‘Digital’ not a hammer for this Bank

|August 16, 2016 0
Here's why Kotak Mahindra Bank's digital strategy looks to be avant-garde, bold and yet relevant

Pratima H

MUMBAI, INDIA: Applications, transactions, loans, withdrawals, complaints and everything else in between – can be nothing but nails for a bank who wears tech-tinted glasses and assumes that simply adding the alphabet ‘e’ to any process can make it super-agile and juicy.

But not for Deepak Sharma, Chief Digital Officer, Kotak Mahindra Bank. Even after some dazzling industry-firsts and courageous path-breakers in banking (recall Jifi for social banking and digital accounts or KayPay in money-transfer), he is as cognizant of the differences between digitally-savvy and digital-have-nots as he is eager for experimenting with the real value of bots, proactive apps and forces like AI (Artificial Intelligence).


What empowers him to balance the trifecta of security, ease and cool-quotient with any digital effort is simple – a good grip on what matters and what doesn’t.

Let’s understand that stronghold a little more in this candid walk-through with this digital-forerunner.

It must be heartening to see the word ‘digital’ becoming analogous to what the bank is about. How does it feel to be a first-mover in many areas?

It is a big journey that we have embarked on. The goalposts keep shifting the way technology keeps changing. So far, it’s been a great one. But there’s more to cover ahead, specially with existing businesses and new business opportunities. The way we define ‘digital’ rests on how technology can be used to make existing areas better in any of these ways – cost reduction, revenues, efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Deepak Sharma

Deepak Sharma

But how much of this is as easy as it appears? Aren’t long-and-deep running processes a wall of sorts?

It’s not easy but it is achievable. At our bank, there is both appreciation and realization for such initiatives. The sponsorship happens at the senior level. The new templates take into account existing processes and gaps that can be filled or new areas that were missing. Like credit automation. The new change should be as rigorous and robust as manual processes but with new strengths. There is a lot of stake-holder involvement to accomplish that. We break a large project into smaller parts and gradually move ahead with everyone’s support.

Don’t you bother about what-ifs while rolling out concepts like digital accounts or hash-tag banking?

Our digital strategy runs in two buckets – existing business transformation and new opportunities. The latter covers Greenfield areas where customer innovation and attraction of digital natives drives us towards good initiatives.

With that comes the chore of marrying regulatory needs, user experience, back-end together. How messy can that get?

Not at all, if you have a good strategy and team. Our employees are in a young bracket on the age average and very excited and passionate about innovative moves.

And what about marrying digitally-hesitant users with the tech-savvy ones when you launch something really new?

The entire design process depends on how customers behave and that includes all kinds of users. Design is also built with a mobile-first approach. The idea is to take the complexity out. That explains why one-time-fund transfers with email use etc are successful with all categories. The experience can be multiple for many segments. The understanding and comfort for a senior citizen would be different from that of a digital native and our design process factors that in. Even late adopters and rural customers are being catered to with our initiatives as per their pace and needs.

Would digital footprint increase security concerns with an enlarged surface area?

As digital gathers pace, these concerns will come up. As a bank, we look at the core IT and security frameworks before any initiative strongly; and also work with other methods like ethical hackers to ensure security.

Is it right that banks, in particular, face a digital dilemma with aging, years-of-investment loaded infrastructures on one hand and tech-savvy consumers sitting on the other end?

Our focus is run the bank, change the bank. Our IT team continues to support infrastructure and we also do not mind working with external ecosystem entities. Our aim is fast ‘time to market’ with efficiencies that align.

Do you feel that the competition is heating up? Like, DBS rolled what it calls India’s first mobile-only bank and other banks are also fiddling with trends like, mobile wallets, apps, biometrics, artificial intelligence etc. How much is the industry changing?

We were among the select early banks in India to be on mobile and are in the top rungs for many criteria. We have seen changes like shopping from a banking app or taking loans through a quick, hassle-free app etc. Next we may bring in a pre-customer app where people can use some frequently-used and apt features before they become customers. Every quarter a new technology comes in. Lot of POCs (Proofs of Concept) are in progress and we are testing many technologies as well as use cases with industry vendors to learn together. We do not go full scale unless we learn all important aspects in a partner mode. We are looking at digital lockers, AI, Blockchain, NLP (Natural Language Processing), bio-metrics, reducing overlaps, advisory automation etc in that sense.

Would bots be too early for banking?

We have a started a POC some months back. We are exploring both customer-facing and employee-facing uses.

What next do you see arriving?

Banks would increasingly use technology in anything and everything. Self-service trends, call-centre automation, data and analytics etc would have greater use. Digital initiatives will leapfrog from the front-end to the back-end as automation will keep reducing dependencies and improving efficiencies.

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