Join Corey and Dennis as they talk about what Dennis does in his capacity of head of financial services, the digital transformation of a digital transformation consultancy, how Infosys has been around since the dot-com bubble and is pivoting to digital services, how Infosys partnered with Old National Bank, a regional bank based in Iowa, why some organizations take longer to complete digital transformation initiatives than others, how COVID-19 accelerated digital transformation by 10 years, how banks that had strong tech stacks were able to capitalize on the PPP, how the pandemic highlighted the need for end-to-end digital transformation, what financial services companies are getting right about digital transformation, and more.
Dennis Gada is SVP and Head for Financial Services, North America at Infosys, where he has executive responsibility for all client relationships and new client acquisitions in the Financial Services sector. Dennis has significant Business Transformation, Innovation, and Financial Services Consulting experience. He is an industry leader in Financial Services with experience in partnering with clients to shape strategies and execute digital transformation programs leveraging business and technology services. Dennis is a frequent speaker at various industry events and is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants.
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Cloud Economist Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of Cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn. I’m joined this week by Dennis Gada, head of financial services at Infosys. Dennis, thanks for joining me.
Dennis: Thanks, Corey. Good to be here.
Corey: So, this is the first time I’ve had someone from Infosys on in the entire run that this show has happened. And the reason behind that is—in the interest of full disclosure—my wife is Senior Counsel at Infosys and General Counsel of the Infosys Foundation USA. I mostly try to stay out of her way, given my mouth and attitude problems. I mean, there’s a terrific chance at some point if I start mouthing off, she would have to sue me on behalf of her employer. So, we’re going to try very hard not to cause that to happen this episode. So, let’s see what we can do. Dennis, thank you for joining me. What do you do?
Dennis: Corey, so I head the financial services business for Infosys in North America. I’ve been with the company for almost 16 years. In fact, I complete 16 years this week. And through my journey here, I’ve been working across Asia, Europe for ten years, and last six years in North America. And really focused on delivering end-to-end technology operations, digital services, for our financial services clients. Very exciting times to be at the intersection of technology, and business, and financial services at this point.
Corey: Oh, it absolutely is. I don’t talk about this too often on this show, but my last real job before starting my own nonsense was at a startup that got acquired by BlackRock. So, going down the whole financial services path was something that I got sort of a crash course into, and it definitely leaves an impression. It’s not like a lot of other sectors for a, frankly, very good reason.
Tell me a little bit more about what Infosys does because my understanding personally comes from my wife, who’s an attorney. Love my wife and love attorneys though I do, they always tend to bring something of a unique perspective to things that I’m not sure adequately conveys the fullness of the experience. Helped me figure out, please, so I can give a better answer than I’ve been giving for the last five years of where my wife works, please?
Dennis: Sure, I’ll break it down for you, and you can go and validate it with your wife as well. But I think from an Infosys perspective—so at the foundation, we provide the technology services to kind of run applications, support infrastructure, test applications, and so on. If you look at the next layer, it’s really about helping in the change and transformation of businesses. And much more in the last few years, our business has pivoted towards that. So, whether it’s launching a new digital bank—if I take the financial services example—or launching new payments on products, new digital wallets, and so on, that’s the kind of really transformation-oriented services we provide.
We just announced our results, and almost 50% of our business now comes from digital services—which is kind of the cherry on the cake, so to speak—which is around helping clients on experience, on data analytics, on Cloud and IoT, on modernization of their platforms, and around cybersecurity. That’s where we are headed towards; most of our new business, our future business, is around digital services, Corey.
Corey: It’s an interesting transformation story on the part of a company that effectively helps its own clients with digital transformation. It’s easy to forget from the tech bubble that, well, I find myself ensconced in, let alone what other people do, that companies have been doing business since before the .com bubble. I know it’s hard for folks to believe sometimes, but it is, in fact true. And as much as we want to imagine that all of the innovation and all of the code worth looking at et cetera, et cetera, comes out of startups founded within the last two years in San Francisco, or out of Google, the reality fundamentally is that companies are doing business, they’re not stopping the business that they’re doing, but taking an existing large scale, often regulated workload and moving that into a cloud-native style environment, or modernizing beyond the mainframe era, it takes a lot of work because it’s hard to do, but it’s also because it takes so much effort to ensure that during that migration, everything still works. As much as you might like to, you can’t take the ATM networks down for six weeks while you go ahead and migrate everything. At least not more than once, if you don’t want society to be standing by the end of it.
