CxO of the Week: Mr. Shrini Vishwanath, Co-Founder and CTO, Upstox

By : |October 7, 2020 0

CxO of the Week: This week, CiOL gets to know more about Mr Shrini Vishwanath, Co-Founder and CTO, Upstox. With a passion for all things technology, Shrini heads Technology at Upstox. He started out with a simple goal – to innovate and alter the way investors trade in India. His dream is to merge intuitive design with sophisticated technology to create easy-to-use and powerful applications across platforms.

He started his career as a Software Engineer at Cerner Corporation and shortly after moved to Morgan Stanley as a Technology Analyst. Shrini worked at Citibank in Chicago before he moved to India. Then, he co-founded Upstox to disrupt the low-cost digital brokerage space with cutting-edge technological innovations. The company is based on a quality-oriented, yet cost-effective business model designed to offer the least expensive brokerage service with the best platforms. Shrini holds a BS degree in Computer Science from the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. Excerpt of the conversation here:

How Covid-19 accelerated the transition to digital for the stock market. What will be the new normal in the industry?

The ongoing pandemic has altered the behaviour of consumers and thus businesses by adjusting to the new normal. Despite the significant challenges ahead, the global pandemic has also presented opportunities for digital optimization and transformation. Exponential technologies can play a leading role in digital transformation, allowing businesses to gain a competitive edge, improving not only operational resilience but enabling flexibility in a new reality characterized by rapidly changing market dynamics.

In a world where there is no one to one contact, the vast majority of interactions with customers will take place virtually. While the shift towards digitization has been underway for some time, the current pandemic and subsequent lockdown have accelerated the move, as evidenced by the marked shift towards digital businesses.

What are the challenges one faces in driving digital transformation? How to overcome them?

There are two key challenges in driving digitalisation.

The first is infrastructural integration across functions from HR to facilities to marketing and IT. Luckily, Upstox has always been a technology-first company and this has helped us embrace digitalization across processes.

The second is, helping people leave behind traditional processes and adopt the new. This can be resolved, by focusing on building a customer experience that establishes your brand as a trustworthy solution to the problem you’re fixing.

Identifying the skills and expertise required to execute digital transformation efforts, determining how workforce models should align with digital business, and defining what’s needed to work in a remote environment, are key solutions. Building up the infrastructure Artificial intelligence, multi-cloud, streaming analytics, or other emerging technologies — having the right infrastructure built to scale these modern applications will be key to digital transformation success.

Digital transformation must create the agility that allows organizations to introduce changes at the speed the business requires. To benefit from digital transformation or to even to keep up with competitors in your industry, openness to change isn’t just about the physical infrastructure, but the people and the processes behind it.

What as per you are the five important things that small investors should be looking at today?

Diversification secures a portfolio against the adverse impact of market volatility. If your investments are adequately diversified, you can overcome the losses to some extent due to one of your underperforming asset classes through the better returns generated by another asset class.

One has to be clear about one’s financial goals and risk appetite before investing. Look for investment options as per your risk appetite. Your investments should be strictly in sync with your financial goals. For short-term goals, you may focus on relatively secure investments like bank FDs or liquid mutual funds, whereas for your long-term or mid-term goals, you may invest in equities for high return requirements, and small saving schemes or gold for low to medium return requirements.

Before investing one should learn thoroughly about investment avenues from online sources and make informed decisions. Given the surge in retail participation by first-time investors certain key elements to keep in mind are that they should stick to certain ground rules, these include starting with paper trading, fine-tuning stock investing strategy before committing money, and using the stop-loss option to maintain financial discipline while always staying informed.

The market is very volatile right now, how does the post-COVID scenario look like? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every industry, however, in the midst of all this, there have been companies in the consumer and technology space who have seen a surge in their businesses. Further, in the post COVID world, the consumer preference towards digital/consumer tech would see a considerable increase.

The broking industry overall has shown a steady growth rate even during pre-COVID, and in the future, intuitive trading platforms based on the evolving needs of our customers will be the key to growth for us. The coming times would see greater financial inclusion through equity participation, this will be done by innovative and customer-centric features that enhance the customer experience.

At Upstox, we are working towards financial inclusion by increasing equity participation. We are constantly listening to what our customers want and we will continue to upgrade and launch product features & services that will cater to their evolving needs for their financial well-being.

What according to you is increasing the gap in the market and the core service providers?

Discount brokers mostly charge a low fee and provide service to people from all walks of life, including those who have comparatively smaller capital to trade. With increased financialization in small cities, India is witnessing a sharp increase in the number of traders using online brokerage services. Discount brokerages are also benefiting from the all India lockdown.

