Samrat Das, Chief Information Officer, PNB-MetLife Insurance

Enterprises in the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) industry have been early adopters of information and communication technology (ICT) solutions, which have enabled them to digitise their operations and make them more efficient. The government’s demonetisation move has provided a further impetus to the digitisation initiatives. However, since enterprises in the BFSI space deal with confidential consumer data, ensuring data security while using ICT solutions is of paramount importance. IT heads of leading BFSI enterprises discuss their IT strategies, technology trends, the impact of demonetisation on everyday operations and the level of cybersecurity readiness in the industry…

What are the key IT and telecom solutions dep­loyed by your organisation? How have these helped in improving business performance?

The distribution footprint of the financial services industry consists of a central processing hub through which the distribution network is spread across the country with the help of distribution partners. PNB-MetLife’s main hub is in Mumbai; it is connected to over 150 branches of the company and around 10,000 branches of our partners (Punjab National Bank, Bank of Jammu & Kashmir and Karnataka Bank) through a telecom network, which is based on the multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) cloud architecture. This helps us to be integrated throughout the country. The solutions deployed by us enable us to remain connected to our customers and distributors on a 24×7 basis. Our mobility solutions have an adoption rate of 40-50 per cent among our customers. This reduces the transaction processing time and costs as compared to the physical transaction processes used earlier, resulting in greater efficiency.

What has been the impact of demonetisation and the push towards a cashless economy on your IT needs?

The government’s demonetisation move has not had a major impact on insurance companies. As per the regulations for insurance companies, the limit on the percentage of cash that can be used for the total portfolio of transactions is already less. Therefore, demonetisation did not have an impact on the insurance sector. However, if we consider the entire ecosystem of banking and other financial services, demonetisation has helped in promoting digital transactions.

What is the scope of big data analytics, cloud and internet of things (IoT) in the BFSI industry? What are your plans for deploying these technologies? 

Big data and cloud are very relevant technologies for the financial services industry. Big data is an accessory for the whole world of analytics where you try and go beyond organic data and search for inorganic data in the virtual ecosystem. As a life insurance company, we need to predict the probability of death. For this, we need data and analytics tools for conducting the analysis. Therefore, big data analytics does play a very important role in a life insurance company. Like other insurance companies, we also have a critical strategy and execution mechanism for leveraging big data for our core business. One of the key benefits of cloud for a life insurance company is that it helps in the variabilisation of cost. IT cost by its nature is a fixed cost. However, cloud enables organisations  to predict if there is a need to either scale up or scale down costs. We have also adopted cloud technology. However, since we deal with customer data, which is very sensitive and private, we do not want any vulnerability around it. Therefore, while designing our cloud adoption strategy, we make sure that the privacy of data is maintained. Life insurance companies in India are at a nascent stage of leveraging IoT technology to gain a competitive advantage. How­ever, there are some organisations in the health insurance space that have already started leveraging IoT technology throu­gh wearables and other devices to find out relevant statistical information.

“The correct cybersecurity strategy for any organisation is to be aware of the latest technologies and adopt suitable measures.” Samrat Das

What are the key challenges faced while implementing new technologies?

There are some organisations that are early adopters of technology, there are others that prefer to adopt it slowly and then there are those that are ignorant about emerging technologies. However, most organisations today want to adopt the latest technologies. Therefore, technology adoption is an evolution and it is wrong to consider it as a challenge.

What are your views on the cybersecurity readiness amongst BFSI companies in India? How do you ensure the security of your customers’ data?

Cybersecurity readiness can be divided into two broad categories. One category involves the awareness of the enterprise as a whole. The second deals with technology readiness or robustness around the current level of awareness, which has inc­reased significantly over the past few years. This is because of the recent cyberattacks that took place in the industry, such the WannaCry ransomware attack. Awareness is the first step towards ensuring that organisations become more sensitive about protecting customer data.

For a global company like MetLife, cybersecurity is an essential part of our operations. We have multiple levels of technology checks ranging from the topmost layer of firewall to the lowest level of our database to ensure cybersecurity. The correct cybersecurity strategy for any organisation is to be aware of the latest technologies and adopt suitable measures. Further, the insurance sector regulator has put in place many mandates to ensure that organisations adhere to cybersecurity laws and adopt suitable technologies.

Going forward, what are the key IT and telecom trends that the BFSI industry is likely to witness?

The two emerging technologies that are going to play a key role in the life insurance sector are AI and blockchain. These will dramatically change the way in which the BFSI industry operates.