Vikash Raj, Head of Analytics and Process Engineering, IDFC Mutual Fund
Hello Vikash. As always, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you for taking the time. Can we start with a brief overview of your role at IDFC and what a day in your life looks like?
Thanks, Arjun. Pleasure to be here. In terms of my role, I head analytics and process engineering at IDFC. I support the sales and marketing teams in defining their daily business rhythm and provide them the data, analytics and insights they need. For example, on the process engineering side, I help them define their markets and mapped relationships, frequency of their sales interactions, what KPIs they should be tracking, how they will be measured on their achievement and performance, where do they stand currently etc. On the data and analytics side, we support various teams with reports and dashboards that help them develop a better understanding of their customers (distributors) and business achievements and how they are aligned to the organization’s goals.
Normally, I live week by week. The crux of our analysis is based on the industry syndicated data – which we use to track our team’s performance vis a vis industry numbers. This data comes in on Monday. My week then typically starts with the analysis of the RM teams’ performance – across different regions and zones. We help them understand their performance trends, movement in their KPIs and insights into their customers. During my Monday briefing with the team, they also share insights on the market and competition and what they are hearing from their customers. Basis this, they share with us suggestions for additional reports or data feeds they need to accelerate their performance.
The middle part of the week typically goes in delivering those reports and towards the end of the week to take stock of what processes are performing as per our expectations, what interventions are required and which team requires additional handholding from an analytics or process engineering standpoint.
As an AI and analytics evangelist, what impact do you think these technologies have made in the Asset Management industry?
Overall, I feel that the Asset Management industry is still only scratching the surface when it comes to AI and analytics. There is still so much to achieve here. Currently, the industry is still exploring what is possible from analytics stand point. Sure, in a few segments, there are a few mature examples of AI implementations. But overall, I feel the Asset Management industry is only getting started when it comes to AI. The reason behind that is, I believe, industry leaders have some valid apprehensions about adopting AI. Do we have enough data for us to do a meaningful implementation? Is the data clean, complete and accurate enough for AI algorithms to deliver meaningful output? Will the total cost of ownership of AI spin out of control if the data and infrastructure is found to be lacking? The apprehensions are mainly derived from the inability to make a concrete case for driving maximum ROI from investment in this technology.
What the industry needs then, above all else, is leaders having balance mix of skill sets in business as well as data analytics to build the case for AI. What I mean here is need of professionals who are primarily from the business who have additional understanding of what AI and analytics can deliver. In India, on the one hand, we have great talent when it comes to building software and algorithms. And we have great talent that knows how to run the business. What we lack is the translator in between – someone that understands the intricacies of the business and can then envision an AI solution to a business challenge. Bridging that gap between what AI can do and what the business needs done is a critical step for unlocking the value of AI.
And as a practitioner and evangelist yourself, what do you see as impactful applications of AI in the Asset Management industry?
The work we did with Crux Intelligence – RM data democratization with AI – was merely scratching the surface. I believe that impact that can go straight into the heart of the business is in the area of fund management. Fund managers typically spend their day going through multiple sources of information – financial reports, earning calls, investor presentations, market signals, stock momentum etc. – which influences their choice for picking stocks. Where these frontier technologies can really help is if we can create a pipeline of all the structured and unstructured data, run them through AI algorithms and surface key signals (similar to Nudges in Crux Intelligence) which they can then use for their decisions. Based on these signals then, they can reduce the ground work that fund managers have to do – and they can then apply their knowledge and experience to sight the opportunity and decide whether to go long or short on them. I feel a solution like this would be the perfect example of humans and machines doing what they do best and complementing one another.
Another area could be customer servicing. AI can help identify customers who may churn because of some slackness in their services, which could be identified and monitored by AI which can nudge relevant departments to take corrective actions on time. There could be multiple use cases where artificial Intelligence and human intelligence can collaborate and add efficiency to the processes. I believe Ai implementation is not a destination but a journey and as you proceed in the journey new opportunities emerge where man and machine can collaborate.
What impact has Covid-19 had on your business teams? How has the analytics and data consumption at IDFC changed in the light of this new normal?
In the post-Covid period, we’ve seen that our teams are relying more than ever before on data and analytics. With lockdowns over the past few months, our RMs haven’t been able to meet with their customers. This lack of face-to-face interaction meant that the only way for RMs to glean insights into customer behavior, is through the signals sent by the data. We are seeing more and more RMs – even the traditional-minded, gut-feel oriented ones – looking through the data to strategize on their next actions.
I believe that when Covid-19 hit was when you made the decision to work with Crux Intelligence. Why did you choose us and what about the product excited you the most?
Let me start first with the problem that I was looking to address. Earlier, my team used our BI systems to generate a lot of scheduled and ad-hoc reports for the RM team. A lot of dashboards were always available to them that reported on their top business KPIs. The problem I aimed to address was that many users weren’t using the dashboards. And while it is my strong belief that IDFC is a fairly data oriented organization – RMs always call us asking for different cuts of the data – their adoption of the dashboarding solutions was underwhelming. So there was an appetite to leverage data, but the onus was on us to supply the information to them, rather than the dashboarding being self-service enough to serve the user.
