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AI and ‘API-fication’ enabled digitalisation in wealth & investment management industry: MA Kishen Kumar, Group CTO, ASK Group

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The adoption of cutting-edge technologies has given a digital makeover to businesses across industries. And, with smart AI-based solutions to graph investments and wealth management has actually opened new opportunities for the industry to make effective decisions for their clients taking the business to newer heights. Addressing the developments, MA Kishen Kumar, Group CTO, ASK Group interacted with Express Computer in an exclusive interview.

ASK Group is an industry leader in the wealth and investment management domain. Please shed some light on your business model. What is your secret sauce for success? 

ASK Group has been in business for three decades and is one of the leading firms in the Asset and Wealth Management business. ASK manages and advises some of the most affluent families in India, including Fortune 500 families. We provide investment solutions to Institutions, Family Offices, Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNIs), and High Net Worth Individuals (HNIs) by implementing a rigorous, research-driven investment approach aided by disciplined risk management. The focus, since inception, has always been the client. Our time-tested investment philosophy on quality, long-term focus, knowledge and research, transparency, and client-centricity makes us the core of wealth preservation and growth-focused portfolios, as well as pioneers in the industry. 

Leveraging technology has always been one of our core focus areas as we strongly believe that tech is an enabler for better service. Our teams have been provided with all the necessary information access to service their clients keeping the strong values and culture of our company like trust, transparency, and compliance to regulatory norms as the base. It is a combination of all these factors that have ensured our success.

Technology has transformed the way businesses work. How has digital transformation impacted you and what technologies are you leveraging to boost your business further and serve your customers better?

Technology adoption across the organisation has been a way of life in ASK. We’ve been a pioneer in adopting technology in all aspects of business transformation across the front office and back office in the following ways:

We’ve automated the entire process of the back-office, right from seamless online digital customer onboarding across various products to a three-way customer account opening including the PMS/wealth customer, Demat and Bank account opening, thereby creating an e-marketplace for third-party distributors to onboard their customers on our platforms using single sign on across business. Process optimisation has also been developed on Salesforce CRM to ensure customer interaction, 360 degrees view, payment gateway integration, online verification, and KYC/AML check. Automation and workflow process has enabled seamless interaction between mid and front office digitally. Presently there are about 150 bots running within the back office to streamline operations.

The front office has been completely enabled with the back office to interact with customers. The wealth managers have been provided with front office applications to capture their discussion digitally, and voice-enabled discussions are transcribed and captured for future analysis and discussions with the clients. Seamless lead generation, customer onboarding, goal-based scenarios, What-if Analysis, nudge, track customer portfolio performance on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis is available to the Relationship Manager for seamlessly interacting with the customer.

With the onset of online investing applications today, investing in the stock market, commodities, and various other areas has become handy. Do you see such companies as competition? What gives ASK Group an edge over the competition?

ASK has been a pioneer in the adoption of digital technologies and has won multiple awards for the same. We have the early adoption advantage. We did the core transformation of the back office as early as 2018. This has provided a very stable environment in terms of operations, financial, customer reports, and most importantly, business compliance as per SEBI. This ensures sufficient guardrails for our clients. 

Real-time investing via digital channels was implemented at ASK in August 2019 and then subsequently using Aadhar-based authentication and seamless integration with NSDL, CKYC, and CDSL using API has been done. Similar tech was enabled for the stamp paper and other integrations as well enabling the customer on-boarding to be done in real time without paperwork. This was before Covid 19. 

All these have come in handy, and the business volume has increased by 40-50 percent, giving us an edge over our peers.

In your opinion, can AI-based tools or data analytics solutions help reduce the risks involved in wealth management? If yes, how are you leveraging these solutions?

AI-based tools are a huge asset to our wealth management team, especially in terms of research and investment prospects. It provides a multi-dimensional approach and honest, non-emotional, and unbiased feedback backed by ASK human experience. 

AI tools also provide the ability to seamlessly interact with customers in an engaging manner with data and results on your fingertips. Algorithms like XG Boost, Random Forests, Regression Analysis of customer portfolios, and the ability to churn portfolios across the board or specific customer segment is easily achieved by using AI and it rewards customers financially, which in turn helps the organisation. We are in the process of doing some proof of concepts with respect to Financial Analysis and Preparing Customer Specific flyers on the fly using dynamic content and marketing information. Besides, there is also some parallel work going on in areas of research and investment management where AI tools can be used effectively. This is the early stage of discussions 

Safeguards can also be built-in, and alerts can be placed to avoid mishaps by human intervention. It also creates document flyers, captures interactive notes, and can be available 24×7 thus enriching the customer experience.

What is your perspective on the Indian economy, especially considering the rising digitalisation? What plans are there in the pipeline for ASK Group for the near future? 

I think India has been witnessing a digital revolution right from the reforms in the Banking Act by Narasimhan Committee Report, the SEBI ACT under Damodaran in the year 2000, and also multiple initiatives like core banking, payment solutions, by RBI, opening up the PAN, ADHAAR, CSDL, NSDL, digi-locker, cKYC, and the whole process of ‘API-fication’ in the last few years have enabled digitisation a big way. One of the classic examples is the UPI which has practically changed our way of life and is also being exported to other countries.  

Based on all these factors the growth in the Indian economy is extremely positive and optimistic and with a sound banking system, a well-developed and enshrined economy that is shifting towards digital. 

India’s $600 billion wealth industry is growing 12 percent annually as more Indians get comfortable with professional wealth management. With these factors in mind, the businesses at ASK Group have crossed the inflection point and are likely to grow at a much faster pace. Going forward, we continue to expand our geographic and digital footprint with Relationship and Virtual Relationship Managers to tap into the India-growth story. We have recently launched a slew of products in PMS, AIF, and Real Estate Private Equity funds, all of which are available on a digital platform to ensure ease of availability and use.

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