Hosted By Sairam Rangachari
Podcast with Sairam Rangachari
KAREN: Hi, Sairam. Thanks for joining me today. I'm looking forward to our conversation about the role of APIs in the digital transformation of the treasury. Thanks again for making the time.
SAIRAM: Absolutely, Karen. Happy to be here.
KAREN: So let's take the conversation in a bit of a different direction than we've had with respect to the digital transformation of the treasury, and look at this in the classic two by two quadrant, where, on the one axis, we have the maturity of the business-- so businesses that are new to the world, businesses that have been around for decades, even perhaps longer. And then the complexity of the businesses that don't have as many requirements because of either the nature of their operation or the global expanse of their operation, to those who certainly have many types of businesses, many remote operations, and do business in a global complicated world.
If we use that framework, Sairam, as the way to talk about the needs of the corporate treasurers, let's talk about that as a framework, first of all. And is that how you think about the delivery of services when you think about the array of corporates that you are trying to serve?
SAIRAM: So first of all, I think it's a great lens to use for this conversation and beyond, because digitization means different things to different people. And if we lose the context of what the business, what the company, that our clients are trying to do-- the rest of it just becomes an academic exercise.
So I think you're spot on in kind of thinking about this two by two framework. You can even add more dimensions, like, they can say who's-- they can add geography as a dimension. You can have type of business as a dimension. But at a very, very high level, I think, what you start here-- with the complexity and maturity-- is a great [INAUDIBLE] for us to [INAUDIBLE].
KAREN: So everybody wants to be in the upper right quadrant. That's sort of the consulting lens that we love to use. But that also suggests that it is a business that is highly mature, that also has a highly complicated environment to manage. So corporate treasurers are working in a company that perhaps has infrastructure that is decades old, maybe even longer, and a lot of complex business operations to manage. What is the digital transformation roadmap for that corporate treasurer, and the role of APIs in getting them there?
SAIRAM: Yeah. So first of all, [INAUDIBLE] digitization is a journey. I don't know where the destination is, because you're constantly pushing the envelope. And as a treasurer, maybe you would conquer the first few things, which are visibility, and reconciliation, and those things. Then you move on to other [INAUDIBLE] that you want to automate even further, so you can add strategic value to your business.
So I'm not sure the consulting-- the top right quadrant-- is the nirvana stage. But I think it's a constantly evolving thing. But let's look at some of the basics. So I think customers-- we overwhelmingly hear from customers that they first want to solve for visibility of data. They may bank with multiple partners. They may have acquired multiple systems internally.
And just trying to grapple with all of these things-- and then you throw in a world of today, where everybody is working remotely in a distributed fashion. You want to get good access to data. And then the next step in that, is you want to have real time access to data. With the markets changing so fast, you don't want to sit on two-day-old data.
So you want to get real time access to data. And then the customers on the digitization journey, then they start looking at how do I automatically reconcile payments, whether it's incoming or outgoing? Then they look at how do I support, in a real time cash flow forecasting, so I can be very well prepared and adapt for changes in my business?
So in a very, very basic nutshell, these are the two or three things that customers are looking to solve. And as we go on in the conversation, we'll talk about some more niche use cases that we're seeing with clients as well.
KAREN: You mentioned the extraordinary circumstances that we're all dealing with today as a result of the global pandemic. And the importance of visibility of data, and particularly in real time. How are corporates adjusting to this now? Those who have taken the steps toward this digital transformation are probably better situated than others. But help us understand the environment today, and whether that is driving a lot of demand for the digital transformation that we've been talking about, that perhaps might have been on the agenda, but perhaps not as front and center on the agenda.
SAIRAM: First of all, there's no doubt in my mind-- I think one of the lessons that we're all going to learn as a society, and as industries and companies is, coming out of this the need for digitization, the need for real time access to data is only going to increase manifold. Like you said, maybe is wasn't the agenda before, maybe it wasn't funded.
But I think coming out of this, everyone's top question is, how are we going to prepare for resiliency? How are we going to prepare for a distributed workforce? How are we going to solve some of these basic things that we're dealing with? So working with our customers through this episode and other things, we are, obviously, helping them leverage APIs as fast as they can, so they can have the open access to data.
But in a lot of cases, our customers are not set up to take advantage of it. So they're probably employing manual brute force to go collect the data. So we're spitting out reports that can be helpful to them. We even invested-- and we'll talk about APIs as we kind of go along-- but we even invested in tools where we can create a plug-in in Excel, powered by APIs, so we can push real time data into that Excel environment.
And obviously, Excel is something that all of our clients use. So it varies, but you're spot on. I think coming out of this, digitization is going to be a key agenda item for many of our clients-- not all.
KAREN: What is the biggest driver? Going back to our little two by two-- the maturity of the business, the complexity of the business. When you think about those two dimensions-- and obviously, you mentioned that there are obviously others to incorporate as well. How do you start to assemble a portfolio of APIs that help the digital transformation of these corporate treasurers based on those maturity, complexity attributes of their business? How do you align those two things?
