Striking the Right Balance Innovation and Stability in Technology Leadership

Vamsi Krishna Ithamraju

Among the myriad use cases of Gen AI, some of the focus areas within the financial services industry have been to improve regulatory compliance and make lives easier for functions that thrive on content such as marketing, shared Vamsi Krishna Ithamraju, Chief Technology Officer, Axis Mutual Fund in an exclusive interaction with Srajan Agarwal of Elets News Network (ENN).

Reflecting on your career journey, could you share a pivotal moment or project that significantly shaped your trajectory as a technology leader, and how did it influence your approach to future roles and responsibilities?

Implementing the India Stack for financial inclusion at a population scale was a pivotal project in my overall career journey of 20+ years.

This project gave me an opportunity to witness and address the key challenges and gaps in expanding critical financial services, such as credit for healthcare and micro enterprises, insurance, etc, that were not hitherto available at scale. At that time, Aadhar was just launched by UIDAI, and we saw an immediate use case for the identification of the customers. We backed this identity check with an indigenously developed algorithm that arrives at a credit score for rural clients using their loan repayment history.

Proprietary architecture that combined these two data sources and made the workflow to continue offline, was key for the success of this digital transformation project given the connectivity issues at Bharat scale.

The financial sector is experiencing rapid digital transformation. How do you foster innovation at Axis Mutual Fund, and what specific technological advancements have you implemented to enhance the digital experience for your customers?

To foster innovation, it is critical to encourage a perpetual customer obsession and a listening culture in the team. We at Axis Mutual Fund try to do that through 3 foundational pillars –

  • Continuous learning programme: We encourage continuous learning of our inhouse technology team and providing them with all necessary support for their growth and in turn the firm’s growth.
  • Social listening: Social networking channels such as WhatsApp, Twitter, LinkedIn help us understand what is working and what is not in terms of customer experience, thereby providing the critical clues and personalised support.
  • Improving Customer touchpoints: We manage the digital assets (app, portal etc.) with an agile program run by a mix of product managers and technical solution architects to ensure superior UX on our digital assets, customer servicing platforms and keep an active tab on Playstore and Appstore ratings. We have consistently been at a 4.5+ star rating on both these stores.

Also Read | Aviva India’s Tech Leadership and Future Vision

With the increasing digitisation of financial services, cybersecurity is a paramount concern. Could you shed light on the cybersecurity measures and protocols that you have implemented to safeguard customer data and ensure the integrity of financial transactions at Axis Mutual Fund?

In the industry that we represent, all digital projects begin with Information security as a precursor and not an after-thought. In any given period, we go through a multitude of cyber and system audits, ensuring that we are high on compliance. The foundation of trust and protection of our customer information is built on a Zero-trust-based architecture and continuous testing (both static as well as dynamic) prior to any application changes.

Striking a balance between innovation and the stability of existing systems is a challenge for many technology leaders. How do you approach this delicate balance, ensuring that your team remains at the forefront of technological advancements while maintaining the robustness of existing infrastructure?

In my role as a technologist for a large mutual fund, it is vital to strike a balance between agility and information governance therby contributing to a high growth trajectory at a relatively low risk coefficient.

A classic example of this would be the introduction of a BISO role in the IT organisational chart. While all asset management companies have a CISO role, we went a step ahead and inducted a Business Information Security officer (BISO) in addition to the CISO to ensure that there is a close alignment between business and security teams, giving the necessary push and agile lifecycle to projects.

Another example is the provision of a highly controlled environment, fully isolated from the production environment, for prototyping emerging tech such as Generative AI and Quantum Computing, enabling us to experiment with innovative use cases for productivity as well as insights.

The financial industry is witnessing the integration of emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI, and IoT. How are these technologies being leveraged at Axis Mutual Fund under your leadership, and what kind of impact do you anticipate on the overall efficiency and customer experience in the coming years?

Amongst the myriad use cases of Gen AI, some of the focus areas within the financial services industry have been to improve regulatory compliance and make lives easier for functions that thrive on content, such as, e.g. marketing. Enabling these teams with secure content creation capabilities will help the leadership team focus on growth strategy instead of operational activities.

Also Read | The Role of Ethics and Values in Business Leadership: Insights from Dr. Sourav Dutta, ED-IT, IDBI Bank

On a different note, the true scale of compute infrastructure required to harness AI and blockchain in enterprises still has a long way to go. However, transforming the customer experience is where devices may come together. The near-term IoT use cases may be found in wearable technology (smart watches, etc.) and connected cars powered by the Internet.

The views expressed are personal and are not related to Axis Mutual Fund.

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