The role of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is drastically changing in recent years from a tech-centric role to one having leadership, vision and a more customer-centric approach. In an exclusive interaction, Natasha Jethanandani, CTO of Kaleidofin – a digital financial services platform that offers innovative investment solutions – reflects on the changing role of IT leaders in the industry. After stints at Google and Microsoft, Jethanandani explains what it takes to head the technology team at a fintech company, a sector that is increasingly relying on advanced technology innovation and customer-centricism.
How do you see the IT leader’s role has changed over the years?
Having spent close to 15 years in the sector, I believe one of the most important aspects that changed for technology leaders is the focus on building better customer experiences. Today, an increasing number of companies have a mobile-first approach, which leads to creating integrated interfaces and an end-to-end customer engagement experience. Understanding the target segment to build UX that resonates with them, along with creating a seamless backend that provides functionality in a performant and scaled way should now be the focus of any technology team.
What is the role you play in your organization? How do you draw inspiration to manage your day-to-day operations?
Kaleidofin is a tech-led platform that provides integrated financial solutions to the under-banked. Our solutions are entirely online and accessible by customers through the Kaleidofin App. As a CTO, my responsibilities are divided into both building the customer facing app as well as scaling the backend and automating processes to create a seamless experience.
The Kaleidofin business strategy and growth plans posed several challenges to us. First, Kaleidofin is a mass market product. We aim to get a minimum of a million customers over 2 years. The technology systems therefore had to be built to work with large volumes.
Second, our target segments are diverse, not just in their financial service needs, however, we wanted to make sure we offer customised services for each one of them. Our app today, creates a risk persona for each individual customer and suggests a solution based on the same.
My team members and I regularly interact with the agents who work with the customers as well as the customers to understand and make changes in our systems. In less than a year, we have seen many customers increase their saving capacity from INR 100-1000. The interactions and also the success ratio with customers keep us motivated about our work.
What were the lessons you learnt from your Microsoft and Google days?
As technology professionals, it is imperative to experiment and learn each day and I believe that’s one lesson that I carry back from my Google and Microsoft days. Microsoft and Google were undoubtedly amongst the best learning launch pads. Here each employee, irrespective of the number of years of experience is encouraged to come up with new ideas and question existing ones. The companies had an entrepreneurial culture. Every team was encouraged to initiate new projects and new ideas. However, the teams had to convince technical architects and business leaders internally about the value propositions of these projects. Working with incredibly smart people day in and day out was very motivating. I encourage my team constantly to debate and question constantly. Within Kaleidofin, we keep track of new trends, platforms and what is going on in the industry and try to inculcate a continuous learning environment.
What’s your view on the state of women CIO/CTOs in India? How do you support more women tech leaders in the workforce?
As mentioned above, the role of a CTO /CIO is now becoming strategic in nature that has a direct impact on business. The choice of a CTO /CIO is entirely based on an individual’s capability and commitment to work.
We have a gender agnostic approach at Kaleidofin. Having said that, our policies such as flexible work times, support for work life balance, etc, makes it an employee friendly place which encourages more women to work with us. Also, we are excited that we have a great set of women leaders – our CEO is a woman and we have strong women leaders in Product Management, Business Development and other teams as well.
What role does innovation play in IT? How do you ensure that your team makes enough time to innovate and create new business led IT tools?
There are new technology advancements almost every day – across many areas including cloud platforms, AI/ML and at a device level. It is important for any technology team to not just keep abreast with the new developments but also incorporate them in their existing systems and processes.
At Kaleidofin, we strive to do this regularly. A good example is where we observed a business problem wherein customers KYCs were failing regularly due to poor quality pictures taken in the field. We immediately incorporated AI-based OCR technology into our mobile app to do text recognition on the pictures captured and prevent poor quality pictures at the source itself. This had the advantage of catching issues real-time and also reduced operational costs significantly.
At Kaleidofin, we encourage our teammates to constantly research and learn from developments in the industry. We also invite experts and professionals from the industry to share their learning with us.
What technologies are you toying with or are likely to explore in the future?
We are actively looking at technology that helps build scalable platforms using commodity hardware – architecture that uses microservices to create reliable and multi-tenant systems, building a high performant data pipeline that can be used for near real-time analytics.
We are looking at AI based technologies that can help with customer engagement – personalization, improved onboarding, improved communication using NLP techniques (voice recognition, chatbots), issue resolution that ‘learns’ customer needs (using multi channel customer service assistance). Also, customers are getting comfortable with voice-based tech (voice-to-text, text-to-speech) and we are exploring how to apply this along with a strong focus on vernacular. We are further using AI, OCR and computer vision techniques to move towards Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and machine learning and anomaly detection to prevent fraud.
What are your tips to future CIO/CTOs or IT leaders?
The world of technology is today dynamic and constantly evolving. New platforms and developments in technology, AI and ML have a huge impact on business models. For any technology professional therefore, it is more important than ever before to set aside enough time to learn and evolve with the changes, take on leadership roles and new challenges.