Interview with Shameek Kundu, Chief Data Officer at Standard Chartered Bank
Read his insights below:
Q: What are the roles of humans in an age of technological change, where technology is nearly universally-present?
A: Ultimately, technology is here to serve humans - how can we do things more simply, more intuitively, and provide greater convenience. I believe technology can only work with the human touch.
Even in a highly-automated world, I suspect that humans would end up playing at least three roles: orchestrator, designer and policeman.
The orchestrator is someone who can pull the relevant players together - defining the problem properly, bringing the right experts and users into the room, helping us align our thinking to what is actually needed.
The designer is someone who not only designs the user interface, but also thinks about the entire customer experience so everything is easy and intuitive.
The policeman is someone who will make sure that all this technology is working as it should be. Humans can sometimes be irrational and emotional so human inputs are needed to ensure decision-making incorporates these subjective views.
The bottom line: the human touch, at least for now, is needed for technology to work as it is meant to.
Q: For years, people have spoken about FinTech in terms of banking disruption. These days we have a lot of collaboration and partnerships, which seems to be the cited path going forward. How can we ensure that partnerships between startups and financial institutions can fit into SCB’s growth and development strategy?
A: I feel that both sides have a lot to gain from each other. As a big bank, we can gain a lot of customer-focused thinking from smaller startups, but just as importantly opportunities to consume or acquire products that are more economical than building ourselves, as well as access to exciting emerging technologies. This is also a channel for us to learn how to adapt our culture and working environment to make it attractive for interesting people who could be good additions to our teams.
Startups similarly can benefit from the fact that banks have clients and data, allowing their solutions to be tested in real-life situations.
At Standard Chartered, we do a variety of things to be well-plugged into the FinTech eco-system and gain access to the best ideas. We have a listening post in Silicon Valley which provides us with a steady stream of exciting ideas from startups.
We also do selective partnerships with accelerators like Supercharger, focusing typically in very important markets for us. From this year’s Supercharger cohort, we have started Proof of Concept projects with Bambu, a B2B Robo Advisory company that builds intelligent software and investment solutions to improve the efficiency in wealth management; and KYC Chain, a blockchain-based technology platform that helps to authenticate and verify client identities as part of the client onboarding process.
Technology-led innovation is clearly important: we are exploring or investing in a wide range of technologies including Big Data and Predictive Analytics, Natural Language Processing, Distributed Ledger, Internet of Things, Robo-advisory, Payment innovations, Robotic Process Automation and several aspects of Regulatory Technology (“RegTech”).
Q: Which are the top three characteristics of a truly innovative financial institution, which provides cutting-edge solutions to its customers and stays ahead of the curve?
A: First, we should make customers our number one priority. Innovation is not an end to itself, but rather a means to making life easier for our customers.
Second, the organization needs to be agile - the ability to engage quickly with startups, the ability to take ideas internally and quickly turn them into actionable products is key.
Third, we must build a culture which tolerates failure. The organization must have enough of a safe space where teams can work on projects that aren’t necessarily successful but provide good lessons which we can build on.
Q: Do you have any words of advice for the startups that might be partnering with Standard Chartered Bank in future?
A: My advice is not to think about the solution you have, but rather what is the problem you are trying to solve, who has that problem, and whether they know they have the problem. The approach to how we can work together to meet a salient need for one of our customers is very different to the approach to educating an internal department on a different way of thinking about their processes or business.
Once you are confident that you can bring something unique, you may choose to work with a bank like us because of our ability to anticipate and adhere to regulation, our knowledge of moving from good technology to large scale operationalisation, and integration of your offering into the customer’s day to day life seamlessly. But you need to acknowledge that a highly regulated, 150-year-old, global enterprise will have more machinations than a young startup, so ensure you have people with enough experience and bandwidth to change gears appropriately.
There is enormous potential for fintechs and banks to forge win-win collaborations based on each other’s strengths. We are excited about the prospects!