At Axis, we pursue a holistic cyber security program: Avinash Raghavendra, EVP and Head – IT, Axis Bank

Avinash Raghavendra, Executive Vice President and Head - IT, Axis Bank

The outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic and its ongoing effect brought several challenges across the industries. However, it is also spurring the adoption of contactless digital payments and online banking. Besides, customers’ behaviour and preferred interactions are dramatically changing, and while they are likely to continue to evolve, the digital transformation across the banking industry is also likely to continue apace. On one hand, while digitisation is at its peak, increasing scare of cyber threats is also a matter of concern. To understand, how the pandemic is helping the banjos to transform digitally and what are major challenges pertaining to cyber threats associated with the digital rise, Rashi Aditi Ghosh of Elets News Network (ENN) interacted with Avinash Raghavendra, Executive Vice President and Head – IT, Axis Bank.

During the exclusive conversation he said, “The pandemic has enforced a work from home culture among organisation. As a result, technology has become even more important in both our personal and professional life. This has also led to a significant increase in the overall cases of cyber-attacks (phishing, fraudulent web sites, and direct attack on organization etc).”

Excepts:

Covid brought several challenges across the banking industry. How did it level up the roles and functions of CIOs (Chief Information Officers)?

A major impact of pandemic was in the transition to digital, which has been sudden and accelerated. In this digital world, organizations that innovate and iterate quickly gain decisive advantage. The priority for every CIO post-COVID was simply business continuity and speaking on behalf of my CIO community on this aspect, everybody and every institution rose to the challenge in good time. However, the duration of the lockdown and the large-scale global disruption in supply chain impacting availability of critical components was not anticipated. Organisations that were more nimble changed their course and accelerated towards alternatives like cloud, etc.

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We have been seeing this unprecedented phase of skill shortages in the industry due to this rush towards digital adoption across organisations and industries. Here, we are not competing with our industry peers alone anymore but across industries, some with deep pockets, for talent. This has forced CIOs to look at what skills need to remain in-house versus those that can be outsourced to trusted partners. Last 18 months has been an interesting and stimulating phase for all Tech professionals!

Technology dependency post the pandemic also increased the risk of cyber threats. How is Axis Bank armouring itself against the adversities?

The pandemic has enforced a work from home culture among organisation. As a result, technology has become even more important in both our personal and professional life. This has also led to a significant increase in the overall cases of cyber-attacks (phishing, fraudulent web sites, and direct attack on organization etc).

Amidst all this Axis Bank approach has always been to pursue a holistic cyber security program with a comprehensive Cyber Security Policy and Standards based on industry best practices in compliance with regulatory guidelines.

The Bank has deployed its cyber security structure and framework based on National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Standard. The Bank’s cyber security framework is built and operated around five fundamental areas including Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond and Recover. Bank is compliant to ISO27001 and PCIDSS standards. The Bank has a 24×7 Security Operations Centre and Cyber Security Operations System. 100% of the digital products of the Bank are under Dark Net monitoring. Furthermore, we also work with our Vendor Partners (400+) and continuously monitor their cyber readiness basis cyber resilience scores like BitSight index. Eternal vigilance is the only mantra here.

How has technology leadership changed recently for banks? Are tech-leaders, the face of their banks now?

The pandemic has brought digital engagement to the forefront of almost every business. Meaningful engagement on the digital channels requires a strong technology backbone, something that the Bank had already envisaged. The Bank has always considered technology as a critical enabler to distinguish itself from its peers. The success of a digital transformation and agile way of working requires the whole organisation to understand and appreciate technology.

At Axis Bank, we have a program called “Technology Masterclass” that focuses on driving technology as a culture across the organisation including the senior management. So essentially, the idea is to make a Tech leader out of everybody!

How are you leveraging disruptive technologies like AI, Blockchain and cloud?

The Bank started the process of building capabilities about 3+ years back, with pilot projects in the areas of RPA, AI, and Cloud. We are the first Bank to create 3 landing zones (AWS, Azure and GCP) to support our multi-cloud strategy The Bank has built the necessary foundation for large scale migration which will help achieve the FY target of 25% applications on Cloud, currently we have ~50 applications on Cloud. In line with the vision, most of our newer initiatives are on cloud or are cloud ready.

Similarly, on AI Bank has deployed 100+ AI Use cases and is working on deploying AI at scale. Some interesting use cases have been explored here like for example, AI based scrutiny of Bank Guarantee clauses. This has helped us to improve the turn-around-time around Bank Guarantee issuance and improved the capability to identify and scrutinize onerous clauses in BG issuance requests, thereby improving the quality and adherence to guidelines.

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We run a unit within our Tech department to focus on various opportunities using Blockchain. An example of the same is Remittances on Ripple, which was implemented couple of years back.

How is Axis Bank planning to accelerate its digital transformation further on 2022?

The Bank has undertaken a transformation journey to make it future-ready. As the foundation is being built to propel the Bank in becoming best-in-class across key areas, the Bank will continue to accelerate in the areas of delivering tech products faster, enabling critical capabilities and focus on improving resiliency. The Bank has seen significant progress across the targeted outcomes as it continues to build on the initial success.

Blurb: The Bank started the process of building capabilities about 3+ years back, with pilot projects in the areas of RPA, AI, and Cloud.

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