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EP #17: Digital Transformation Lessons from UAE’s Century Financial

About this Podcast

COVID-19 has transformed the competitive and consumer behavior landscape across industries and regions. The BFSI sector also continues to deal with this trickle-down effect. We caught up with Sharad VK, Marketing Director at one of the leading financial services providers from the UAE: Century Financial. Headquartered in Dubai and with over 30 years of expertise in the market, they specialize in investments and trading in financial instruments like currencies, indices, shares, and treasuries. Sharad VK highlights the following:

  • COVID-19 as a catalyst for digital transformation
  • The current BFSI landscape in the UAE and Middle East
  • The guidelines for brands in BFSI to revamp their marketing strategy to counter these unusual times
  • The need for brands to deliver customer-centric personalized experiences
  • The changes in BFSI consumer needs and guidelines for re-marketing

Listen on to understand what a BFSI leader like Century Financial is doing differently in the COVID-19 era to set serve consumers better while setting new operational benchmarks!

Episode Transcripts

Pradyut Hande(Host): “ Welcome to the new episode of The Martechno Beat specially curated Martech series by Netcore Cloud smartech where we talked to thought leaders more tech influencers and leading growth petitioners across Industries and geographies where they share their insight on new ways of growth through the application and technology together. Today is a special episode and I have with me none other than Mr. Sharad VK, who is the marketing director of Strength Century Financials here in Dubai. Welcome, Sarad to this episode. I’m so glad to have you with us today.” 

Mr. Sarad VK: Thank you, sir, equally a pleasure to be on this podcast with you. And yeah, I look forward to some great interaction with you.“

Pradyut Hande:  “ Yeah, great. Yes. I’m also looking forward to it. Sarad to begin with how things are at your end. We all know these are uncertain times and it’s changing how business as usual used to be. We all require a lot of flexibility and adaptability and find new ways to work and manage teams. How are you coping up with that.”

 

Mr. Sarad VK: “ Yeah, it’s suddenly the pandemic has opened up a new scenario for everyone and you know this whole work from home scenario, which nobody had anticipated how far effective it would be. But yes, I must say that it’s been a fairly seamless experience for us for centuries. Actually. It’s been a month since we have been working from home. I must give due credit to my IT and admin teams for making this whole thing possible. We have good access to all the data sharing folders and good practices put in place for data and privacy plus, you know these video call and virtual meeting software and tools like the Zoom and Microsoft team. They are a great help to connect with the team, larger team when required so we have regular team meetings that happen throughout the day. We used to have a lot of investor seminars every week in our office. Now that also has been taken care of by these tools. So we regularly use webinar jam and zoom for the investors’ investor seminars, which are now becoming webinars, so on the whole I think it’s been a very seamless experience and the whole organization and the team is well connected. And it’s been a great experience, I must say. Overall there are certain positives that we’ve also seen thanks to this work from home the overall productivity. I believe it has gone up across teams and organizations.” 

Pradyut Hande:  “ Right,  right, right. You are rightly said that that also brings me to ask you that how is your marketing team functioning and under this enforced work from home have there been any changes that you have introduced? “

 

Mr. Sarad VK: “ See in terms of the marketing team. Well, we have everybody working from their homes. And one thing we have graphic designers on our team. We have our own colleagues and all we’ve done is basically made sure that the machines that the graphic designers work on are well installed at the homes and all that. So most of the high-end machines are transported to their houses and  You know that is a lot of data sharing that happens and everything. So I think for us it works well and even with our regular meetings that happen every day, you know, we have two meetings every day. Once in the morning, once in the evening that is a lot of interaction happening between the team. We are running almost four campaigns right now on digital. So I think on the whole even with the marketing team, it’s been a fairly seamless experience for us.” 

Pradyut Hande:  “ Yes exactly, So this is something you know, which most of the teams are adapting to so it’s a great job that your IT is supporting you and you know carrying whatever is needed to their houses and continuing the flow. Have you seen any implications of workers’ culture or means once everything comes back to normal? What would be the effect once you know things will be back to normal?”

