Our vision is to evolve as a ‘Neo Financial Services’ marketplace: Subhash Kelkar, CTDO, ICICI Securities

In an exclusive interaction with Express Computer, Subhash Kelkar, Chief Technology and Digital Officer, ICICI Securities deep dives into how the company has emerged as a leading integrated tech-based financial services firm, by scaling up its digital capabilities and delivering superior experience to the customers

You assumed the role at a time (October 2020) when there were high expectations from the IT function of any organization. How easy or difficult was it for you to navigate through the unprecedented times and accelerate the pace of innovation which was already done at ICICI Securities?  

I took up this job as a challenge. Before meeting the senior management, I studied the platform and found that while it was robust and much loved, there was scope for improvement. For instance, the unique features and functionalities were not intuitively discoverable and there was a digital gap. Also, I saw that the company needed an intuitive next-gen mobile app. During my early interactions, I sensed that the management is very progressive and they wanted to invest in tech to stay ahead in the race. 

After joining, the first thing that impressed me in Tech and Business side was the people and the culture of the organization. The people here were not only technically competent, but also understood the domain well. Secondly, I found that the entire tech stack was scalable and there was a robust security infrastructure in place. However, there was a lot of scope in the digital space and I now needed to create a plan and execute. 

Does it mean that your peers/competitors are ahead in the race when it comes to digitalization or taking tech initiatives?  

To an extent, yes, our peers were a little ahead in the race. For instance, one of our competitors moved to Flutter about 3 years ago, and we adopting it a year later. Few had already adopted the cloud services, whereas, we are in the process of moving to cloud. However, we do not believe in lift and shift for cloud. It has to be planned and justified. We have identified a clear roadmap of what pieces need to be moved to cloud and when. Few of our applications have already gone live on cloud. 

Our Breeze API is one of its kind, where we have received very positive feedback from our customers. Such feedback encourages us to focus on the value we create rather than creating look-alike products available in the market.

So going back on your earlier question on what was my approach, I did SWOT analysis. We needed to pick and choose our battles to save the Tech bandwidth for the right purposes and hence we listed the activities which needed to be ‘Stopped’ – typically no or low value add initiatives. E.g. Stop waterfall deliveries and move towards Agile and DevSecOps way of delivering. This resulted in efficiencies, faster time-to-market, and improved quality of deliveries. The second set of initiatives were grouped under ‘Must-haves’ which included not-logged in website, digital onboarding journey, ICICIdirect Money and ICICIdirect Markets apps, creating a data lake as a foundation for customer data platform and API-fication. 

Non logged-in website is meant for prospects who get a flavour of ICICIdirect offerings and relevant content related to personal finance and investments. We run campaigns on this website, which helps us get more and more traffic and generate organic leads. 

Another important aspect to note is, today we have a completely digital on-boarding of customers and this process is helping us get ~1,50,000 customers per month from the earlier rate of 30-35,000. Today, 70% of our customers are in the age group of 25-30 years which shows that the Gen Z really like the platform. 

Coming to the apps, ICICIdirect Money App is focused on Mutual Funds, Insurance, Loans, ETF, Bonds, etc.  ICICIdirect Markets app is focused on Equity, FnO, Currency and Commodity markets. Furthermore, to cater to the Equity segment of traders, we launched a unique, feature-rich ICICIdirect Markets app that offers algorithms, easy options, basket orders, research-based recommendations and a whole host of other services to the users. This app gives a very intuitive user experience and I am certain that customers will feel the change and value through these innovative features & tools which are not available with competition. When this app was introduced, it became an instant hit. Today, we have gone up to 3+ million downloads and we have a rating of 4.2 on Android and 3.8 on the iOS. While we have greatly narrowed the gap with competition in most areas, in certain cases like the Markets app, we are ahead. Our customers are giving us more business on the app (more than 70 percent business happens through the app space). This app is now open for the guest users as well. Customers can login using their mobile number and OTP to experience the app as a guest user

The other area that we are closely looking at is Data Analytics. We now have a customer data platform to analyze the customers’ behaviour, segment them and offer precise campaigns rather than carpet bombing, as was the approach earlier. This has resulted in higher conversions and increase in cross sell ratio. 

Through API-fication, we exposed legacy services and data in a standard reusable format. This allowed customers, third-party and internal apps to consume business functionality in secured manner.

Besides, we have now embarked on the journey to automate our testing, which means we can do UAT (user acceptance testing) every night. We have implemented Disaster Recovery in spirit and our production runs from DR once a month as a routine. 

From the security perspective, we work with ethical hackers who not only help us identify the vulnerabilities and loopholes in the areas like payment gateways, compliance related processes, and all the processes where customer sensitive data is getting exchanged, but also help us to be aware and conscious of the cybersecurity threat areas that come up from time to time. We also focus a lot on ‘human firewall’, as most of the breaches take place due to human error. Hence, we try to create awareness and educate our employees. We have made security training mandatory. We know that no effort is sufficient in this area and we are on the journey of continuous improvement.

Now that you have taken so many initiatives, what’s your priority going forward? What will be your next ‘Wow’ product? 

Being a transparent and responsible platform, we work in the interest of our customers, their profits and try to manage trade risks. We have set up auto alerts that work in the interest of the customers, to caution them before they undertake a risky trade. E.g. if a scrip is going ex-dividend in the near future and customer is selling it today, s/he gets an alert. If the customer is buying a scrip where owner has significantly diluted the stake, our platform will warn you. When the platform notices that customer could move to long term capital gains if the script is sold after fifteen days, then again it s/he will get an alert.

We have introduced smart strategies. The platform now democratizes this feature for all retail customers. All these strategies are approved by respective regulators. Current smart strategies are helping one to do trades using time slicing, volume slicing or price slicing. 

We have recently launched a tool called Flash Trade, targeted specifically for the trading community. This is a completely new age product:  visual, small ticket size, transparent and empowers the customer to take decisions with ease, with built in risk-containment features. One can trade off the charts with smart indicators and set time based exit rules to manage risks and enter / exit with a single touch. 

We are re-architecting a lot of areas in the current architecture in order to reduce the technical debt as much as possible.  

Furthermore, we are establishing a social network connect with an aim to generate more leads and create a platform to educate new customers as well as give an opportunity to them to share & showcase their trading skills. For example, if someone has made a profit using a certain strategy, then he/she can post it on the platform for others to follow. 

Our vision is to evolve as a ‘Neo Financial Services’ marketplace and create a platform that will act as a one-stop shop for all your finance needs across your financial lifecycle journey- starting from investments, insurance, to loans. Hence, we are preparing our platform and re-architecting it. Over the next 3 years, we will be on this journey as well, alongside the host of new launches / business deliveries planned. This will make our platform ready for the future. 

Is there any particular technology/technologies that you are betting big on? 

While we are betting big on Flutter, Golang and few other open-source programming languages, we are also exploring Rust for certain areas. These are the technologies that we would like to adopt , going forward. For instance, Rust does help in 3 ways – it gives secured code; the memory management is very good, efficient; provides speed. Whereas Golang is effective in multi-threading and gives the advantage of multi-CPU and is a natural choice for micro-services. 

data analyticsFlutterGolangICICI Securities
Comments (0)
Add Comment