Owing to the correction in the markets, new traders are using this opportunity to get into the market. The services provided by discount brokers are aimed at self-directed traders and investors, and the electronic trading platforms are built in a way that is beneficial for active traders with charting and position monitoring services.

Discount brokerages have used mobile and internet technology to their fullest potential to provide completely-online services and reduce the cost drastically.

Full-service brokers are a better option for investors who need professional investment advice or require support to stay on top of their financial planning outside of investing.

How is Upstox different from its competitors?

Customer feedback forms the backbone of our customer-centric innovations and a major driver to ensuring enhanced user experience. Our biggest USP is that we are a technology-first company that offers financial services to its customers, our app is one of the highest-rated apps in India and works well in low network areas too. It offers zero brokerage on equity delivery trades and up to Rs. 20 per intraday order for Intraday, F&O, Commodities, and Currencies.

Upstox has always been focused on ensuring that its clients benefit from its high-tech online trading platform with best-in-class services every step of the way, from the time they open an account to executing trades and beyond. Our app is extremely intuitive and easy-to-use even for first-time traders, driving the surge in mobile trading. From analyzing the market to viewing charts and placing trades, everything can be done in a few taps on a mobile phone — making it easier to trade for first-time participants. In fact, currently, over 85% of Upstox customers carry out daily trades through their mobile devices.

Additionally, our new Pro-Web 3.0 for Options Traders, offers an enhanced user interface, to provide a better trading experience for the trading community. These are among the recent innovative and customer-centric features that we have launched this year to enhance the user-experience on Upstox.

How are you upscaling the platform, in terms of added securities?

While the national lockdown has disrupted all segments of business, at Upstox, we have witnessed a spurt in business in terms of the growth of customers and trading volumes. We have already been continuously scaling our back-end systems to accommodate this growth.

We have already moved a large part of our infra processes on to cloud. We have also transformed a good number of our manual processes into automated processes to increase the efficiency of our platform.

Safety and security have always been core to our business, regardless of the situation around us. Deep back-end systems have been built to support our teams as they monitor production systems at different shifts from home. We have also looked at utilizing our online tools to manage projects and deliveries, while we have also invested in automated Q&A to fully test and certify new systems.

What are the highest-selling products in the market? Is it equity, mutual funds?

Investors with a low-risk profile usually opt for mutual funds, while more active investors with a higher-risk appetite tend to veer towards equity. The important thing is to balance between risk and return while investing in markets. Typically, Mutual Funds offer investors decent returns over a period of time, and generally considered a stable form of investment, it is also a less volatile form of investment for a retail investor.

One can invest directly in equities if you have done enough research and have understood the dynamics of trading as it needs time and dedication from the investor. Whichever avenue one chooses for investment, the important thing is to regularly assess whether the financial goals are being met as a result of your investments.

With more and more growing concerns for security, what are you doing to make the user feel safe?

Our entire technology suite is built in-house, which enables us to better identify and implement controls for possible security threat vectors. Our technology platform is constantly upgraded to make it more secure and threat proof. It helps us to implement the best practices adopted in those markets for mitigating security threats into our systems and processes.

Rapid technology developments have trebled the possibility of security threats in our financial markets. Therefore, the security of the customer’s fund becomes a prime objective. Upstox is the first broker to implement an electronic delivery instruction slip (e-DIS) facility to help customers sell shares in real-time after seeking authentication from investors through OTP. This makes e-DIS a secure way of transferring shares without giving power of attorney to a third party. Since the customer doesn’t have to give a physical POA, there is no authority given to the broker to transfer shares from customers’ Demat account without customer consent. This makes e-DIS a natural choice v/s POA and curbs the possible misuse.

What were some of the things you miss while working from home? How did you maximize your productivity while working from home?

I miss my team, the synergy that comes from working together. However, technology has made it simpler to stay in touch by way of virtual meeting rooms to carry out disruption-free business operations.

Efficiency while working from home can be maximized by planning the workflow and creating an at-home office. Also, healthy work-life balance will go a long way to boost the overall productivity of the company.

How are you personally dealing with the pandemic? Are there any new activities that you picked?

Trying to stay healthy is the hardest thing! I try to get a lot of steps in and do weight training in the house. It’s important to keep the brain active too so I’ve taken up reading more actively. My wife and I have also started doing 1000 piece puzzles and painting to keep our right-brains going.

For the previous CxO of the Week, read here.

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