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Embedding communications into financial services with Twilio’s Bijon Mehta

  • Twilio's embedded communications tools work behind the scenes in many of today's top fintechs and FIs.
  • Bijon Mehta, who leads the firm's work in financial services, joins us on the podcast to shed some light on where the firm grows from here.

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Embedding communications into financial services with Twilio’s Bijon Mehta

Twilio sits behind the scenes of today’s slick onboarding and login experiences. The tech firm gives its customers the ability to embed communications into their offerings. Twilio’s few lines of code help with two factor authentication -- where you receive an SMS to your phone after logging into an app or website -- all the way to, more recently, a broad omnichannel engagement platform.

Bijon Mehta leads financial services at Twilio. I first met him years ago at our first Tearsheet conference. He was at J.P. Morgan then and now leads Twilio’s work in financial services including the firm’s go to market strategy and the channels it uses to reach customers in the industry.

Bijon joins me on the podcast to discuss how short form communication is being used in the financial services industry for authentication, and increasingly, in communications, in general. We talk about how the firm’s clients use Twilio technology to improve their customer experiences.

Here’s my talk with Twilio’s Bijon Mehta.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

My name is Bijon Mehta and I'm the global head of financial services here at Twilio. In my capacity, I look after designing the go to market strategy and the execution of our business across three core channels of our business. The first is our direct sellers. And we have over 700 account executives globally. The second channel is our ISV channel. So, thinking through all of the appropriate software companies that we should be looking to embed ourselves in. And then thirdly, is our partnership channel, figuring out all of the business cases that we can work on and help solve across financial services, including banking, insurance, payments, wealth management, for the benefit of the top consulting firms globally.

Go to market strategy in financial services

Twilio was founded 14 years ago as an API first company. While APIs certainly existed 14 years ago, they weren't as well understood as they are increasingly becoming now. So we started off with a core mission back 14 years ago, to, as we like to say, democratize communications. When we say that what we mean is we've taken the complexity and complication from the telco world globally and put a layer of APIs on top of the telco network (we call it our super network). 

And what that does is it allows us to offer customers the ability to embed communications into their offerings using very few lines of code. That’s opposed to what happens in the traditional world: if you're going to set up a business in the UK, and you're a US company, you're going to have to go to British Telecom and figure out how to connect into their environment and then build all that code. We democratize those communications by providing APIs. 

And more recently, through an acquisition we made of a company called Segment, we're now increasingly focused on the data element of what most firms are dealing with when it comes to understanding what their customers' needs and preferences are, and being able to serve those up. So combined, we like to think of ourselves as an intelligent customer engagement platform.

The evolution of the product

When I think about our product set, I can almost bucket them into five categories. So the first is what I refer to as digital engagement. That's really the different forms of communication that we offer APIs in -- that can be SMS, voice, video, and email. 


The second core offering is around security and authentication. That's where we offer two factor authentication, one time passwords and things like that. 

The third area is what I generally like to refer to as workflow automation and that's really combining elements of our different offerings, and providing the ability for customers to, for example, automate the scheduling of an appointment. Maybe you get an appointment reminder, and for some reason, you can't make that appointment now. You can, via your texting app, reschedule the appointment. Or it could be through something that we refer to as a product called Speed to Lead, where you can aggregate top of funnel activity and respond more quickly to third party requests for your product or your service. These are all different forms of what I refer to generally speaking as workflow automation. 

The fourth area is customer service. When I think about customer service, I refer to products like our IVR, Integrated Voice Response, offering, or our chat bots, or our full blown contact center offering. All of these are designed to better channel customer inquiries when they're coming in. 

And then, the last and most recent fifth channel is around customer data, which we got into via the acquisition of Segment last November.

Penetrating customer accounts

I would say it's very rare that people know the full breadth of what we do. I would argue that most people use Twilio products in their personal and professional lives and have no idea that they're using Twilio. The example I like to give is ride sharing. If you use Uber or Lyft, you are using Twilio capabilities. And so typically, our go to market motion is land and expand. The top use cases that customers come to us for are around account security, as many people certainly in the last 15 months have been strengthening their mobile offering. And so they look to us for a turnkey solution. The other big one is SMS notifications. Those are probably the top two.

Embedded finance

I first got involved in APIs back in 2003, when I was working at Citibank and overseeing the execution of our foreign exchange trading with different firms. And obviously, the world has evolved a lot since then. I like to think of APIs as a way to shortcut the building of different capabilities. And it's best seen in the fintech world, with many of these fintech companies that have gone on to become unicorns. Typically, their developers will look to orchestrate a variety of different capabilities by incorporating other people's APIs into their build. 