Dennis: Absolutely. And let me explain that also with a very recent example. We did a partnership recently with the Old National Bank. They’re headquartered in Evansville, Indiana, and one of the regional banks, but largest are in the state of Indiana and also do business in the neighboring states. And this was six months before the pandemic; they had a new CEO, Jim Ryan, who had taken over.
And dropped him an email and went there to meet him, I thought it would be an executive lunch in a boardroom. Jim and I sat in the cafeteria and had a discussion over salad in terms of how the world of banking is changing, and how the innovation that’s happening all around the world, given my global perspective, whether it’s in Silicon Valley, whether it’s in Asia, whether it’s in Europe, et cetera, how all of that can be brought into regional bank which is aiming to transform itself in the state of Indiana. And then we build the relationship over the next six months, and just before the pandemic, we entered into a partnership with Old National Bank. And the entire focus has been around, on one side, how do you drive efficiencies into the run side of the business, the existing infrastructure, the existing services, moving to the Cloud, and so on, and then plow back or invest it into the transform side of the business, how to really build new capabilities in commercial banking or wealth management in this case. And that’s a great example I wanted to mention because innovation is not just happening in pockets in certain parts of the world, it is all over.
And at Infosys and in the work we do in financial services, our aim is to really bring innovation closer to our clients, whether it’s in Evansville, Indiana, whether it’s in Charlotte, North Carolina, whether it’s in Amsterdam in Netherlands, or any part of the world. And that’s what we’re focused on.
Corey: I think the common misconceptions among folks who start off in small businesses—as I tend to. I mean, I admit my own biases here, I tend to think of a big company as someone that employs 200 people. That’s not really how it works, but from that perspective, it doesn’t seem like doing a migration or doing a digital transformation should take that long. So, when you hear about a company taking five years to do a cloud migration, for example, the knee-jerk reaction in some folks—and admit this was me before I started having deeper conversations—is, oh, they must be super bad at it. What are the things that those folks generally tend to overlook?
Dennis: Yeah, I think there are sometimes internal organizational bottlenecks, whether there are governance problems, legacy problems, and also the whole mindset or culture of the way things are done. Those are the issues that large enterprises typically struggle with. The issue is not with the technology, or the issue is not with what capabilities are available in the market, but many times internal culture and governance issues. But one thing I have to say, Corey, is what has changed that dramatically is the pandemic in some ways. When we look at certain organizations, we almost feel that what would have taken ten years to do has been accomplished in the last ten months or so.
In fact, one of my clients said that they feel that they are in 2030. That’s the level of work that has been done in the months during the pandemic. Some of it was because of certain government interventions such as the Paycheck Protection Program—or PPP—here in the US. In some cases, it was more driven by how the expectations of the end clients of many of these banks have completely evolved during the pandemic. And a lot of it was happening before the pandemic as well. But it has really, in my view, got a super acceleration. And then I would love to talk more about that.
Corey: Oh, absolutely. The pandemic has absolutely upended industries from one side to another. I mean, the running joke is that COVID-19 has done more to foster your company’s digital transformation than your last ten CIOs and there’s a strong element of truth to that. And on the one hand, you’d look at that and say, “Oh, well, banking was all mostly virtualized or digital online anyway. That hasn’t really had that much of an impact.”
But you bring up the PPP program, which was an unprecedented effort to get giant piles of money out to businesses in a responsible way. And that was passed on to the banks themselves. What did that look like from an IT infrastructure perspective?
Dennis: So, very interesting point. I think it put a tremendous pressure on the banks. The volume of loans that they had to process increased 20 to 25 times what they have typically done. And that, too, in a very crunch timeline. And different banks adopted different kinds of approaches to handle that massive spike in volumes.
But I must say that the banks that were better prepared and used technology to really address this challenge came out very, very successful. In case of one of the regional banks that we helped in, again, in this case, I’ll just quickly walk through the process. The whole application to accept loans was set up in a couple of days, making it very easy for these small businesses to apply for these loans. The entire underwriting process, they used AI technology from Infosys to extract information from the documents, payslips, et cetera, and for low-value loans, do an automated underwriting. Then they used the automation, the RPA technology to submit those applications to the SBA E-Tran’s website.
