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When there is data, fikar not

“Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.” – Peter Sondergaard, Senior Vice President, Gartner Research


Rishi Gupta is MD & CEO of Fino Payments Bank. He has earlier worked at International Finance Corporation, ICICI Bank and Maruti Udyog. He was awarded ‘CFO 100 Roll of Honor’ in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

When there is data, fikar not

Manoj Agrawal: In today’s era, where there is so much information available, do you see some kind of tendency among people to focus more on information analysis and lesser on execution? Is there some such trend?

Rishi Gupta: My view is that both these things are unrelated – both go separately. If we look at analytics, 20 years ago there used to be much more of gut feeling. Now what has happened is that thanks to the advent of analytics, AI, and a lot of secondary information (in social media and other channels), all that can be put together to have a very focused approach. So now to target somebody, you don’t need to target the world. Even for TV, there is information about which customer categories or regions are watching each channel. We also have deep insights, such as that a lot of our customers use Oppo or Vivo phones. So now when we advertise on social media, we target people with Oppo and Vivo phones rather than target everybody. So our cost of targeted advertising comes down and we can see a higher result. So that is the power of information which has come.

The information helps us do better execution by focusing on targeted segments in various age groups in various geographies. When something works in one geography, we look for similar profiles in other geographies and get a better outcome. I believe that the power of analytics with good execution can give you wonderful results.

Between banks and fintech, banks have enormous amount of customer data collected over several years, but that data lies in different silos. Hence a typical bank is unable to use that for better execution. On the other hand, at fintechs everything is sitting in one database. So that is the difference between good analytics capabilities and execution.

Isn’t it common to see banks ask their own customer with a big account balance to take a small loan? It is better to pitch an insurance or wealth product – provided you use power of analytics wisely to reduce a whole lot of wasteful efforts.

Measuring productivity in terms of number of calls per day is meaningless; it is better to do fewer yet relevant calls.

How do you measure the productivity of a person whose job is more in analytics than in execution?

A person in analytics has to come out with information and reports which can help improve execution. Like in our own analytics team, we take out reports frequently, such as people who are doing UPI transactions or using a debit card at a POS terminal, etc. We look for people who are transacting more are holding higher balances. Getting such insights measures the productivity of the analytics team. The Oppo-Vivo is a good example of an actual useful insight.

How do you convey this approach to the teams? How do you make it transparent?

That is where the leadership has to start focusing in the meetings and conversations about looking at data as an important source for execution. Local knowledge is always valuable, but the manager has to see how much it is aligned with the data.

It is often seen that various people have a dismissive attitude towards data and put more emphasis on field knowledge. It is true that data matures over a period of time. Field knowledge should be used to figure out ways to look at data and to seek particular kinds of data.

For example, data helped us figure out that if the account balance is below a certain amount, then subscription renewal is low and dormancy is high. So when the time comes for subscription renewal, the team starts looking at the balances to focus on those that need a nudge. This helps us optimize execution.

We have set up a central team of analysts and data scientist to whom the users give their requirements.

How do you give autonomy to the teams to go differently from what the analytics is suggesting?

At the end of the day, my job is to get the results. So, I keep on pushing. In a small organization, you are touching everybody. But now we are 3000+ employees and in the corporate office itself, we have 600+ people, so I can’t touch everybody. So my discussion with them is that as we grow bigger, we can’t have personal systems of information. We have to look at centralized reports and we have to schedule meetings on particular subjects. So, over a period of time, this information systems actually help us structure meetings better and thus generate better output. If the meeting is without data, anyone can say anything.

How do you use your brand ambassador Pankaj Tripathi in a data driven manner?

Data helps us a lot in advertising. Even our choice of brand ambassador Pankaj Tripathi came from data driven insights about his background, his ability to converse with our target audience. His shows are famous in those geographies and people like to watch him. He’s considered to be very humble, his integrity is very high. With his language style, he has been able to sway both the younger as well as the older generation, and is quite liked by both genders.

Fino means ‘fikar not’ and that is how we used him in our first campaign. So we ended in our ads with fikar not, because at that time, the general mindset of the common man was that if you have to do banking, you have to go to a branch or ATM. We had to sway our customers to think that banking at the Fino point is not difficult. This campaign proved to be very effective.

Then earlier in 2022 we did a campaign ‘Aaiye to sahi’ to encourage transactions and to increase footfalls at the Fino points. Pankaj Tripathi is a very natural actor and the creativity of the film in using him in multiple roles also created a big impact.

In today’s scenario, how much does your own personal life at work become more data-driven and less of gut feel or inner expertise?

There are 2 things – what you are and what you have. What you are is your experience, knowledge, leadership qualities, way of working, etc. What you have is power, data and the time to cut and slice the data. If you add both or come together they can complement each other to give very high desired results. If you don’t have any data, then what will happen is that you will keep on trying different things, but with information and taking a better decision, it is always better. So, my philosophy is to look at the data, and if the data is saying something very different from what I am thinking, then I believe more on the data. But if what I think what the data is saying are very similar, then I go with the joint feeling.

The trust on the data is very important. Is the data lake good enough? Within the data lake, have the right models been built to come out with the right outcome? Some people don’t believe in data, some believe in it fully, and some are midway. I am somewhere in between, but closer to being a blind believer, because I believe data has a lot of power. If you have to give a loan, why will you go about it blindly if you have profile information from social media, along with CIBIL data and your own data?

In this scenario you have described, most of the intelligent decisions can be taken based on data. What then happens to the management education and leadership education – are they going to focus more and more on getting people to be data-centric or do you see some other angles as well?

You have to leverage your resources. Data and the power of data is one important tool you have, and there are other tools you have such as your relationships, your ability to connect with the team and your ability to communicate your story. If you have the power of data, then obviously your story becomes more effective. So the power of data helps you become more focused and more result oriented. It doesn’t take away any power of the management or leadership. In fact, it strengthens them far more because now they are able to deliver better results.

Was there a turning point in your life, where you transformed from being skills-driven to being data-driven?

One turning point for me was covid. It was not about data, but I never believed in the fact that you can work from home. I always believed that you have to come to office to work. But I realized that in the first few months of covid, that you can effectively work by video conferencing and other tools. Then it became too much video conferencing and now it has become hybrid.

I always believed that difference between great and not-so-great companies is the power and ability of the leadership to take decisions and implement them – and data and analytics are important, amongst the many other things one can leverage.

Looking at your own career, is there some major decision that you took that in retrospect you think you should have done something differently?

One decision which we took initially when we were setting up the bank, was that we followed the same brick-n-mortar kind of thinking, that we will open branches, and we’ll set up 1500 branches. After we setup about 400 branches, we realized that if we have to become a pan-India player, and to scale so fast, and to serve crores of customers, we can’t do that through branches. At that time, we were opening 1000-2000 merchant points a month. We realized that to build a scalable and sustainable model, then we need to move from asset heavy to a asset light model, from fixed to variable cost, from local geographies to pan-India geography. So we changed our business completely from brick and mortar to a phygital model with tools to connect directly with customers. This changed the entire path of the company. We even cut down our branches to less than 200 as we scaled up our merchants. We are now present in every state of the country and more than 95% of the districts. So that was one major change decision.


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