Making sense of data in a Fintech world

Ramesh Shanmuganathan Executive Vice President/Group Chief Information Officer, John Keells Group and Chief Executive, John Keells IT

DATA has become a KEY FACTOR for countries, organizations, and people to stay relevant in a fast-paced economy

Data is a key differentiator and determinant of the competitiveness of an organization and its ability to sustain value to its stakeholders – be it a customer, employee, partner, or shareholder.

Globally, DATA centricity is becoming a critical success factor for businesses though it is a rare phenomenon among Sri Lankan corporates, let alone the financial industry.

Customer centricity and customer experience are key driving factors of a data-driven organization.

In the absence of it, we have age-old processes and methods as the mainstream in our country’s financial services industry – physical IDs as opposed to Digital IDs for Know Your Customer (KYC), fiat currency as opposed to digital wallets, full-fledged branches as opposed to self-service branches, legacy mechanism of non-repudiation as opposed to block-chain based mechanism for B2B transactions, siloed channels for different product/ services as opposed to an integrated, omnichannel strategy, etc.

This is the foundation of our financial service sector which is nowhere close to addressing customer services let alone customer-centricity.

We as a country are lagging far behind in embracing digital as well as data-centricity in driving better customer experiences, as well as to foster inclusive and sustainable growth.

“If Sri Lanka aspires to become a financial services hub in the region then we ought to be embracing and nurturing an aggressive digital transformation of the sector to be relevant, customer-centric, inclusive and sustainable,” says Ramesh Shanmuganathan, Executive Vice President and Group Chief Information Officer of the John Keells Group. He is also the Chief Executive of John Keells IT.

Ramesh suggests that “often many business leaders base their judgements on assumptions that do not hold in today’s context.

This is mainly because they do not comprehend the potential disruption the new wave of technology can cause. Most of them stay in their com – fort zones until their position is threatened, or a crisis drives them to question their status quo.

Our objective is to leverage our expertise, exposure, and experience to help our customers start this journey proactively based on industry trends and nuances”.

Digitally Enabling the Financial Services Sector in Sri Lanka “Sri Lankan banks are in their comfort zones due to healthy net margins and profits which accrue due to that.

Hence, they have little incentive to invest more than they have to in building an omnichannel strategy which has customer centricity at heart.

Most banks have legacy systems and platforms which do not easily lend themselves for digital transformation, and banks are not able to leverage the data they have to drive personalization, let alone have a 360-degree view of their customers.

This leads to very fragmented and disconnected customer experiences and higher costs for the bank to sustain and retain them.

“Banks here have only to look to neighbouring countries to see how banks such as DBS Singapore, SBI India, DigiBank India, and OCBC Singapore and others have embraced digital technology.

Due to slow adaption and transformation of traditional banks, we see telco players such as Singtel, Grab, Alibaba, Paytm, Dialog and Mobitel trying to address the unfulfilled demand through their digital instruments.

This clearly shows there is an untapped market segment at the bottom which is either unbanked or poorly or not served at all. The country needs channels other than the expensive brick-and-mortar model to reach this segment to create a financially inclusive society for all.

Digital and IT has huge potential to help banks realize this overarching goal, and can also facilitate last-mile payments which would be a huge catalyst to advance e-commerce in the country,” quipped Ramesh.

He also went on to elaborate, “Today, data together with AI can be used to profile a customer, improve customer acquisition and retention, assess his or her credit rating, introduce anytime and anywhere banking, enhance customer experiences, reduce cycle times, predict cash availability, and streamline expense budgeting and planning more accurately.

There are banks such as Monzo, Chime, Revolut, Starling, and Tangerine that are 100% digital and do not have any brick-and-mortar aspects to their business.

This proves that digital a viable and most effective business model to reach your customers across the pyramid including the ones at the bottom. Most banks tend to own the entire value chain of operations.

“The question is, is this necessary? Can you build an eco-system which can be shared? What is the USP? Is it the number of branches or the number of ATMs? Or is it about giving every citizen access to banking?

