An interview with Iswaraan Suppiah


CIMB’s Group Chief Information and Operations Officer speaks to FST Media about what banking will look like in 2020.

FST Media: What are your IT priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?

Suppiah: The banking sector is going through an exciting time of tremendous change, due to a rapid advancement in new technology. Technology is enabling financial innovation at an unprecedented rate, the most significant of which is the integration of financial services into the ecosystems of consumers and corporates, as well as greater inclusiveness, both from the demand side into unbanked territory, or from the supply side, with models like crowd-funding. 

The enabling technologies that are digitising financial services invariably embrace elements of social, mobility, analytics or cloud (commonly abbreviated as SMAC). At CIMB, we firmly believe a new world order will be built by those who use SMAC to revolutionise the customer experience in banking. Smart SMAC adopters will create disruption at a magnitude that makes it difficult for the competition to react. CIMB is building a SMAC platform to position us to create order-of-magnitude improvements to customer experience.  

We will also continue to upgrade the capabilities of our mobile and internet platforms. Another key focus area is managing IT security risks, including cyber security risks and internal controls. As digital banking becomes increasingly the mainstream way to bank, banks should not under-estimate the impact of cyber-attacks.  

FST Media: What will banking look like in 2020?

Suppiah: Digitalisation will dramatically change the immediacy and simplicity with which both consumers and corporates access financial services. For example, banking has been an industry that extended many of its offerings as products, although they did not meet the end-use objectives of the customer. Take the case of a loan: consumers need the home or the car, and not the loan per se. Technology is enabling banks to offer models where customers can use such services at the point of need, without having to initiate and complete a separate transaction with a bank. In 2020, the successful banks will be those that recognise the difference between their real products and the scenarios where they are the facilitators. The customer experience in areas like borrowing, and making various types of payments, will be far more simple and convenient, with increasing levels of integration into the end-product’s purchase experience. Another area that will see advances in leaps and bounds is personalisation. Banks will need to be experts in real-time data analysis and rethink digital ways of accessing financial services, to be able to provide the right products, to the right customers, at the right time. Banks will have to rival technology companies like Google and Apple on the creation of a technology-enabled future. 

FST Media: What were the challenges you overcame to rebuild CIMB’s infrastructure through the Optimus program and enable growth across the ASEAN region?

Suppiah: Before Optimus, our focus had been on growth. We had rapidly expanded our footprint, both organically and inorganically. Our business was operating in a highly “federated” model with a large amount of heterogeneity in our IT systems. The objective of Optimus was to converge and consolidate processes, as well as IT platforms, to achieve better cost and time-to-market, as well as reduce overall cost. Our key challenge was to change the mindsets of the people who were operating with a high degree of autonomy. 

Standardising to one common way of working across the region, was the key driver that propelled us forward. For example, any new system we implement now has to be preceded by a regional operating model which standardises the processes, policies and organisational structure, prior to implementing system changes.

FST Media: How will products such as CIMB Clicks, Kwik Account, Octopay and Octosend evolve into the future, with the changing technology and digital landscape?

Suppiah: Clicks will evolve to incorporate greater personalisation, context-awareness and intelligence, and personalised communication (text, chat, voice and video) capabilities. Kwik Account and Octosend will both be part of a larger digital payments implementation. 

FST Media: How will the ‘bank-in-a-briefcase’ technology enable CIMB to enhance the customer experience?

Suppiah: Bank-in-a-briefcase is a model which will increasingly take the bank to the customer. Today, our staff can take a tablet device (with a fully interactive interface) to meet existing or potential customers. CIMB’s mobile financial advisory staff can use the app on their device, not only to gain a credit decision on the spot, but also to enable the customer to access funds instantly. The app can open an account, create a new facility and even disburse funds to the facility. The sales person can then hand over a debit card for the customer to use. Our roadmap will see us adding new banking services, in phases, into this model. 

FST Media: How important is data analytics in developing a seamless customer journey, and what are your plans to implement data solutions to achieve this at CIMB?

Suppiah: We think it is critical to know everything a customer does with us. We are currently in the process of examining our entire infrastructure around data and analytics in a futuristic program we call Business Intelligence 2.0. At the heart, it is moving to a real-time world where customers’ expectations can be met immediately. Our reporting, management information and analytics need to be real time.

FST Media: How do you balance supporting a social media presence with the risk of reputational damage?

Suppiah: CIMB led the charge in terms of ASEAN banks who have been active on social networks. Our presence on Facebook today is anchored. We have over 2.7 million fans across the region. We have been innovative over the years – and our social media activities have included deposit campaigns and pools to gather feedback and improvement ideas, as well as general engagement on our positioning. We have also always employed an “open wall” policy, to ensure we stay true to the conversational elements of social media.

Of course, by maintaining an open platform to the public, there is a risk of reputational damage, but the key is to have a framework to protect, and improve, our reputation. We have Group Crisis Communication Guidelines in place, to ensure proper process and communication will be employed to contain or resolve any brand-related crisis. We constantly monitor our social pages, and any new social presence, to listen, learn and understand how people are reacting. More importantly, we are constantly engaging with our social audience to try to defuse any adverse situation, and improve their perception of our brand.

FST Media: How do you encourage a culture of innovation in your team?  

Suppiah: We constantly communicate the importance of innovation, invite ideas at various forums and formally recognise worthy ideas with awards every quarter. Innovation is formalised as a Key Performance Indicator in some roles within the organization. We have inculcated innovation in multiple streams. One example is “Leannovation” which trains our fulfillment-side staff on Lean Six Sigma and encourages the use of lean principles to make our processes significantly faster, more accurate, and more efficient. On the business side, we have a Fintech forum where we track financial innovation by both bank and non-bank competitors around the world, and encourage ideation on “early adopter” or disruptive business models.