APIs were used to really also push applications in big batches to SBA. So, a combination of RPA, AI, APIs, automated underwriting, and a transformed experience of accepting applications was used to really drive volumes. We were working around the clock. Everybody was hands-on, including the technology and business leaders, making sure that this gets done. And I think in my mind, that was an absolutely amazing experience of seeing, one, how technology can really help the business, and how, if everybody comes together on a particular challenge, things can be done so much faster.
Corey: It’s sort of jarring when someone who isn’t really conversant with how the financial system works, starts to peek under the covers of it. I mean, functionally, the way that money moves with checks, as an easy example here, is that effectively it’s a promise to pay that gets passed around, and it’s super easy to effectively cheat. The way that society has fixed this is the audit trails around this are nothing short of astonishing. So, sure, you could get money out pretty quickly and cause problems, but they will absolutely have this on record, and oh by the way, that’s a felony. So, it’s a real strange type of combination between legacy systems that still need to be supported, and technical shortcomings that, in turn, were stop-gapped by regulation, policy, and societal norms.
Again, I speak primarily to the United States. I can’t speak much to international banking state these days, but that was the thing that blew my mind, not the fact that all of that was—how it grew organically. I mean, that makes sense, but the fact that it works at all. And as best I can tell from the outside, works effectively. We didn’t see systemic collapse during the PPP program, we didn’t see banks having their IT systems explode.
I’m looking forward to the future case studies about how this stuff was implemented and achieved. But from the outside perspective, for most people who are not deep into the technical weeds, it just seems like another day of doing business. It very much wasn’t.
Dennis: No, it absolutely wasn’t, right? But I think what it did was that after banks went through that process, and especially the ones that came out very successful, they realized that this could be the new way of working. If this is the way things can be delivered. Literally, in four to six weeks thousands of loan applications with new technology was successfully delivered with all the checks and balances from a fraud and [evolution 00:13:26] perspective, how is it that you can use that model in the future? And in a way, it gave the industry a glimpse of the future.
And I think banks are now looking at how they can sustain that kind of a model. I’ll use an analogy, and I actually borrowed from a chair of one of the largest digital-only banks in the US. In one of the other events, he said that this was the difference between an opera and a flashmob. Normally, in financial services, everything is well-regulated, there is a conductor, you’re told exactly what to do, everybody follows, does it in a structured way. But I think what the whole digital transformation agenda last year converted [teams 00:14:06] into more of flash mobs that were more energetic with new ideas coming together to really drive major transformation, major shifts in very short timeframes. And I think that model has really given new life to how changes can be driven in these large organizations. And we see that that continues to sustain, even in 2021 and beyond, and almost becoming the new ways of working.
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Corey: I’m very curious to get your take on this, where having to be able to expand so rapidly to service the PPP program across the board, it seems like it’s kind of unlikely—to understate it massively—that now that, as things begin to return to normal—ideally—that, okay, time to dismantle all of those systems and go back to the old, slow, manual way of doing things. These systems are in place now and they’re not going anywhere. What does this change once society returns to some semblance of normalcy?
Dennis: Banks were already working on digital transformation, even before the pandemic, before PPP. But I think a lot of that was focused maybe on building the right websites, portals, mobile apps, and so on. I think what some of this transformation has shown is that you have to really transform end-to-end, not just your front-end but also your middle and back-office systems and processes. And hence, I think this has really generated a new wave of initiatives within many organizations to really look at a full end-to-end transformation, keeping the customer at the center. If this forced you to process loans within not days or even hours, but within minutes, how is it that you can make the other processes also similar.
Account opening is a common challenge. Every time you try to open an account with a new bank, it involves a lot of documentation, manual submissions, et cetera, and sometimes could take days. How do you make that a completely digital process that can be completed within minutes? How do you bring more real-time analytics into the spend and the saving patterns of your customers? How do you use data and analytics more efficiently to upsell products and services?
So, those kind of new paradigms, much more in the front now. And the underlying problem still is the legacy infrastructure. So, a lot of the banks are now really focused on transforming not just the front-end capabilities, but also the back-end systems and the legacy infrastructure that they have inherited over many years.
Corey: One of the things that also I think gets lost as we take a look across the board—I think finance is one of the easier places you can see it, but it does take place across the board—where there’s this idea that developers are the ones that are always going to be making the technical decisions, the vendor selection process, et cetera. And there was a book ten years ago by the founder of RedMonk called The New Kingmaker that speaks specifically to this. And yeah, the idea of bottom-up adoption is incredibly valuable. The counterargument, of course, is that developers and engineers generally are not empowered to sign $50 million cloud contracts. So, at some point, it’s less about technologists talking to technologists, and it shifts instead into speaking to businesses.
