Fast Tracking the Rise – A Banking Perspective

Reported by: |Updated: May 5, 2021

Banking Frontiers hosted a panel discussion with Google as knowledge partner, where bankers talk about revolutionize the customer experience with new age technologies like Cloud, AI, VR and IoT:

Historically, every disruption has created bigger opportunities for those who ably adapted and innovated. The story of the banking and financial services sector during the pandemic was no different. What we witnessed was unbelievable resilience, adaptability and innovations taking center stage, each complementing the other. The legacy organizations and the new age financial entities quickly walked the technology path and made digital as their main platform. Interestingly, digital platforms have become part of the main revenue stream for financial organizations.

Public sector banks had a double whammy – pandemic induced disruption and challenges arising from the amalgamation as some of these banks merged just before the pandemic hit the world. The merger process was underway when the banks were forced to undertake the digital transformation. The consolidation called for data migration that ignited strategies fuelling the fast tracking of the transformation.

BEYOND BUSINESS FUNCTIONALITY

Asheesh Pandey, CGM and Chief Operations Officer at Union Bank of India, emphasizes that the transformation is going to be key in post-covid era and fintech as an ecosystem is really coming very fast.

Lalit Mohan, Senior Domain Expert, IDBRT, says the short-term goal is to make the banks communicate with each other either using an enterprise service bus or some data exchange layer in a way that the customer sees the services as from one bank. “At the same time, in terms of the application consolidation, the comparison is from both functionality and non-functionality perspectives. Though Indian banks have undergone a lot of digital transformation, the focus remains on the functionality rather than on the non-functional requirements such as interoperability, maintainability, scalability and extensibility. These requirements have to be ingrained into the RFPs of Indian banks. I certainly see this as an opportunity to improve in terms of the non-functional requirements as compared to just the functional requirements,” he elaborates.

The key factors that influence the decision of adaptation includes the availability of the solutions, interoperability and security and T.R. Venkateswaran, CISO at the Cyber and Information Security Division of Punjab National Bank, says one needs to build a secure and controlled environment for the solutions. Implementation calls for uninstallation of the old system and then bringing in the new system, he says, and insisting that time taken for the integration is critical as well.

Cloud, by its very nature, is designed for faster migrations, faster development and faster evolution of application ecosystems. Kamolika Peres, Director, Google Cloud India, puts forth a critical question on how to achieve this in a real-life scenario within the banking ecosystem, and how to achieve the speed of innovation and development going forward.

She speaks of the future: “The ecosystems of the future would have a modernized application landscape, which can give the benefits and at the same time interoperate with other landscapes such as fintechs, banks or open banking ecosystem. The applications have to be micro-services-based architecture keeping the pace of innovation and application development.”

Interestingly, the real transformation work, according to her, started in the middle of the pandemic and resource mobilization and getting hardware on site were critical challenges.

Avinash Shukla, CISO at UCO Bank, explains the challenges: “The focus has shifted from perimeter security to endpoint security. The perimeter has widened from the boundaries of office premises to home. The major issue is to create the security environment for remote accessing as it was work from home (WFH). One cannot give access to the core systems for remote operations. Secondly, the challenge was regarding training to support transformation. So, there was a combination of online and in person training. And the third was accessing the expertise of the amalgamated entity to make a vibrant system. Lastly, data migration was planned for a period of 12-13 months with focus on quality and validations, which is essential for the total migration.”

DATA COMPLEXITY UP

Data is certainly at the center now. If organizations are not able to use data, they are missing an opportunity. There is a higher degree of opportunity in the unstructured data. Though there are proven tools to manage data, there are concerns in terms of data not being available for specific modelling.

Asheesh Pandey says: “Indian banks are goldmines of data, but the data is lying in isolation, which is a big challenge. Connecting the data points using technology is an opportunity. In ML, there are 2 important aspects – one lies in getting patterns for predictive actions, and the other is using ML and AI to create a target campaign related to a particular customer. The key point is where and what can be done with the data to offer convenience to the customer.”

He says what is typically witnessed in the Indian scenario is that there is a certain volume of data, and by the time a data warehouse is set up, the data volume has grown more complex with a variety of characteristics.

Kamolika Peres speaks about the advantages of cloud: “Cloud brings in more elasticity, agility and flexibility to handle huge volume of data. It puts in the ability to crunch huge numbers and apply intelligence.”

According to her, customer interactions are moving into something called ‘the age of assistance’. “Organizations are trying to preempt what the customer may ask for and then they put that data at his or her fingertips. Now, that requires a different level of data crunching,” she says.

Zero trust security concept is fast catching up and PSU banks are also exploring possibilities. T R Venkateswaran says Punjab National Bank is looking at zero trust concept and has been in discussion with service providers. It will take some more time for institutionalizing that, he adds.

INFUSING AI

Artificial Intelligence has penetrated many segments of the banking sector. The key base remains with data. Banks boast of a number of data centers and data scientists they have onboard.

Lalit Mohan points out to the fact that in software engineering, traditionally the developer, the tester and the implementer were all the same. Then came the SOX compliances, which brought in a change. “Then organizations began automating. Now that we know the tool landscape, it has to be integrated into real time applications. It should not be sitting as a separate component, which means the software engineers, developers, should be aware that there will be data in the system and systems need to be self-adaptive. In other words, it has to be part of the DNA of the developer.”

Asheesh Pandey says AI can be divided into 2 parts – short-term and long-term solutions. “In the long-term segment, if you can integrate all data silos and synergize each data point that gives you accurate predictions, it can enable the organizations to reach out to the customer with specific personalized offers.”

During the lockdown, there has been a certain upsurge seen in specific AI areas like customer onboarding or KYC. If you have to recognize a person’s ID, how do you use AI to do that? AI was built into every aspect of the solution, whether you want to provide them a conversational interface, or recognition of customer’s identity with their pictures.

Kamolika Peres says in Google Cloud, it is easier to infuse AI into one’s daily work. “We have come up with auto ML, which helps people who may not have Python and coding experience. It’s all about the democratization of IT tools that can be embedded in multiple aspects,” she says.

5G + API + AI

Fintechs are an acceptable norm now; how to further the collaboration is one of the key questions.

Lalit Mohan points out that IDBRT is setting up a platform for next generation fintechs. “We are looking at AR, VR and IoT. We are trying to create a platform with 5G features. In fact, we have already started getting into some conversations on 6G. 6G would mean one terabyte per second on a mobile phone. It is important for banks to understand how they start writing their RFPs so that they don’t have to go through the process of rewriting it to meet future requirements. IoT, Cloud and API banking are going to play significant roles in the coming years,” says he.

A lot of systems are enabled by a robust and comprehensive API Management System, says Kamolika Peres. “In India, I think the interest is in having a modern API management framework that builds an ecosystem, lends itself to monetization and becomes a conduit for the overall development,” says she.

When regulators gave a nod for video KYC, it may well be the entry point for VR and AR. Apart from video KYC, banks have introduced life certificate for pensioners on the video KYC platform. Banks are already using AI in areas like fraud analytics and in early warning systems. But a lot more is left to be tackled. If tapped in the right way, technology can help banks escalate the customer journey to a different level.