I almost think of APIs like Lego blocks. Organizations can say, well, instead of building a two factor authentication solution, because there's nothing truly unique there, why don't we just take Twilio’s two factor authentication, right? Instead of building an IVR solution to better automate the inbound calls that we're going to get from a customer service point of view, why don't we take Twilio’s IVR solution? It helps to increase the time to market for a lot of these products and services. And I think that's one of the greatest impacts that APIs are making.

Use cases

I would say that COVID has really accelerated the development of using APIs within incumbent organizations. You name the bank or the insurance company, and they're leveraging APIs throughout their business. I like to refer to it as the replatforming of the industry, where in one fell swoop, they're going from on prem to evolving beyond SaaS into APIs. 

We work with a broad range of really amazing organizations in the financial services industry. For example, with Morgan Stanley, we're powering the ability for all of Morgan Stanley's Wealth Management advisors to securely and compliantly text message with their customers. We provide an infrastructure that allows the advisor to not just communicate with the end client, but also the end clients’ required third party advisors, like a lawyer or an accountant.

We're working with ING, which is a major international bank, providing elements of their contact center offering. They're using our video APIs to help onboard new customers. 

On the digitally native side, we’re working with organizations like Wise, formerly known as TransferWise. We're powering all 3 million plus customers with secure two factor authentication. We're working with Nubank, the world's largest challenger bank, and providing them a full blown contact center offering. 

What I find interesting is that in just the last two years, it's the incumbent players that are asking us more and more what we're doing with the fintechs and challenger banks of the world than their traditional competitors.

Communication’s role in modern finance

Certainly in a B2C environment, and that could extend beyond retail banking into wealth management, payments, insurance, what COVID has done is it's highlighted the criticality of meeting the customer over the channel of their choosing. We're going through a massive demographic shift globally and here in the US, where the Millennial generation is increasingly becoming the dominant active generation online. Organizations are realizing that, in order to support those customers, they're going to have to create tools that are easy to use, intuitive, and predictive, and leverage all of the machine learning and AI that's increasingly now happening. And do it in a way that you don't have to have an 18 month launch cycle for a new product or service. You have to look at big tech, and you have to look at fintechs as a north star, in terms of how you look to build some of these capabilities.

Looking ahead with products

As a business, we went public a little over four years ago, where we're running at a $2.8 billion revenue run rate. Our E Team is maniacally focused on our customers. We see the tragedy of COVID in a positive sense of really aligning industries, financial services included, along this digital journey. We did a survey at the end of last year. We found that 95% of the key decision makers that we reached out to had indicated that, on average, the increase in the use of digital tools has gone up by at least six years, in terms of the the shift over the last 15 months. So, they've accelerated plans by an average of six years. 

And so, for us as a company, we're steadfastly focused on our core original mission, which is democratizing communications, coupled with the additional value that Segment brings to our product portfolio. Because in order to democratize communications, you need to be able to have a really strong understanding and footprint around your customer. And that's what Segment delivers for our customer base. We're in the early stages of integrating the Segment technology into our toolkit. And we think that over the next two to three years, that piece of technology is going to yield tremendous value to our customers. 

And then I would have to say, the other big piece for us is scaling our contact center offering. Contact centers were not really viewed as a mission critical piece of technology. But, because of COVID, and because many people were sent into a work from home environment, the need to have a cloud based contact center that can be flexible to integrate different technologies became really critical. That's a piece of our business that we're going to be looking to scale dramatically here in the next couple of years.

Sales cycle and expertise

One of the things and the key reasons I joined Twilio was because at the end of 2019, the company's leadership team decided that they're going to verticalize our go to market. They decided they were going to focus initially on three key industry verticals: financial services, healthcare, and public sector. And it shouldn't surprise anyone that these are also the three most regulated industries. What we've been doing, from the beginning of 2020, is creating a dedicated industry sales team. We're starting in the US, or North America, and we have been growing that dedicated account executive team across these three industry verticals. And what we will be doing over time is basically verticalize the go to market of the business. 

It will take another couple years to fully verticalize. Some markets globally have already verticalized, just by virtue of the fact that financial services tends to be a considerable piece of their territory. But in North America, which is where we're starting the verticalization effort, the results have been astoundingly good. We're looking to go customer segment by customer segment.

On the ISV side, we're continuing to beef up that team. We're adding more account executives for the ISV sales team. 

In the third channel, our partnership channel, we continue to hire people within that group to go out to the major GSIs, which stands for global systems integrators, as well as regional GSIs to help them understand what business problems Twilio solves in the industry. We're definitely in growth mode.

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