Once, this is clear then the solutions can be mapped to deliver the desired outcomes. Today, even a rural shop could function as a cash dispenser given the available governance mechanisms and systems, but more often than not, the current legal and regulatory framework is what stifles innovation and customer-centricity of the financial sector.”

“While Sri Lankan banks have made progress towards automation, for the most part, they are still confined to their core transactional systems in driving operational efficiencies, rather than extending beyond their boundaries to connect their constituents by driving customer-centricity and unique experiences.

This needs an outside-in thought process with the customer at the centre, as opposed to an inside-out one.

This is where we help banks to understand these dynamics through planned interventions such as Design Thinking, Persona-based Journey Mapping, Blue Ocean Strategy, and Strategy Canvass to identify and address pain points and realize gains via pain-relievers and gain-creators.

Once we have identified them, we look at our solutions portfolio to deliver value to the respective stakeholders via IT/Digital.

“This is our mantra in driving Digital Transformation to our customers with a clear mandate to simplify and digitally enable their businesses.

John Keells IT has a portfolio of solutions and technologies which can help banks realise what has been discussed above, from simple automation via RPA to complex AI-based solutions, to predict and drive personalized, customer engagements which we have done across multiple industries in the region we operate in,” Ramesh explains.

Ramesh with his 25+ years of experience of having worked at the intersection of Business and IT, as well as setting the pace of Business/IT transformation since the early 2000s, draws from his wealth of experience having led various transformation programs across the regions.

He was instrumental in realigning the IT Sector of John Keells into John Keells IT as a boutique consultancy and services organization which primarily aims to enable organizations to leverage Digital/IT to transform businesses for the digital era.

Today, John Keells IT is enabling the transformation of the John Keells group, the largest and most diversified conglomerate in the country.

The businesses across the multiple industries through the application of proven methods such as design thinking, persona-based journey mapping, and blue ocean strategy to drive better customer centricity and ecosystem thinking enabled by Digital/ IT.

John Keells IT has built the acumen of Digital Transformation (DT) with its expertise & experience of managing the John Keells group of companies in their respective digital transformation journeys, and can take that acumen and learnings to drive the digital transformation journey for other like-minded clientele across the APAC and MENA regions.

“John Keells IT is at an unfair advantage due to being an inherent part of John Keells group and thus benefiting from both worlds: of being a customer and partner to established Digital/IT transformation players and consultancies such as SAP, Microsoft, UiPath, Deloitte, Siemens, and Cisco,” Ramesh explains.

Further, Ramesh has a personal advantage of playing the dual role of being the John Keells group’s CIO as well as John Keells IT’s CEO.

“We started our transformation journey at John Keells in 1999 when we implemented the very first integrated, islandwide private network connecting all our constituents.

This enabled us to implement a centralized ERP on SAP in 2003 across 6 sectors and 70 companies. From that point onwards, John Keells group has been setting the trend for transformation in the island and is a role model that others aspired to follow.

We ensured that we were ahead of the curve, leveraging our competitive edge as a conglomerate and reaping the synergistic potential within the group.

“We were also the early adaptors of a data-driven culture with the Advanced Analytics program that we launched with a leading global consultancy, which is enabling businesses to use real-time data to run their businesses with better customer engagement.

Sometimes, we know that the enabling tech is there, but at times it is about whether we are ready to embrace it in a meaningful way to impact the business in a holistic sense.

At times, we have to think like a start-up and act like one to leapfrog out from legacy business models and to create the new normal.

That’s what we have done with our Super Markets over the last two years and our customers are realizing the benefits of those early investments today,” Ramesh says, reflecting on the thought leadership and approach which has helped set the business apart.

“JKIT is uniquely poised to unleash the true potential of our customers through collaboration, co-innovation, and co-creation together with their customers and their partners to build a VALUE ECOSYSTEM in a step by step approach, at the pace the customer is comfortable with, and this is unparalleled and ahead of its times in facilitating design and eco-systems based thinking and transformation.

We facilitate this with a four-pronged strategy and solution stacks: namely, JKIT-Transact, JKIT-Transform, JKIT-Engage & JKITInnovate.

Each is designed to suit different maturity levels of a customer and helps them to leverage the right strategy and optimal solution stack that befits them to accelerate their transformation journey.