Saraswat Bank: Pushing Digital for Pulling in Next Gen Users

Milind Varerkar

Saraswat Co-operative Bank is a 98-year-old bank that started operations in Mumbai. Today, the bank has a pan-India presence with 280-plus branches spread across several states, including Delhi, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa.

According to Milind Varerkar, GM – IT, Saraswat Bank, in 2015-16, the bank achieved its target business mix (deposits and advances) of Rs. 50,000 crore and is now the largest co-operative bank in India. The bank is now aspiring to achieve a target of Rs. 1 lakh crore by the year 2021.

While Saraswat Bank has been offering personalized services to its customer base for years and prides itself on the trust it has built, going forward, there will be a lot of thrust on digital banking. This is in keeping with the trends in the banking industry, which is becoming more digital-driven and competitive, especial in the retail credit arena.

Talking about the technology deployments at Saraswat Bank, Varerkar says, “We have our own homegrown core banking system developed in-house, and we have been developing other delivery channels as well, including mobile banking and netbanking.” The bank is in the process of revamping its netbanking system after incorporating inputs on customer experience and taking customer feedback into account.

Saraswat Bank recently launched its mobile app called Saraswat Bank Connect in which the IT team has aggregated various missed call and SMS services. “It is difficult for a customer to remember or store multiple missed call services such as balance enquiry, statement of account, or blocking and unblocking of debit cards, etc. What’s more, the bank has integrated its lead management system with the mobile app,” says Varerkar.

For instance, missed calls can also be given for loan enquiries or other banking services. Looking at the PIN code that a customer has entered, a query for, say, home loan is assigned to a branch nearest to that area and the customer is also sent an alert that so-and-so branch has been allocated to respond to their query. Such integration results in better customer experience as well as higher lead conversion.

There are three levels at which Saraswat Bank is working in terms of enhancing business through IT: technology infrastructure, internal systems and processes, and customer interface.

“The idea of building up our technology infrastructure platform is to make it more resilient and fault-tolerant,” says Varerkar. The bank has its own operational data center at Vashi and a near DR (disaster recovery) location, which is around 10 km from Vashi. The bank is also in the process of setting up its own far DR (setting up a far DR in a different seismic zone is also advised by the Reserve Bank of India in its guidelines for banks).

From an internal systems point of view, the bank has been on an automation drive. For example, says Varerkar, “we are going live with a loan origination system; for retail loans we have automated all the processes and the new system will ensure that the TAT (turnaround time) will come down. There will be measurability and centralized monitoring of all the leads that are coming to the bank and how they are processed, how much time is taken, etc. We have put a TAT to each product, so in case of any delay, automatically, an alert is pushed to the higher authority for escalation based on the escalation matrix we have put in place. This will enable us to process more and more loans faster.”

The bank has identified other processes as well where more automation or integration with other systems will be done.

From the customer perspective, too, Saraswat Bank has identified certain areas for process automation. On the rationale for such initiatives, Varerkar says, “Digital banking or automation means that you are empowering your customer; the customer starts doing the transaction on her own and we become only the custodian of their data.”

Talking about digital payments, Varerkar says, “We are evaluating a vendor or solution provider for integration with UPI (unified payment interface). We are also an approved operating unit in BBPS.”  (Bharat Bill Payment System is an integrated bill payment system which will offer interoperable bill payment service to customers online as well as through a network of agents on the ground.)

Once the UPI integration is done, Varerkar believes that there will be no need for the bank to launch a separate digital wallet, as their customers will be able to do the transactions through UPI. “With UPI becoming widespread, the demand for digital wallets is likely to reduce. In fact, UPI will be a game changer in the payments area,” he says.

Going forward, one of the big projects Saraswat Bank will be undertaking is desktop virtualization. It is also evaluating products for analytics, including big data analytics. “We want to engage with our customers more and more,” says Varerkar. The bank is doing it in a phased manner, beginning with the structured data it has—core banking data, demat account data, etc.

“Through analytics, we would like to understand our customers’ spend patterns, their needs and their holding so that we can cross-sell and upsell our products to them,” he says. In the second phase, social media integration will be taken up as well.

Varerkar is quite optimistic of the usefulness of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. “Technologies like artificial intelligence will be used in analytics to understand the customer behavior, spend patterns, etc., and automate processes so that we can engage with our customers in a more meaningful manner rather than just approach them with a standard product offering,” he says. The technology can also come in handy for the bank’s proposed loyalty and rewards programs.

Having put in place the necessary IT tools and achieved several business milestones, Saraswat Bank is now gearing up to attract and retain the new-generation customers. “The new gen is always connected and prefer doing transactions through technology,” says Varerkar. The thrust for the bank, therefore, is to take the mobile banking and netbanking initiatives to a level that appeals more effectively to the younger generation. The bank is also setting up e-lobbies on many of its premises. It has set up 28 such e-lobbies where the customers can go and do multiple transactions 24x7.

The next couple of years will indeed be quite crucial for the expansion and growth of Saraswat Bank and to attract people in their 20s and 30s who tend not only to be more digitally savvy but also relatively more fickle as customers.


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