How to evangelize new technology or business model : Sujatha Mohan

Leader: Sujatha Mohan , HDFC Bank, Ex-FIS – APEMEA Head Payments, Ex- Head of Digital RBL Bank

When we were looking at what was the next big thing that we were going to do, was around 2015 or 2016, when psd2 was picking up. There was really no regulatory challenge for us. We were looking at API banking but we were looking for the next big thing to be done. Conceptually it was kind of difficult to understand when it came to picking up something completely new and getting people to understand that, that could  add value to the organization.

When we were dealing with this problem, we had to deal with different kinds of stakeholders in the company. Fundamentally of course  we did have an advantage. We were coming from the back. As a bank we were a small bank. The bank senior management saw the value of digitization. They saw the value of doing something differently, they were constantly looking for new ideas to the extent that we had lesser hurdles to cross. But to get people to understand  what API banking itself meant first, was a large journey. The first journey was to simplify the language. I would say, I had this problem. My CEO used to tell you have a habit of throwing technical jargons at the team. We had a colleague with us called Wribhu, he was one of those persons who made it simplified for the various stakeholders. So the first step was to get the buy in of the tech organization. It wasn’t too difficult because anyway there were just two of us in the organization taking all the decisions. And we believed that this is going to be a very important thing for laying out a very clean architecture. It was less a business proposition, it was more of a clean architecture in the beginning when we started thinking about it. In those days we would have these extremely, badly wired up large banks and we felt that we shouldn’t bring this bank into that large state, so when we thought about the middle layer, the connecting layer and the integration layer, we were very clear that we needed to have a clear microservices oriented API structure. But as we thought along we realized, that this can be upgraded into a very good business proposition.

So the next step was to actual have a conversation about this with the various people running various business, so we went to the management committee and we had to explain the concept in the simplest manner possible. I would say it is etched in my mind the way we explained it and we said, this is about the way Google Maps work, how Google maps and Ola have been integrated, it’s as simple as that and one needs to take banking into that kind of simplicity. It hit the nail for the management committee.

From there on it was about preparing a high level business plan and going to the board. The board had a lot of technically enthusiastic board members, we started speaking through what we wanted to do, how we want to do. I think the key thing which kind of made this whole process of selling to that organization simple was the fact that the entire language in which we communicated to people was not about security, integrations etc. It was more about why it was important to get multiple organizations connected. It was in that language that we were speaking outside of the tech organization and I think that resonated with most people. It also resonated because in the organization by then they had understood the value of partnerships. We were running the MFI business through a bunch of PCs and because the business correspondents model had worked. The understood that working with partners is a faster jump to growth. So obviously the growth story appealed.

Next came the the execution. We were very clear as a company. Today people discuss open source and stack products of large companies. But we chose not to because we knew that this was going to be a platform on which we were going to do a lot of things. It was not only about internal rewiring, it was our channels story, our partners story and our way forward in terms of even our data storage. We were starting to think how this can become the basis of a large amount of data which can then  become a source origination for clients. We had built a very large vision for ourselves. We invested in the best product in the industry, we spent the money, we got it in a and we went live with the first version of the product within 3-4 months.

Now came the challenge of getting people to sell it, because people just didn’t know how to sell it cause it was a tech sale. It meant for instance, let’s imagine we had launched IMPS through APIs. Most of the people who sold IMPS would have gone and told a client “look why don’t you send your payments through us and we have IMPS done and then it would get commoditized”. Because people really weren’t thinking solutions, people were treating IMPS and a commodity and API as a channel. Whereas we were thinking solutions. So we started flipping and sitting inside technology we started running business. We started bringing in business by flipping the story of where we were and engaging with partners and saying that you  have a problem to solve, you can’t solve all the problems, these are the reels that we will give to you which will help you solve your problem.

And suddenly it was about combined solutions in the market. It was about expense management. It was about domestic money transfer. It was about other enabled payments. When we started flipping the story and that meant more and more fintech started coming to us and then we started making the entire API platform to start looking richer and richer. It told its own story. Post that, it was just another reset. In 2016 we did a reset of the business case. We put a target for ourselves on API banking which was not the case in the beginning. In the beginning it was starting to look more like a channel conversation and less like a business conversation. Somewhere in 2016 we went back to the board and said that we are going to create an organization called banking as service. We’re gonna ask them to create a business line. Which will grow at about 30% year on year. Rightfully so, we had to be material for the bank to continue to invest on us. So we built in lot of new concepts as we went along and launched a marketing construct called Partners Ka Bank. What I can tell you as a story of building a business out of a small concept called API banking to a really making a business line which is today a very powerful line for RBL bank. I can say this:
We had to remodel our thinking. We had to stop selling banking product commodities. We had to sell technology solutions. We had to think customer first. That this is the customer requirement and this is how I will solve it. We had to change the spiel of our conversations with our clients. I think the first stage of getting our stakeholders to align was one kind of hurdle. The second hurdle is when you launch a product and want the entire organization to put their mind behind it, there I think it was more about leading by example. Once we had created the brand, once we had created an example of how things had to be done, people caught on it and then it just went ahead. So I think there are 2 different things one needs to do especially when you are trying to to launch something which is intensely technical but it is going to bring huge business. That’s how I would say the whole process and journey was.





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