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New tech has helped scale up processes, contain headcount: RBL Bank's Shrinath Bolloju

New tech has helped scale up processes, contain headcount: RBL Bank's Shrinath Bolloju
Shrinath Bolloju, Chief Operations Officer, RBL Bank

Mumbai-based RBL Bank is one of the early adopters of emerging technologies among lenders in India, having already baked in a string of advanced processes into its operations. The private-sector bank has been harnessing chatbots, robotic process automation and optical character recognition to boost customer experience, handle high-volume repeatable tasks, and identify characters in scanned documents, respectively.

In an interview with TechCircle, Shrinath Bolloju, chief operations officer at RBL, speaks about the investments in the latest technologies and the overall impact on the bank’s customer acquisition cost, return on investment as well as headcount. The bank’s blockchain network, he adds, has been awarded for excellence in easing trade finance and supply-chain finance.

Edited excerpts: 

What are the chat-based technologies RBL is working on? How have they helped scale up customer acquisition processes?

Most banks are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to launch chatbot solutions, which have been reducing costs, apart from helping tech-savvy consumers. With the integration of chatbots, we are also enhancing the user experience, apart from providing quick responses and advice after analysing the customer’s data. Our Facebook chatbot also provides the consumer with services like location service, making payments and recharges. It can also be valid across all the customers, apart from providing answers for FAQs (frequently asked questions). We are also using an acquisition chatbot for lead generation, which is limited to retail customers as of now.

With the growing use of chatbots and AI across the sector, we are in the process of developing an enterprise-wide chatbot to gradually shift both internal and external customers, which would slowly take over the chat interface (mobile banking and net banking) and voice interface.

Has RBL been investing in newer technologies for speeding up operations, like robotic process automation (RPA) and optical character recognition (OCR)?

The trade process, which becomes a manually-intensive monotonous activity, has been included in RPA. At RBL, similar automation has been implemented for bulk file uploads, to eliminate manual intervention in transactions carried out on the NEFT platform (National Electronic Funds Transfer). We, at the bank, have extended the scope to the cheque-clearing process as well. RBL is continuously working on OCR-based processing and evaluating the same for some of the scanned-documents-based data processing combined with machine learning.

How is RBL leveraging Big Data and analytics to streamline customer targeting and acquisition?

We are using Big Data for campaigns with existing customers to understand them better, using the information available in our database. Once we understand our customers better, we can cross-sell. Simultaneously, using the customers' transaction profile, we can identify fraud and do risk-management analysis.

What alternative payment modes are you looking into? Has RBL tied up with fin-tech companies for that?

We are exploring WhatsApp-related payment strategies. ChatPay flows have been incorporated as part of our mobile banking platform under the RBL Bank ChatPay branding. We have proposed a mobile-based cheque-scanning model to RBI (Reserve Bank of India) and we are running the pilot for the same, which is restricted to some branch locations.

Are you experimenting with blockchain technology? If so, how? Have you deployed it for remittances?

We have been working with a consortium of several other banks on using blockchain technology for inland trade requirements. The network has been built using Finacle Trade Connect, a blockchain-based solution. The initiative was adjudged as the winner of the Celent Model Bank 2018 award for trade finance and supply-chain finance, from among 170 nominations from over 100 financial institutions globally. The range of use cases includes bill collection, letters of credit, open account for trade, consumer-to-consumer transactions for trade, business-to-consumer transactions for trade, financing and invoice financing. The aim is to digitise trade-finance business processes, including the validation of ownership, certification of documents and making payments, while working on a distributed, trusted and shared network.

How has the strategy shaped up, with RBL looking to invest in newer technologies and hire more experts? 

We are looking to hire new talent or experts on technologies like Big Data, cloud and blockchain.

When do you see the return on investment (ROI) coming from all these bets? 

Generally, depending on the complexity of the application or implementation, the ROI we usually witness is in the range of three to five years. In order to fully realise the ROI from all these latest technology deployments, it is critical for financial institutions to define business requirements. When we identify the use cases, we also need to identify and measure to check the performance. Technology, data secrecy/privacy and security being the base for banks, a centre-of-excellence approach, along with a strong operating model, is a must.

How has the use of new technologies impacted the headcount?

The rate at which we have grown in terms of volume or revenue is much faster than the rate at which the headcount has grown. It is not linear in nature and implementation of new technologies has helped the bank build scale within various processes and contained the headcount requirement quite strongly.

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