There is a strong push for digitalisation from customers: Nanda Kumar, founder and CEO, SunTec

A technocrat by training, innovator by passion and motivator through his writings, he was fascinated by the idea of creating something that solves fundamental human problems and thereby adds value to businesses. This led him to build one of India’s early enterprise software product company SunTec. He is recognised for building an automated billing solution for India’s national telecom provider, and later Xelerate, a customer relationship management platform that is currently used by over 130 companies across 45 countries. The company’s founder and CEO Nanda Kumar, in an interview with Shubhendu Parth, shares insight on the impact of the pandemic, the sudden spike in digitalisation and how the banking, insurance, and telecom sectors are transforming to meet the new-age requirements. Excerpts:

DQ: As we move to the recovery phase in the post-pandemic new normal, do you see a change in priorities in technology adoption by large businesses?

Nanda Kumar: What the pandemic has taught us is that businesses with a well-thought out and well-executed digitalisation strategy have been much more resilient to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. They have been able to serve their customers and manage their back-end processes without compromising the safety and well-being of their customers, employees and other stakeholders. The pandemic has also forced businesses to fast-track their digitalisation efforts and going forward, we anticipate a greater priority being accorded to technology solutions that enable remote working and customer management.

“With the world being increasingly comfortable with everything digital, complete and end-to-end automation of physical processes is underway in many companies.”

There is also a strong push towards digitalisation from customers, who have also grown accustomed to digital and are actively favouring companies that offer seamless and frictionless digital transactions and experiences. Businesses whose digital strategies are flawed or not well-executed run the risk of losing their customers to the competition.

As such, businesses ought to use this period to quickly future-proof themselves so that they can quickly adapt to rapidly evolving customer expectations and fast-changing socio-economic conditions. In other words, businesses must be prepared for a state of permanent and continued disruption. This can be done through core modernisation on a progressive basis, better management of data and introduction of automation and meaningful analytics to allow for personalisation and better customer management.

DQ: The pandemic has brought about a massive change in the way business is done. From the technology perspective, do you see organisations moving away from certain technologies?

Nanda Kumar: With the world getting increasingly comfortable with everything digital, a complete and end-to-end automation of physical processes is underway in many organisations. They are accelerating the shift of their critical workloads to the cloud. Further, they will increasingly use no-code AI platforms to fast-track their AI projects rather than relying on development from scratch. Finally, most businesses will recognise that their legacy infrastructure does not need a complete rip-and-replace; rather, they can create more value by adding a middle/intelligence layer. This means moving some critical functionalities to systems operating outside of the traditional layer of the core.

DQ: The pandemic has also reshaped consumer behaviour across a majority of retail industries. How are businesses in key industries like banking, insurance, and telecom transforming themselves? What areas are they lagging in?

Nanda Kumar: Across industries, customer behaviour in terms of purchasing capacity and buying patterns was highly volatile last year. If we can take one lesson from this volatility, it is that all businesses need to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives towards understanding new customer requirements and meeting them efficiently.

“Showing their focus on customer experience, many telecom companies are adopting cutting-edge self-service tools and apps that speed up complaint resolutions.”

In the BFSI sector, branch-based interactions and relationships have played a pivotal role in acquiring new customers and fostering solid relationships with existing customers. But with COVID-19 and resultant social distancing norms, we have seen a sharp decline in branch footfalls, a pattern that may linger for several months or perhaps even years. The greatest challenge for the BFSI players today lies in seamlessly transferring a branch’s level of trust, flexibility and security to a digital environment.

In-branch banking will need to transform to remain an important vehicle for banks to attract new customers, retain existing ones and engage more deeply with them. Bankbranches could become experience centres, offering a place for customers to explore products and services, and to solve more complicated banking problems.

