the phys­i­cal pres­ence of the bank en­abling a wide range of op­tions for the cus­tomer to en­gage with the bank. We might con­sider cer­tain prod­ucts to be of­fered only through our dig­i­tal plat­form, for cer­tain spe­cific cus­tomer seg­ments who would be dig­i­tal savvy.”

V.R. Srid­ha­ran em­pha­sizes ini­ti­at­ing tech­nol­ogy projects go of­ten into the realms of user ex­pe­ri­ence, au­to­ma­tion, self­ser­vice and be­ing first-to-mar­ket

Equitas mo­bile bank­ing app

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