An Interview with Satish Menon


Insightz’ Founder speaks with FST Media about how banks should respond to the threat posed by digital disruptors and their use of big data.

Satish Menon spoke at FST Media’s 6th annual ASEAN Technology & Innovation – the Future of Banking & Financial Services conference in Singapore, in addition to a distinguished panel of executives across financial services from July 22-23. See below for our exclusive interview with the Board Advisor and Founder of Insightz.

FST Media: What is the ‘holy grail’ that is yet to be delivered in financial services?

Menon: The holy grail in financial services is neither a product nor a feature; it is a customised and personal experience. It is a “one size fits one” approach, informed by contextual customer insights and relevant to the customer and to his or her needs at that point in time. This experience is then repeated again in another context at another point in time – both consistently and securely. While the external design of the bank or financial institution may vary, when the focus is less about how the institution is structured internally and instead on how it is experienced individually by its customers, then we are more likely to find the holy grail in financial services.  

FST Media: How will cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and technologies like block chain shape the digital payments landscape in the next five years?

Menon: Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have opened up new technological potential that we never thought was possible. Some large corporations have already started accepting bitcoin payments, while newer cryptocurrency variants have emerged such as ‘ChangeTip’ which support micropayments. While the verdict is still out on the individual success of each of these options, what is really interesting is the underlying block chain protocol that they use. This can extend to a wide spectrum of possibilities for enterprises and individuals alike largely due to the enhanced authenticity of the transactions. There are many hurdles yet to be cleared including regulatory ones, but it is clear that the march of technology and innovation in this area will continue.     

FST Media: What are your key priorities with Insightz over the next 12 to 18 months?

Menon: Insightz’ priorities over the next 12 months are aligned with the three things the industry needs the most: investments, innovation and inspiration. The startup world needs investments, together with building customer propositions and team mentoring. The domain of large enterprises needs innovation and inspiration. The new digitised world is a subject of great interest for leading industry executives but there is often a limited understanding about it in corporate boardrooms. We work to simplify and demystify the digital world of the external into core insights for an enterprise and help them then leverage their own strengths to drive an internal transformation. This process requires several “soft” changes in the enterprise culture, skills and individual motivations. Insightz works with the enterprise and individuals alike, inspiring them to rise to their highest potential and establishing value across these three verticals of investments, innovation and inspiration. 

FST Media: How will Insightz help enterprises achieve business growth and success?

Menon: The world around us excites, charms and confuses us like never before – all at the same time. Employees demand flexible working hours, professional growth and fulfilling lives. The future is not just about building digital channels, it is about digitising your business. Physically, it is more a process of assembly than of manufacture. Using this principle, Insightz works with enterprises to granularly break down products and processes as well as people and personalities to arrange the best combination possible, and thereby develop a winning enterprise.

FST Media: What is your view on fintechs like SocietyOne and Zopa? Do they represent a threat to banks or an opportunity for innovation in the financial services sector?

Menon: Fintechs are both a threat and an opportunity for banks. The vast majority of disruptive innovators like SocietyOne and Zopa – be they in the peer-to-peer lending space or innovating otherwise – are not aspiring to be a bank at all. They look to fill gaps in the current offerings by banks, which is usually speed, pricing and overall experience. They aim for customer satisfaction rather than just customer tolerance. While this perhaps is currently not enough to bring down a big bank, many of them are attacking at different parts of the banks’ fields of business. It is certainly hurting them and affecting areas of growth that the banks want to control. In the future, the regulatory environment for startup firms may get tighter but banks striving to stop the march of innovation will not be the answer. On the other hand, banks need to counter-innovate, partner with fintechs when relevant and leverage their own strengths creatively, particularly in their offerings to customers if they want to succeed.

FST Media: How should banks respond to the threat of digital disruptors like Alibaba and Google and their use of big data?

Menon: The irony of the world of big banks is that while discussion often centres on what the “Apple of Banking” might look like, we never stop to consider what the “Citibank or UBS of the Internet” might be. None of the banks today brace themselves for that possibility. The reason here is that all banks have a defensive response that at best protects their turf and does not adapt to the market to the extent of these modern disruptors. For big data to be relevant and contextually significant to a financial customer, it needs external data points such as behaviour, location, habits, and influences – which are currently best assessed by these internet disruptors. In addition, big data needs to draw on individual transactional and historical financial data that the banks have. Future value is best created when the two work in tandem. This could mean innovation originating from disruptors like Google or from the banks themselves. If banks believed more in themselves in terms of pure innovation, they could have a more relevant role to play in the brave new world of digital disruption.

FST Media: How can banks harness the power of social media to enhance the customer experience?

Menon: Social media today is greater than the sum of its parts. It is now the major platform on which most online content is accessed, especially by millenials – leaving far less time for other interaction points such as online channels or physical via branches and ATMs. This means banks will have to engage customers more in this space as they simply cannot ignore where their customers are.  Increasingly, the development of a new bank product or service will be determined more by online community feedback and the proposition for customers. There is no substitute to delivering great customer experiences and value. At the very least, banks need to listen intently to feedback – both positive and negative – on this medium and respond promptly and purposefully. Gimmickry can only go so far and humility and authenticity count for a lot in this space.  

FST Media: How do you define success?

Menon: Real success is synchronous with satisfaction. When you have learnt or understood anything that you wanted to in a given situation or experience – that is success. When someone else found value in what you shared or did and it triggered a positive internal impact in a way that worked best for him or her – that is success. 

External benchmarks of success are always nice and enjoyable but as many top sportsmen will indicate, their most memorable performance is not usually the one the world thinks is their greatest; it is always something that answers best to what they wanted to get out of themselves in a given situation.

FST Media: With respect to career development, what is the best advice that you have received?

Menon: The best advice is not to focus on career development at all; focus instead on developing yourself and your life first. Listen intently to your own heart and your deepest internal drives. Never let fear get in the way of experimenting with what you think you need to learn at any point. Include many in your journey. Ignore both external successes and failures along the way. 

Career development is a consequence of developing yourself and not a goal in itself. It will happen to you while you embark on that journey of self-development. 

FST Media: Every leader has a legacy that they would like to be remembered for, what is yours?

Menon: I would like to be a catalyst; an enabler helping many to rise to their own full potential. The world needs many free and empowered people to make big changes happen – and internally transformed people to help it sustain. Enabling this change to happen would be the most fulfilling outcome for me. Being remembered by name or form is frankly irrelevant.