Navigating Rapid Technological Advances in the Banking Sector – SP Jain Global Alumni Spotlight with Suresh Lalwani (EMBA 2007)

Suresh Lalwani (EMBA 2007), Managing Director and the Head of Coverage, Commercial Banking at First Abu Dhabi Bank, has over 22 years of experience and mastery in the banking sector. Having navigated the evolving banking landscape amid rapid technological advancements, Suresh has remained adaptable to ever-changing consumer demands. 

How has he taken a bold stance in accepting digital transformation to accelerate growth? Let’s find out as we sit with Suresh for an interesting chat, delving into the nuances of banking, the significance of digitisation, and the future of the industry.

Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself? 

I finished high school in Dubai and was keen to start my professional life soon after. Born with a hustler mentality, I opted for all the opportunities to gain real-life work experience, whether in Dubai or Pune. And, after completing my graduation, I started working on many projects related to retail marketing, accounting, and event management. My desire for learning also helped me gain knowledge in the areas of IT, investment, and marketing. Since my mantra was getting a formal education and hands-on work experience simultaneously, it helped me build a robust foundation for my career.

In the present day, apart from my work, I am involved in the following:

1. 60 DS (60-Day Start-ups): This is a women-only start-up incubator, and I have been engaged with them as a mentor in banking and finance since 2020. In this incubator, we help new businesswomen from the ideation stage to generating their invoices in 60 days.

2. Funding Souq (Fintech): I am a non-executive board member in this fintech, which is a crowd-funding platform that provides business loans by connecting established SMEs with retail and institutional debt investors worldwide.

On the personal front, I enjoy running, cycling, working out, listening to music, travelling, watching stand-up comedy, and engaging in investments. I live in a joint family of 15 members in Dubai, and there is never a dull day with god’s grace.

With over 22 years of experience and a focus on digitalisation, how do you navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by the rapid pace of technological advancements in the banking sector?

Technology has changed the banking landscape rapidly in the last two decades. Banking is very different now, and we have to keep pace with the ever-changing customer needs.

– I have always been open to new technologies and new ideas. In fact, we run fortnightly sessions wherein we meet with new fintech or industry trendsetters to learn about new technologies and see what we can adapt and improve. We have regular brainstorming sessions to see how we can improve the lives of our customers and internal staff.

– I have partnered with many fintechs as I do not consider them as our competition. I believe fintechs and banks can work in harmony as there is enough room in this industry for both, and they make banking enjoyable.

– I have been working on projects in which we have digitised account opening, lending, trade finance, treasury, supply chain finance and several other projects that have improved our internal processes.

– ESG and sustainable finance is another important initiative that we have been closely working on, and this is the future of everything we will do in banking.

– In the area of corporate banking, innovation is slower than in retail banking because of the nature of the client segment and the intricacies involved. However, we need to keep thinking and keep innovating.

Can you share how digitalisation has been integrated into your commercial banking strategies to enhance customer experience and operational efficiency?

Digitalisation is the key to the commercial banking strategy. In order to become a good commercial banking set-up, one has to think ‘Digital by Default’ in every aspect.

Customer Experience:

1. In order to provide a good customer experience, to start with, account opening needs to be through digital channels. Integration of several systems internally and using APIs to pull data from different sources externally can help us create a nice onboarding journey.

2. Having a well-thought-out scoring engine can help in deciding on a small loan fast.

Operational Efficiency:

1. With the use of workflows, and some nice UI and UX, a journey can be developed for credit proposal writing and cutting down the processing time for credit decisions.

2. Performance management and tracking of various deliverables can also be done through digital means that can help improve productivity.

Above are a few examples that can be elaborated more, through which we use technology to bring in operational efficiency and improve customer experience.

Given your focus on delivering an increase in revenue and bottom line, could you elaborate on the key performance metrics you track to measure the success of your initiatives in commercial and corporate Banking?

Key performance metrics that I use are:

– Having a scorecard that has weights on different parameters has helped me. I have tracked it religiously.

– I try to manage my own time well and lead by example by questioning myself – Have I been productive during the day? Have I achieved enough on my to-do list or not? When people see me doing this, they also get inspired and get in line.

– I have a high level of engagement with my customers, and I also do skip-level meetings with my team. This helps me to keep a check on what’s happening on the ground.

With the support of the team and focused tracking of deliverables, we have been able to deliver an increase in revenue and bottom line in all the banks I have worked for. I believe in treating people fairly and creating an environment of positivity and fun. Generally, when people are happy doing what they do, they achieve excellent results.

How have your learnings at SP Jain Global helped with your successful career in the banking sector?

SP Jain Global has been the reason for my success in the banking sector. 

A. It is a global brand. So, I don’t have to explain the brand value. 

B. The course helped me improve my knowledge, particularly in finance (valuations, ratios etc), marketing (the case studies we did in class), and operations. 

C. MBA made me think better, comprehend better, and ask the right questions.

What advice would you offer to SP Jain Global students and young professionals aspiring to build a successful career in the financial sector?

Today’s generation is very smart with a high awareness of the world. Academically, they know what they want to do. However, my two cents on attitude and conduct are:

– Being a good person is very important. Don’t speak badly about anyone, even if no one is watching you.

– Do what you enjoy. It will make your work fun.

– Learn to be a good negotiator. You will need it all the time.

– Embrace Technology. It is a very powerful tool.

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