Is that something you’ve seen in your particular practice whereas you’re seeing a shift towards more business stakeholders are involved in discussions than in years past? Or has it always been this way and I’m just finally waking up to a longstanding truth.
Dennis: No, I think there is a significant shift that has happened in the last few years. I think the intermingling of business and technology, both from an organization structure perspective, decision-making perspective, is much more now than it was ever before because businesses are really hungry for innovation. They want to launch new products to the market as fast as they can and improve the experience that they can provide to the customers, and hence the main enabler to do all of that for the survival of the businesses is technology. And hence, they are much more involved in making decisions related to technology. Talking about modernization, in July 2020 we entered into partnership with Vanguard to really advance the digital transformation of their record-keeping business. And Vanguard, as you know, is one of the largest DC asset managers in the US. And this partnership is all about driving transformation in the record-keeping platform, building a new cloud-native platform for record-keeping—the first in the industry—and managing also their operations and technology. And I think this is a partnership that will set the benchmark for how digital transformation should happen in the record-keeping industry.
So we do see a major shift in overall decision making and a much larger interest from the business in making significant decisions that do involve our technology services. I talked about Old National Bank, the partnership we did with them. Again, it was driven by the CEO of the bank. So, it’s not just business, but very senior levels of the organizations are getting involved in making the right decisions, from the technology transformation perspective.
Corey: Historically, there was always a bit of a negative connotation to that. The running joke among technologists—because it wasn’t really a joke—was that the Oracle sales team would completely bypass the technologists and go and talk to the C-Suite and other executives. And the perception was then that, “Oh, they’re just taking them out to play golf, and that’s what wins the deals.” Personally, I find that a little bit cynical. For a long period of time, Oracle Technology offered something that nothing else really did, their business practices notwithstanding.
It was important of course, for the amount of money they were charging, they needed to get executive stakeholder buy-in and it made sense, but I’m curious as to how much the reality mirrors or doesn’t the popular perception. Not necessarily speaking to Oracle, of course, but to large enterprise software vendors and providers in general.
Dennis: Yeah, I think businesses are now much more informed about technology. Many business leaders actually come with a technology background, they have been studying this space quite minutely. And so when they are involved in the decision making, they actually are quite well-informed of what are the options, what’s the impact that a particular platform or technology solution would have on the business. So, I feel it is actually bringing the right focus in the decision-making process, with business stakeholders looking at what is really important for them and how a decision or a choice they would make will directly impact certain outcomes.
I’ll give you a very quick example. We’ve worked with the head of operations for a bank on a challenge related to collections. And the discussion there was around how can you use AI automation—in our platform in that case—to improve collections? And we ran challenger model to the existing manual process of doing the segmentation of the customers, identifying the high-risk customers. And they realized that the challenger model using the AI platform from Infosys was actually giving better results, and then that model was used to enhance the downstream collection capabilities across various products.
Now, the business in this case, the business stakeholder, the head of operations, did not make a decision just because they were very familiar with Infosys, but really using the platform, doing proof of concept, seeing the results, which actually impacted the business outcomes, improved the collections by 25 basis points, and then making a choice that this is the right platform to go for. So, I think businesses have become much smarter in understanding how technology works and using that to make decisions that would be right for them and clients and for the right business outcomes.
Corey: And that’s really, on some level, what I think—to put the shoe on the other foot for a minute—that technologists have really missed out on over the historical trend, where they tend to miss the business forest for the trees and they focus on pure technical merit of, “Well, why would I spend this pile of money on a vendor solution when I can put together a few open-source projects and have it achieve mostly the same thing?” In some cases, they’re right. In other cases, there are concerns about liability, there are concerns about, okay, it’s broken and I don’t really know why. There’s something nice about having a phone number you can call and get things addressed. I don’t think that it’s an easy answer; I don’t think that one side is always going to be right in those, so please, if you listen to this and disagree, don’t email me. But there is an increasing awareness that I’m seeing as well on the technology side, where they are starting to wake up to the realities of business. Is that something that you’re seeing from your perspective as well? Or am I just hanging out with some better people than I used to?