Mr. Sarad VK: “ Yeah ,in fact this whole pandemic thing has opened up a new possibility of working from home being far more highly productive and  the possibility that it is so seamless and it is working,  so well, I think going forward it might  just change the whole dynamics of how we work, you know, because even the organization’s I think might get into a rethink on huge capital investment in office spaces, maybe, you know have smaller office spaces and make sure that only people who actually need to be in the office or whatever reason whether its data privacy, whether it’s more related to the customer service and being there in person I generally get this feeling that there are a lot of departments and functions which can work remotely and this is this whole thing has opened up to this possibility and maybe that could be the trend going forward in the future where lot of departments might work from home and  only a certain small section of employees and staff and departments are housed in the office. “

Pradyut Hande:   Exactly. Yes, that’s a very good point. Actually, this is something we are looking forward to in my next question, which is regarding how the marketing strategies have changed. Like how are you targeting the market right now any changes in the strategy how you are, you know catering to the situation?

Mr. Sarad VK: “ Right, see one of the biggest things that have changed right now as far as marketing is concerned is somewhere most brands, I am moving away from Mass marketing to a more personalized marketing approach and they are looking at reaching the audience in their respective homes and how best we can probably, we know understand their requirements right now and get into there. So  I think this whole approach of understanding the customers better. One of the biggest handicaps that we feel is we were into financial selling and financial selling. Basically, there is always the financial advisor who kind of speaks to the client they meet in person because when you enter somebody with your money, you need to have a face to a voice. And so that has been hampered a little bit for us because now with a lockdown as Financial sales and financial analyst can’t really go and meet the customers. So one thing that we are doing is we are looking at understanding our existing customers better, we are doing the data mining in terms of understanding the customer journey and you know providing customer service to them which is far more seamless across channels. Now the focus is on existing customers. Now, how do we focus on the existing customers to probably cross-sell and upsell than getting new Customers because new customers is a challenge now as far as sales is concerned . The new customer responsibility is now shouldered by sole marketing. So what we are doing is we are getting into more Digital marketing. Investments have come down on traditional marketing and are now being diverted to digital marketing where a whole lot of personalization is possible.”

Pradyut Hande:  “ Right.”

 

Mr. Sarad VK: “ Okay, so basically at one part where the sales are now focusing on our existing customers or lapsed users who have earlier been our customers but somewhere they are not very active investors now, so they are targeting them and talking to  them in terms of making them understand that the market volatility right now is giving them  some opportunities for them to explore and come back and we as marketing is looking at driving programmatic and you know lead generation campaigns, which is a parallel funnel, that kind of is attracting new customers on to support the sales and you know the new acquisitions for the company.”

Pradyut Hande:  “ Right .”

Mr. Sarad VK: “ So that’s been one of the major changes that we have seen in Marketing. Now another very important aspect as far as marketing is concerned is the whole, you know content marketing dynamics have changed it is no more content marketing, it is a lot more context marketing and the context that is curated because we don’t want to come across as a brand that does not care or the customers, we don’t want to come across as a brand that is an opportunist and lacks empathy. So we need to come out with content that kind of shares that current understanding of what the customers are going how they will be able because even right now the customers are unsure so they don’t know how long the whole situation is going to be like this everybody’s anticipating that things would be normal in one month, two months, three months, but we don’t know there are probably predictions that despite probably going till September by the time things are normal or even end of the year. So even the customers are waiting and watching more. So somewhere the Hard Shell part of it is not that much there. It’s more about empathy selling where we say that. Okay,  in this times probably maybe you need to look at the little bit of saving and investment because this is not a time to grow because people are losing jobs there is uncertainty everywhere so the whole context is very important and it has to be fairly curated to match the current mood and the sentiment of the customer.”

Pradyut Hande:  “ Right? So are you saying that there will be some long-term changes to the approach in marketing in the past looking at the past current situation like because you are seeing till September or maybe furthermore because we don’t know so are there any long-term strategy that is taking place from the marketing front. “