Banks and insurance companies have already gone digital and paperless for new customer onboarding. Video KYC and digital biometrics play a pivotal role and have made the onboarding process more straightforward and efficient. Their next goal must be to deliver the same quality of digital banking experiences that their customers expect from digital-first companies. Customers today are used to frictionless transactions offered by a variety of apps such as Zomato, Swiggy, Netflix and Spotify. Banks ought to make their digital banking experiences as hyper-personalised and customer-focused as these apps do.

The telecom industry is similarly dealing with a rapid shift in customer needs and expectations. The pandemic has led to a demand surge for fast and reliable home-based connectivity, and telecom companies are responding with increased bandwidth capacity, and new products and solutions designed for this fast-growing segment. Demonstrating their focus on customer experience, many telecom companies are adopting cutting-edge self-service tools and apps that speed up complaint resolutions. We anticipate this trend to gather momentum in the near future.

DQ: Where does the company fit into the larger picture of enterprise technology adoption in the post-pandemic age?

Nanda Kumar: We are uniquely positioned today to help business organisations orchestrate their customer experience end-to-end, as they evolve and transform their operational models for the post-pandemic age. Our solutions revolve around the heart of every business, which is pricing and billing. As institutions grapple with the reality of today’s business environment, they must be able to dynamically offer the best and differentiated pricing to their customers backed with a compliant billing solution.

“Banks will increasingly connect or forge partnerships with third parties and move towards Banking as a Service (BaaS) model, which will become a priority.”

Further, our solutions are designed to help enterprises gain deeper insights about their end customers’ behaviour, create dynamic customer segments and rapidly design and launch hyper-personalised products and offers to serve the end-users efficiently.

In essence, our products and solutions help enterprises design and manage a customer-centric product portfolio, price their products attractively in order to maximise value for everyone, and optimise their partner ecosystem and their billing processes.

Additionally, SunTec’s cloud-agnostic and API-first products and solutions help our clients scale, transform and deliver value in a digital world. We support organisations in executing a customer-first strategy, which enables them to exponentially increase their revenue and customer base, deliver exceptional customer experiences, prevent revenue leakage and ensure compliance.

DQ: How do you compare and contrast the state of technology adoption by leading Indian players in banking or telecom sectors with their global counterparts?

Nanda Kumar: Around the world, major consumer-facing industries like banking and telecom have been early adopters of digitalisation. Both the industries are also tightly regulated and often invest in cutting-edge technologies just to ensure regulatory compliances.

While the technology adoption by banks and telecom companies is heavily influenced by competitive and regulatory pressures, several progressive firms in India have global benchmarks in embracing cutting-edge technologies. In telecom, Airtel and Jio are world-class case studies in offering vastly superior digital experiences to their customers through partnering with global technology leaders. In banking, in addition to some private banks, State Bank of India has shown outstanding customer-centric digitalisation in its YONO app.

However, these firms are also outliers in their respective industries, while a majority of Indian banks and telecom companies have a long way to go in building truly customer-centric digital experiences through effective adoption of technology. We do hope that this scenario will change quickly in the post-pandemic era.

DQ: Mobile and digital banking seem to be taking over from traditional branch-based banking and payment mechanism. What will the future of banking look like for the end-customer?

Nanda Kumar: To serve this evolved, digitally savvy generation of customers, banks will need to mine their historical customer data to make sure their offerings add real and perceptible value to their customers. In the Indian context, UPI-based payments have made significant strides in enabling the digital economy right from the time of demonetisation in late 2016.

Increased competition from Fintechs and the Big Tech such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple is already forcing banks to shift from product-based offerings to experience-based and service-first models. This transition will further force them to truly own the customer value chain. Banks will increasingly connect or forge partnerships with third parties and move towards the Banking as a Service (BaaS) model, which will become a priority, allowing banks to rapidly innovate and expand their product and service offerings through a collaborative partner ecosystem.

The future of banking is not necessarily a brick-and-mortar institution. As Bill Gates famously said “Banking is necessary, but banks are not”. Undoubtedly, banking will form the substrate of any and every transaction that takes place in today’s world.

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