An interview with Srihari G. Sikhakollu


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

Sikhakollu: Despite being a new player on the block competing in a highly saturated and competitive credit cards market in Singapore – where an average card holder holds more than seven cards – we have been successful. We have witnessed significant growth in terms of customer base, loan base and profitability. 

Over the past five years, we grew with a high double-digit compound annual growth rate [CAGR] in all the above key indicators, a fair way above the industry’s growth rate. CIMB’s card products cater to mass, mass affluent and the premier segment. We currently garner more than 10 per cent market share.

The new Money Authority of Singapore [MAS] unsecured lending guidelines are timely to ensure prudent lending and push the market to be more competitive. We are optimistic that there are still sizable pockets of opportunities to continue our growth trajectory and are geared up for this. Although the growth rate may be slower, we still hope to continue to grow higher than the industry growth rate.

People and products are key for any business to succeed. In line with addressing the current needs of the marketplace, we are in the process of launching new products which will cover some of the existing gaps. We strive to keep our products simple, so consumers can have an easy grasp of our offerings and thereby, make it simple for us to deepen engagement. 

All this is only possible if we have the right talented team in place. In summary, my top priorities for the next 12 to 18 months are to launch compelling new products and build talent within the team to help CIMB grow its market share across all key card dynamics.

FST Media: How has technology impacted the way CIMB customers use their cards and accounts, and what does the future hold for personal banking for customers?

Sikhakollu: In line with the changes in customer behaviour, CIMB card customer usage is growing significantly. Currently, almost 20 per cent of our sales originate online. 

Now more than ever, digital banking consumers are using multiple ways to interact with their primary financial institution, and the trend of consumers using multiple touch-points continues to rise.

An opportunity lies in deepening customer engagement by providing payment convenience, ease of accessibility, communicating card privileges and ultimately facilitating increased spending with our card accounts. The challenge is to anticipate customers’ needs in advance and provide products and services catering to their needs.

FST Media: What is proving to be your most effective customer acquisition channel and why?

Sikhakollu: Direct sales and road shows continue to be the most effective channels where we see more than 60 per cent of acquisitions. One of the reasons for this is that customers still prefer banking services with a personal touch. Due to the small geographical landscape of Singapore, road shows help to create targeted brand awareness for CIMB where we have only two branches.

However, an effective acquisition channel is never fixed. It changes with the shift in paradigm, for example, previously an effective channel used to be telesales, and now road shows have become the major source of acquisition. This may change as new regulations are implemented, such as the ‘Do Not Call Policy’ and the ‘Personal Data Protection Act’.

There is also a shift in the customer’s lifestyle preferences for convenience, speed and instant service. This comes as technological trends evolve and become increasingly important and effective channels, such as the internet, and SMS. 

FST Media: What tools or references keep you abreast of emerging technology trends?

Sikhakollu: Attending card and payment conferences and seminars across the globe is a valuable way to keep up with trends, as is joining associations linked to Visa and MasterCard. I also keep up to date with monthly newsletters and events.

Technology vendor innovation events, product launches and financial tabloids are the key source of information and keep me abreast of the latest happenings in the industry.

FST Media: What do you consider to be the greatest achievement of your career to date?

Sikhakollu: Turning CIMB’s cards business profitable within a short two-year timespan. This was achieved well ahead of industry norms.

Also, growing a relatively small team into a team of approximately 250 staff with a high retention rate at CIMB, is another key accomplishment in my career to date.

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

Sikhakollu: Achieving business goals is of utmost importance and a prerequisite for every leader. I hope to be remembered as being a leader who is committed to delivering superior results, while embracing the philosophy of human touch, family values and culture. I hope to further imbibe these values into the entire team.