Dennis: I think that is changing, but I wish that happens even faster. And especially it’s very important, Corey because a lot of the new technologies coming in, technologists love to experiment with new ideas and bring forward the new technologies, but they should not do it for the sake of just using the new technology. Again, it needs to have a business impact. So, wherever the technology teams that we work with are able to marry the changes in technology with what it can mean for the business, and then put together those solutions, they’re definitely seeing much more of an impact. And I’ll give you another example—and this was actually for a European bank—where they set up a new retail store and they built a lot of fancy cafe-like experience and so on, in that retail store.
But I went into that retail store of that bank, and they greeted me with a tablet and welcomed me, and then I asked them a specific question about a very complex problem I had with a particular mortgage in that case, and then it all fell apart because they could not figure out who could help, I had to wait for 30 minutes, then somebody came and said, “You know, you have to make changes in two or three different applications, and because of that, it’s going to take ten more days.” So, while the facade, or the face, was very good in terms of a very innovative branch, but when you actually try to solve the real problem, it was still all legacy and no changes, no modernization was done in that case. And I think that’s the problem. So, the technology teams have to really look at it end-to-end from a business perspective and not implement technologies or new technologies in certain silos, but really see how the journey or the experience can be improved from an end-to-end perspective.
Corey: As you look across the landscape right now, what is it you think that financial services as a whole is doing right when it comes to their digital transformation stories, and what do you think that they could do to improve where they are that they’re not doing yet?
Dennis: There is certainly a significant focus on customer experience and going beyond just the mobile app or a great website, really becoming part of lifestyles of customers. So, if you take the example of mortgage, it is not just about the transaction of getting a mortgage, but being part of the home-buying process and the home servicing process. We actually call it ‘living dot com,’ which is about going beyond just a mortgage, and helping clients have a great home and a lifestyle. Similarly, looking at data and analytics from the point of view of how do you do more predictive analytics and personalize the offerings? How do you provide more tailored recommendations?
So, I think a lot of effort is going into customer experience around data and analytics, keeping really the customer at the center, and that’s really the right thing to do. There is also a significant shift in the last 12 to 18 months on the journey to Cloud—and I’m sure you’re quite familiar with that as well, Corey—okay it has become real in the banking world, the movement to Cloud, whether it’s private cloud, public cloud, hybrid cloud, it is very, very real, and banks are looking at, really, how to leverage the inherent capabilities of the Cloud, whether it’s scalability, resilience, security, et cetera, not just from a cost perspective, but really from an innovation and a time to market perspective. So, I think all of those are the right areas to focus on from our transformation. Where I think banks still need to do more is what I talked about earlier, looking at their monolithic legacy platforms. Those are complex challenges to solve, to modernize those over a period of time.
Because otherwise, no matter how much you try to improve the customer experience, use Cloud, use data analytics capabilities, but if the back-end remains legacy, then there will be certain limitations. And I think really bringing in that transformation is where more needs to be done. And it’s a more complex problem to solve, as well.
Corey: It is. I think the thing that everyone hopes for and can’t get to is the idea that somehow there’s an easy trick that if only they just look in the right place, they’ll find this magic thing that gets them where they want to go with none of the downsides. Yeah, me too. If anyone can ever sell that, I would be your first customer, but I don’t [laugh] believe it actually exists.
Dennis: [laugh]. You know, there is no magic trick. This is all a lot of hard work, but as long as you have the customer in the center and then you try and build everything around it, at least it starts making sense. But many times, if you just have technology in the center and you’re doing things for the sake of technology, for the sake of implementing new technology, you really don’t get to the desired objectives. So, I think that’s where we really see firms that have done significantly better.
And everybody is focused and investing in the whole digital transformation journey, but there are clearly firms that are far ahead in the journey, and they have really identified what makes sense from a customer perspective, from a business perspective, and that’s all that they focus on: using technology as more of an enabler to get to that North star faster.
Corey: I think that’s one of the most valuable takeaways we can really have from this conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. If people want to hear more about what you’re up to and how you view these things. Where can they find you?
Dennis: They can reach me, [email protected] on my Twitter handle, @dennisgada. It was a pleasure, Corey, to speak to you as well, and I wish you all the best.
Corey: Likewise. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I really enjoyed it.
Dennis: Thank you.
Corey: Dennis Gada, head of financial services, Infosys. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, along with a comment telling me why you wrote some code at 3 a.m. this morning, and now it’s perfectly good to push it out immediately to the nation’s ATM networks.
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