Why is that? Because there is a natural resistance that business teams have when it comes to data analysis using the tools available today. Pulling the curtain behind the topline business metrics is understandably hard for a non data savvy user. So the problem was never about organizing the data or making the reports available. The problem was getting the end user to adopt them to inform their daily decision-making
So what I was looking for, was a solution that could address the adoption problem. We evaluated a couple of other products that purportedly could solve the problem. There is no dearth of very beautiful dashboarding and visualization solutions in the market. But none of them inspired confidence in me that RMs will adopt those and derive value from them, in a purely self-service manner.
When I saw Crux Intelligence, it became implicitly clear to me that this product could drive adoption. Why? Because Crux Intelligence makes data accessible to users more easily. See, the RMs – they are very focused on driving sales and business results. They don’t want to spend too much time trying to understand where to click and where to deep dive. With Crux Intelligence, I could see that getting to actionable insights for that non data savvy business oriented user required minimal effort. The layout was simple, the trackboards were easy to navigate and users could explore their data very, very intuitively.
What clinched the decision for me was of course the ‘Nudges’ capability. Mining insights from data is a time-consuming process for even the most data savvy user. But Nudges simplified it to an unprecedented extent. When I first heard about it, I didn’t believe you. But when we did our pilot, I felt it worked literally like magic. That there could be such a capability which could predict what a user cares about, understand his requirements, targets, achievements, and then provide the insights based on what he needs to take action. It was a novel concept – that one can extract insights from data and send it directly to the right user. In all my exposure to BI platforms, I wasn’t able to find one that did insight extraction and delivery so easily
So these two factors, the potential for adoption and the nudges catalyzed our decision to choose Crux Intelligence.
How has Crux Intelligence changed your life, Vikash? What impact has it had on the internal analytics team?
My team and I used to create a lot of reports and dashboards for the RM team. Still, we used to constantly get calls from them asking us where to look for the relevant data, what are the trends in the data saying and what concerning aspects they should stay on top of and if we can cull out the data for them. With over 200 RMs asking for this data simultaneously, the entire team’s bandwidth was completely choked.
With Crux Intelligence in place, the number of requests for ad-hoc reports has fallen dramatically. Now the team finally has time to execute new projects, new analysis and new reports which we were never able to get around to completing. And the fact that my team has been able to work on new projects and analysis has been extremely motivating for them. Now they feel they are doing more rewarding work beyond pulling out ad-hoc reports. The team is now engaged on more high end data modeling and analytics projects. To that extent, Crux Intelligence has also helped improve the morale and happiness quotient of my team.
What has been your experience working with Crux Intelligence’s Customer Success Architects?
Working with the Crux Intelligence team has been a fantastic experience. I always thought that my team is very passionate about the work we do, but I see the same level of passion and commitment from the Crux Intelligence team as well. The pride and solution ownership that the Crux Intelligence team has shown has been commendable.
I’d also like to make a point about the wonderful work done by the Crux Intelligence team in onboarding users – over group sessions and individual sessions for RMs that weren’t able to attend the group sessions. As a result, the solution was adopted by more users and faster than I could have imagined. Almost 100% of users had logged into the app within 3 days. It is the fastest adoption of a software solution that I’ve ever seen in all my years of experience.
What would you tell a potential customer considering a purchase of Crux Intelligence?
I’d say it’s a complete no-brainer to go for Crux Intelligence. The product is magical in how it crushes complexity in data for end users. At the end of the day, any solution is useless if not adopted by its intended users. And if you want a culture of self-service, data-driven decision-making Crux Intelligence is an obvious choice.
What is on your roadmap for 2021?
We have come some way in adopting the power of AI and organizing data but there is a lot more that could be done. We are yet to integrate multiple data points to our harmonized data assets. There are multiple use cases on predictive, descriptive and prescriptive analytics that can be implemented. For our sales team, my dream is to help them with all information and analysis whenever and wherever they need without any effort by them. It’s like providing them a personal analysis and strategist who can do all the work so that the team’s maximum bandwidth can be used up in the softer skills and the art part of the business and science part of the business can be managed by machine.
We are also exploring to help out distributors and partners, to the extent possible, to leverage the technology and add efficiency to drive profitability.
See, there are a lot of people out there in the distribution and advisory business today that are untouched by AI and analytics as far as conducting their business is concerned. Think about distributors (who are our customers). With changes in the business dynamics in India over time, their margins have been shrinking and their earnings are down. They need to add efficiency and drive profitability where AI can be leveraged effectively. As distributors are largely decentralized, individually, they do not have the power to organize their data. So we are thinking and exploring how we can help them as well so that they can consume AI at an affordable cost.
Similarly, for the investors as well analytics could help them to take investment decisions at right time according to their risk appetite. They too require a lot of handholding and advise. Delivering analytics, that investors need so that they can make better decisions is another use case to work on. I know that once they get a taste of AI and analytics, their appetite and demand for AI will go up.