Mr. Sarad VK: “ Yes. Even on the marketing front if you look at it but one thing I would like to say that is, historically if you look at all the past economic crises that had happened at the market downturns, that have happened the companies that have been most visible are the ones that have recovered the fastest from such downturns. So, I believe that the marketing should not totally be stopped or the branch should not go silent. There should be a fair amount of visibility and presence that is required now so that your bounce back much faster after things get normal. Now after having said that there are a couple of things that are going to significantly change from starting. Thanks to this current situation, somewhere there is an acceleration of digital lives. If you look at things the future is online because if you look at the grocery store now, everything is more online. If you look at the shopping, the online shopping companies have been growing phenomenally in the last probably one and a half or two months. There are people who have traditionally looked at online shopping and now look at online shopping. So the whole philosophy is now moving online. So most companies are building on e-commerce strategies and making sure that their online presence is very strong. So that is number one the other major sector that has seen a phenomenal change is the education sector if you look at it, I mean the whole education from classrooms, it has moved to online. So again, there is a big shift that’s happened in that segment likewise followed by Healthcare. Now, if you look at most of the hospitals are now so focused on treating the covid-19 patients that and even normal people with their normal elements are feeling that they shouldn’t walk into a hospital. So again the whole thing about telemedicine and telehealth is picking up everywhere most of the bigger hospital brands are offering that solution. So somewhere the future is digital. It would be far wiser to invest in both the digital platforms and the digital channels to reach out to the customer. So that is one part of it. The other thing is people are now actually buying what they need and not what they want. So that means a lot of these luxury goods lot of these other products which were, you know expensive holidays and everything is going to be curtailed because people aren’t sure how things will pan out people want to  probably hold on to what they have so far we’ve seen that probably are far more open and they’re far more value savings and liquidity more than ever, you know, so somewhere savings and Investments have taken and will be president overspending on luxuries and unwanted things.”

 Pradyut Hande: “ Yes,  exactly and this was my following question: what is the change in user behavior? What are the consumption patterns, you know because the state of the market has been changing. And will keep on changing for a couple of months. So  this is something which I also wanted to ask you which I think you rightly said that there is a lot of change in the behavior of the customer, the way they are consuming and what they’re purchasing and what they are not purchasing so anything you would like to add on this .”

Mr. Sarad VK: ” See, again you know as marketers the biggest task now is to observe the customers very closely because their behavior pattern is changing. And is still currently going to change because they themselves as I said not sure of how this will end when this will end. Will, there be a recession with regular depression or should we go back to our normal lives as soon as possible? So, nobody is sure where and how things will pan out from now. So the whole consumer behavior and the consumption pattern and this point in time are in a state of limbo because nobody sure and then If you look at if there is this overall the prolonged period of marketing, market volatility there is this always a tendency to wait and watch and let me make the most of the monies that I have in hand somewhere for companies like us probably there is a scope to you know, direct that saying that okay instead of keeping the money in and maybe you should start making your money work for itself and you know get some returns out of it. So that is one of the things that probably could be a positive outcome out of this whole thing.”

Pradyut Hande: “ Exactly, this is very very true. And so you have literally defined the whole market and how the consumer patterns and consumer behavior is which is you know, might get you to know, a lot of attention from other listeners as well because this is something which everyone is looking to and you know right ways to Market strategies and the right way to attract the attention of the customers as well. Anything Sharad, you would like to add on, you know the company’s growth story or the market landscape. “

Mr. Sarad VK: “ Well Century has been one of the oldest and trusted financial services providers in the UAE. We’ve been in this market for 30 years. We specialize in Investments across, you know CFD, 4X indices, shares Commodities and we basically our approach has been in terms of not only providing the investment product, supporting our customers with a consultancy with research and analysis and we believe in a, you know, not just offering a particular training platform or a particular solution to trade and invest but a fair amount of hand-holding for the customers in terms of it starts with providing them basic education and then giving them a lot of information and analysis that will help them to understand the market better. And so they can make the most of the market opportunity. So again if you look at the market landscape well, UAE has of the late, Seen a plethora of players in this segment. We have a lot of companies web setup base international companies web set up base over here. And plus there are a lot of companies who operate on the online space with offices to somewhere in Cyprus or wherever and then, you know, they are also very active on the online forum for attracting the customers through online media, but our advantage has been that we are here on the ground, we understand the customers back much better and we provide them good solid customer support that you know, very few in our segment can provide in this market.”

 Pradyut Hande:  “Yes, that is there,  and I’m sure that you know financial goals are something everyone is looking at and everyone wants to invest in the right way, and definitely I see a century can help there as well that makes a lot of sense and our listeners are definitely going to benefit a lot from the insights you have just shared. It is an absolute pleasure hosting you  Sharad.  So, thank you, thank you so much.”

Mr. Sarad VK: “Thank you, sir. It was great talking to you.”

Pradyut Hande:  “Yes pleasure, thank you so much.

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