Podcasts, The Customer Effect

Zafin’s Meenaz Sunderji: ‘Banks are still very siloed in their products’

  • Banks are generally aligned around products, not around customers.
  • Zafin's Meenaz Sunderji helps them realign without upgrading core tech.
Zafin’s Meenaz Sunderji: ‘Banks are still very siloed in their products’

My guest on today’s show is Meenaz Sunderji, svp of partner growth and sales at Zafin. As an financial technology firm, Zafin works with banks like Standard Charter, Bank of the West, CIBC, and SEB to break their siloed views of their customers and become more customer-centric — either through the pricing of their products or by determining which products are most appropriate for specific customers.

During my discussion with Meenaz, we talk about how innovation is shaping the industry to become more customer-centric and whether it’s an advantage or disadvantage for a business development executive to come to the financial technology sector from outside of banking. We talk about what his clients do to improve their customer-centricity and how they’re able to better tailor cross-selling of their products.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

I come from a technology background, but I didn’t come from banking. I did have experience in financial applications. I ran into the founders of the company at a social event. I was offered a job to go to Malaysia to start the business there from scratch and grow it. I thought it was an interesting opportunity to live in an exotic country and a great challenge to start a business in an industry I didn’t do a lot of work in. I haven’t looked back over the past seven years. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve met so many people that it’s been an amazing journey for me.

I think it was an advantage that I came into the industry from the outside. When you do this, you enter with a different perspective of how to do things, a fresh view. I was able to marry my technical experience in different business lines with what was happening in banking. When you work in an industry for a long time, you start speaking the same lingo. Also, if you can embrace lifelong learning and new ideas, you can move the yardstick further.

Breaking banking silos and the impact on the customer

We focus primarily on relationship banking, helping banks look at their customers from a customer point of view, rather than through silos. Banks have evolved to become very siloed — this affects their products, technologies, and P&Ls. At Zafin, we try to help banks become more customer-centric and along the way, we help them to manage their revenues better, improve their customer experience, and stay compliant.

When our founder started Zafin 15 years ago, it wasn’t initially to solve a problem in the financial services industry. He had a telcom background. But when he started looking, he saw there was a huge challenge in banking to help with pricing. They spoke to over 100 banks around the world to understand the silo problem.

Pricing and product optimization

In 2005, they found their first customer, HDFC Bank in India. It had a lot of challenges in its pricing. When this happens you have two options: upgrade your core banking software or address it through another mechanism. The latter way is how Zafin presented a solution. We had four months to prove ourselves. From there, we moved from Asia to Europe to the Middle East and to North America.

We focus on two main areas: how banks manage their products and services and how they manage their pricing. And we do it holistically. If you look at how products are managed and priced today, they’re done in silos in core systems. We come across these systems — we don’t replace them but we supplement augment them, giving them a lot more flexibility to do decisioning around customer data points like customer, balance, account, and transactional information.

Stretching across channels

We allow business users at the bank to create decisioning around these points and to come up with holistic offers or strategies they can execute. As you externalize management of your products and pricing outside of these siloed systems, then you can create a holistic, 360-degree customer view.

There’s a large European bank that chose our platform to roll out globally. Their first minimally viable product looked at their products within our product catalog to make sure that information is available through all their channels. The bank wanted to ensure that any time an individual customer goes to one of the bank’s channels, she received a personalized offer for products suitable for her. We became the decision layer to make sure that only relevant products were offered to the right customers. The second step in that journey delivers personalized pricing of those products to a customer based on his profile and attributes. Pricing incentivizes behavior not just at the point of acquisition but over the life of the product. We actually monitor customer behavior to make sure they’re compliant to the offer and conditions and incentivize them accordingly.

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