Digital self-service has been a focus point for our bank: Sony A, GM & CIO, South Indian Bank

One of the oldest banks in the country, the South Indian Bank, is currently in a phase of restructuring, for strategic business growth. An integral part of this growth journey are the tech initiatives led by Sony A, GM & CIO, South Indian Bank, who speaks about how their innovative efforts are ensuring enhanced customer experience

What are some of the innovative technology initiatives that are ensuring seamless experience for your customers?
The customer journey is key to all our activities, and the bank has placed an increased focus on enhancing UI/UX across all our major digital channels. The recently implemented UI/UX overhaul on our mobile banking and internet banking platforms elicited great feedback from stakeholders and customers alike. By enabling multilingual (9 languages), we have further enhanced the customer experience. All our customer-facing platforms are designed to ensure a simplified user journey and enhanced customer experience.

We have also launched AI-enabled chatbots to resolve customer queries and provide 24/7 digital support to our users. The chatbots pull and process information from various sources, such as the bank’s knowledge base and CRM customer profiles, to respond to incoming customer service requests.

Digital self-service has been a focus point for the bank. We currently provide digital onboarding facilities online, such as Video KYC-based Account Opening and Insta Account Opening, and through Tab devices which allow customers to open their accounts instantly. Also, kiosks are being provided as a self-service mode for various services. We are in the final stages of rolling out a revamped digital credit journey, right from onboarding to disbursement, implementing robust, score-based lending models in the underwriting journey, across all our asset products (Retail & SME), in integration with multiple external data sources, including non-traditional.

We also have a system in place to collect suggestions from our branch staff who directly interact with the customers, for enhancing our existing processes and identifying the weak links with respect to the entire customer journey.

What have been the key milestones of your cloud journey?
The bank has on-boarded various cloud providers and system integrators for evaluating and preparing cloud adoption strategies, as a long term plan. We have analysed cloud adoption strategies of other financial institutions as well as guidelines from the regulators.

Faster development and deployment of capabilities have already been achieved by IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS cloud services which we are used as part of various applications. We have also started with movement of non-critical applications and new applications which are predominantly cloud-native to cloud.

The bank’s long term vision with respect to cloud adoption is to develop all in-house applications and new requirements on cloud native platforms. We have evaluated and ensured cloud compatibility for all new applications, enabling us to roll out applications sooner and in an agile manner. In addition, we look forward to onboarding cloud native applications offered by FinTechs while procuring/migrating applications. Moreover, cloud compatibility has been ensured for most of our existing applications and the same have been slotted for migration in a phased manner.

As the bank follows an effective and approved security checklist for cloud implementation, all required security measures are ensured right from the preliminary stage. The bank’s Security Operations Team is continuously monitoring the cloud applications to ensure business continuity. Data privacy of the customer is of utmost importance to the bank and several steps have been taken to ensure the same. In compliance with regulatory norms, we have ensured that all data storage is implemented in the country, ensuring data localization.

As a result of the ongoing cloud adoption journey, the bank has been enjoying the benefits of improved total turnaround time of production movement and new business, OPEX investments and an overall enhanced customer experience. Rather than from an immediate RoI perspective, the investment in cloud are seen as a long-term, futuristic one which will yield great returns over the years.

As a tech leader in the banking industry, how do you see the role of the CIO evolve in the “new normal”?
CIO role is very crucial for any organisation, which is in a transformation journey to adopt digital. The balanced view brought by the CIO is a quintessential factor which ensures the success of the initiatives. From thinking exclusively on technology stack, CIOs need to reimagine their roles, as culture change agents. This will help them to be accepted across the organization rank and file, and become true change agents. The CIO is also expected to have a wholesome view on all matters pertaining to the overall security of data and systems of the bank.

Your views regarding how banks can enhance their security operational efficiency.
With increased digital adoption and a surge in digital usage, we need to be prepared for customer specific and systemic attacks in the cyber realm. As a huge chunk of these cyber-attacks directly target the customer, spreading relevant awareness among our customer base will play a significant role in the bank’s defense strategy. Periodic alerts detailing both safe and unsafe practices while engaging in digital forms of banking will continue to be circulated. The deployment of FRM with AI capability also further helps in strengthening the bank’s applications and mitigate fraudulent attempts through behavioral analysis and identification of risk patterns.

The cyber security strengthening measures as stipulated and recommended by regulatory bodies including the RBI are planned and implemented regularly, in concurrence with the bank’s CISO Office. Security control applications such as WAF (web application firewall), SIEM (Security information and event management) and HIPS (Host Intrusion Prevention System) have been implemented to further strengthen security. Further, regulatory and security bodies-mandated requirements are being ensured across all digital channels, including ATMs, and customer-facing platforms on a regular basis.

Rather than ‘firefighting’ and dealing with the consequences of an unforeseen incident, the bank’s objective is to detect and mitigate risk of attacks in the first place. We are constantly in the process of evaluating and improving the quality of our overall resilience capability through technologies and practices to ensure minimum disruption and quick resolution in case of incidents or events.

What is driving your strategy for partnership with fintech companies and aggregators?
In tune with the rapidly changing landscape of the banking industry, and keeping in mind the unique nature of FinTech, we had formulated a specialised central fintech team, equipped with market and technical knowledge. The FinTech team acts as a single window to evaluate and onboard new FinTechs, in regular dialogue with the top management.

The fintech strategy of the bank focuses on partnerships with suitable FinTech solutions for new products and services, in coordination with the bank’s business and IT teams, evaluating the options in the market, selecting the best possible solution at a competitive cost, to deliver an enhanced customer experience, in line with the bank’s digital strategy and transformation agenda. The major focus of the fintech team is business aggregation and exploring new business models.

What are your plans for setting up digital banking units and how will this redefine your operations in times to come?
In anticipation of the changed business environment in the post pandemic era, we had already established Digital Banking Branches. This experience made it easy for us to be part of the government’s initiative to launch 75 Digital Banking Units (DBUs) across the country, as announced in the 22-23 budget. Equipped with self-service models for customer onboarding, as well as both asset and liability products and services, these DBUs are self-sufficient in servicing our customers. Nudging our customers to go digital has been an important pillar of the bank’s digital strategy and implementing these DBUs is a step in the right direction for us. The future is indeed digital and DBUs are sure to become the norm soon.

Is there any other significant factor you wish to highlight regarding digital adoption in banking?
As a country we have demonstrated to the world, how quickly digital adoption can happen inspite of various challenges. The digital payment landscape of India, led by UPI is a clear example of how a easy to use, interoperable system will get widespread acceptance among all stakeholders. Similar activities are happening in other areas too, such as Account Aggregation. We are poised for a tectonic shift in the banking patterns, and the banks in India are well geared for the same.

bankingBFSICIOdigital paymentSouth Indian BankUPI
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