Life is not a template and neither is mine. Like several who have worked as journalists, I am a generalist in my over two decade experience across print, global news wires and dotcom firms. But there has been one underlying theme in each phase; life gave me the chance to observe and tell a story -- from early days tracking a securities scam to terror attacks and some of India's most significant court trials. Besides writing, I have jumped fences to become an entrepreneur, as an investment advisor -- and also taught the finer aspects of business journalism to young minds. At Forbes India, I also keep an eye on some of its proprietary specials like the Rich list, GenNext and Celebrity lists. An alumnus of Xavier Institute of Communications and H.R College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai, I have worked for organisations such as Agence France-Presse, Business Standard, The Financial Express and The Times of India prior to this.
Parag Rao (left), country head, payments business and marketing; Nitin Chugh (centre), country head, digital banking; Arvind Kapil, group head, unsecured loans, home and mortgage loans
Four years ago, Aditya Puri, HDFC Bank’s managing director, visited Silicon Valley to evaluate if fintech firms will disrupt traditional banking and understand how new technologies were transforming financial services. The trip turned out to be fruitful in more ways than one as the bank implemented 68-year-old Puri’s learnings in quick time.
“We have all the pieces; we just need to put them together. We should be the ones disrupting ourselves,” Nitin Chugh, HDFC Bank’s country head (digital banking), recounts Puri’s message to the top management. Puri also spoke about collaborating with fintechs as equal partners, something unheard of till then given that banks in India were sceptical about working with startups. That apart, they were averse to the idea of defining new contracts and licences in the banking space.
HDFC Bank was among the first banks in India to join forces with fintech companies to offer solutions. Last year, it launched the Centre of Digital Excellence (CODE), a first-of-its-kind initiative that mentors fintechs and startups incubated at the country’s top technical and B-schools.
The bank, in 2013, had already created a central product team that would interface with all departments. The first digital solution was ‘missed call banking’ through which customers with feature phones could avail of services such as checking their account balance or requesting for cheque books without having to visit a branch. In three months since its launch in February 2014, it clocked a million customers; the number has shot up to 4 million a month now. “Those who started with missed call banking have graduated to mobile banking,” says Chugh.
HDFC Bank first collaborated with a fintech in May 2014. It partnered with Kochi-based MobME when it launched Chillr, a multi-bank payment service through which one could swiftly transfer money to family and friends, starting with ₹5,000; one can now extend it to ₹100,000 using the Unified Payment Interface. This was followed by the launch of PayZapp in June 2015, a one-click payment solution app that gave customers the option to send and receive money, make bill payments, book hotels, buy tickets and make grocery purchases.
Digital is now the buzzword at HDFC Bank. Every service that it offers can be done digitally. The physical form of banking remains, but 85 percent of financial transactions initiated by customers are digital. In contrast, the figure is just 8 percent for banking at branches and 6 percent for banking through ATMs. The change is evident. The numbers were 40 percent for digital, 30 percent for ATMs and 18 percent for physical form of banking in 2012.
The bank claims to have constant dialogue with 70-80 startups at any point of time to explore solutions using new age technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT); it tests over 150 active projects regularly.