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Middle East CIO interview: V. Chandrasekar, Standard Chartered

The CIO of Standard Chartered bank in the Middle East tells Computer Weekly about the challenge of keeping customers happy through IT

As CIO for Standard Chartered in Africa and the Middle East, V. Chandrasekar is tasked with mapping the bank’s future through technology. In a notoriously dynamic market, his role is fraught with change and challenges, but Chandrasekar likes to look on the bright side: “Change is what keeps me going,” he says.

As the Dubai-based director of more than 3,000 IT staff across 30 countries, Chandrasekar’s role is as broad as it is complex.

By his own admission, the CIO role in the banking world is becoming “very multidimensional”. Chandrasekar says his role centres around five areas: Customer centricity, regulatory requirements, innovation strategy, people management and change management.

With more than 23-years experience at Standard Chartered, working his way up from project manager in the Dubai office, Chandrasekar is well equipped to take on the task of steering the bank’s regional technology and operations.

He says meeting customer needs forms the anchor of his working life. “You need to be customer centric, you need to understand market needs and how to deliver services and products to improve the customer experience.”

Chandrasekar adds that the global banking technology is faced with understanding the relevance of megatrends, such as financial technology (fintech), blockchain, social media and the world of apps.

“It is challenging keeping everything in sync. Change is constant. Technology obsolescence happens very fast, so you need to design for today and the future,” he says.

Digital strategy chosen to combat losses

Standard Chartered is currently valued at around $21bn globally, however the bank’s strategic focus on emerging markets has led to testing times of late.

With around 15,000 people across 25 markets in Africa & the Middle East, the group as a whole reported losses in 2015, impacted by challenging market conditions and deliberate management actions.

In light of the firm’s turbulent times, Chandrasekar says employing a shrewd technological strategy will be critical for the bank to remain relevant.

“There are commercial objectives we need to meet that are paramount. My measure of success is to interface customers with my bank using the right technology, give them great service and expand the timeframe they do business with us,” he says.

“I also want to improve reliability, scalability and accessibility so that service delivery is constant.”

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Chandrasekar says Standard Chartered adopted a digital first strategy, which means all policies are first referenced in a digital context.

“Digitisation improves efficiency, quality and consistency. How do we serve new shifts such as fintech or social media? This entails digitising the entire ecosystem and then connecting the bank’s ecosystem with other ecosystems. We can multiply the customer experience by collaborating with new partners,” he says.

As well as critical digital channels, he adds that it’s important to provide customers with the option of face-to-face human contact when necessary.

The bank is in the process of testing video banking in its Singapore office, and he plans to bring this technology to the Africa and Middle East region in the coming years.

“We are connecting the bank agents with Skype. We are learning from it and then will roll it out to more markets to offer multiple avenues for customers. It’s quite an advanced ecosystem that we have in place, and we are constantly upgrading and investing,” he says.

Adapting for the digital world

Over the next five years, industry-cross learning and new technology adaption will be critical to staying ahead, according to Chandrasekar.

“You have to continuously work at it. The design of processes is constantly changing. If a process can be digitised and made lean, and you can make it guarantee service, then it’s a continuous exercise in designing and streamlining that process,” he says. 

“How do we keep the processes up to date? This is a challenge that all of us in the digital world will have to face.”

He adds that app development, big data and cyber security are some of the other pertinent issues that are “top of mind for CIOs for the next four or five years”.

“Smartphones have come in and people have developed apps, with the apps providing access to information and services for the consumer and the corporate customer,” he says.

“I would say in the next five years, apps will probably evolve into micro-apps – there will be one app for one service, not multiple services.

“The customer will spend less time on the app and reduce the touch points on the app. There will be one app for cash withdrawal and one for cheque withdrawal, for example. 

“Customers and staff will have very simple touch points. Banking will become a lot easier as long as the user interface provides fast touch navigation and fast service.”

Chandrasekar also predicted that big data analysis will become increasingly important as banks use existing information to feed into the sales process and the governance process. “It will help us understand customer needs in key areas, and adopt the highest standards for government controls.”

He says regional datacentres are moving rapidly towards centralisation and cloud computing, “even if it’s internal cloud”.

Network is a ‘lifeline connection’

Chandrasekar stresses the importance of the communications network for the bank. Standard Chartered runs on a globally centralised multi-supplier network, which he says is the lifeline for connecting customers and staff to banking systems.

Standard Chartered also helped to improve the existing infrastructures of countries in Africa and the Middle East by providing optifibre networks.

Amid all of these challenges and opportunities, Chandrasekar thrives on change. “You get new ideas, devices and paradigm shifts. We need to link banking services to the innovation value chain. We need to manage the bank’s response to innovation – that’s most important part of our role.”

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