SAIRAM: So it comes from two things. So even before we jump into the API side of it, one of the primary things that we do-- and we've started doing this very well with a lot of our customers-- is engage them in conversations on what their goals are. A lot of times, we help them think through-- we call them co creation sessions, where we're literally white boarding with the customers.
It could be as formal as getting a group of us and them together. It could be as informal as we're presenting, and then suddenly kind of switch on to a whiteboard and start debating some ideas. But the idea is to figure out, where does the customer's next milestone look like? What does the customer's next milestone look like on a digitization journey?
And so it starts there, to say, hey. So how do we help-- how can we help you get-- think through the next milestone? Now you kind of start layering in what tools are available to kind of help you get there. And going back to your matrix-- so some of our customers-- they are on a clean cloud ERP, where they're not very well positioned to move that along on a digitization journey. But it's not very uncommon for us to come across clients that have multiple ERPs, multiple treasury mapping systems, multiple different back end systems.
So for us, it's also helping them figure it out, hey, what is the next battle that we should fight? Instead of trying to consolidate everything, and think about nirvana state academically, here is a segment or a line of business and this ERP. So let's talk about some of the tools that we can use to help leverage-- to help you advance on that mission.
So the next piece of the conversation naturally flows into, what are those tools? Just kind of taking a step back-- API is a great tool. There's a tactical way to think about APIs, and there's a strategic way to think about APIs. The tactical way is, it helps us expose our data and services in a easy to read, secure, authenticated, pre agreed format to the outside world.
The strategic way-- we'll talk about the API economy and all these other things. So for some customers, they're like, hey, give us access to your data and services, so we can integrate our systems. For other customers, we're already partnering with multiple treasury management systems. So we can create a plug and play banking experience inside the treasury management systems. And then, there's a bunch of ERPs that we're working with, where you've started building apps inside of those ERPs, again, with the notion that customers can quickly download and install it, instead of having to spend too many tech cycles building to our APIs.
KAREN: I know this may be a general question, because every business is different, but as you describe that process of exposing APIs and providing corporates with what they need to integrate into their own operations, treasury management systems, and ERPs-- what's typically the biggest point of friction in doing that, that you as their banker have to work around and help them overcome?
SAIRAM: I mean, again, going back to your two by two matrix-- it also depends on where they are on the journey. For the customer that are just getting started on the digitization journey, a lot of the friction points revolves around, how do I get started? What are other-- the peers in my industry doing? What are the others doing? And what are the tools available?
It starts a little bit more educational awareness, to kind of spark their imagination on what-- this is now possible. Whatever used to take months and quarters can now be done in days and weeks. So it kind of starts there. For the more sophisticated customers, the conversation quickly evolves into, how can we help them conquer that phase of the digitization journey?
So as an example, there are customers that come to us on the more sophisticated side of things, where they come in and say, I've got a huge FX mismatch issue around the world, meaning I've got a bunch of base accounts in one currency, and I've got transactions flowing in different currencies. So we're leveraging APIs to help them identify, what are those mismatches in near real time?
So they can quickly take actions-- either negotiate FX or not. So it depends on where the customers are in their journey. We've invested in a variety of tools to help customers move that along and to help customers move along their digitization journey.
KAREN: How do you decide, as a financial institution, supporting the corporates where you need to create these API connections to other third parties who may not-- the services may not be resident within your own four banking walls-- virtual, physical-- but third parties have capabilities that you want to integrate and be able to offer your corporate treasurers? How do you make those decisions? Are you anticipating what corporates need, or are you responding to what corporates tell you is a big pain point?
SAIRAM: I mean, it's a bit of all of those [INAUDIBLE], plus more. So let me start with one of the primary reasons why we invested in open banking and APIs, and continue to invest massively in those new technologies-- is our vision that we're going to win through the best customer experience. So when we start there, then the traditional notion of a customer has to come through just my banking portal, or has to use only the tools that I build in my own distribution channels-- they all go out the window.
So when we think about connectivity holistically, now we were beginning to say, wherever you are, we're willing to invest to come and meet you there. And for some of those customers, it's on our e-banking portal, because they have not invested in ERPs, a treasury management system. They love using our banking portal, and maybe we're their primary bank.
And they don't mind leveraging and taking advantage of all the tools in our banking portal. But for some customers that are inside their ERPs, that's a detached experience today. So they do a bunch of things inside their ERP treasury management system. And then for a bunch of things, they have to start switching contexts-- go to a banking portal and start taking advantage of certain features. So we kind of look at this place as holistically as we can, to say, wherever you are, we're going to come and meet them.
So once we start there, the first place that we invested in is APIs, because these tools allow us to invest in these connectivities at an incremental cost than what we were able to do in the past. And by definition, APIs are also driving a lot of the real time conversation between the banking system, as well as any other third party or the client's banking system. So that's the part that's different from our vision.
We're also extremely reactive to our customer needs. So one of the other grounding principles for us, Karen, is, we didn't want to start building things in a vacuum. So in other words, we don't want to assume that you're doing certain things a certain way inside a DMS, or an ERP, or your own back system, and start predicting, speculating, guessing what happens and start investing. So we do a kind of co creation sessions with clients.
Just in the last year alone, just my team has met over 500 clients, where we're talking about what their issues are. So it's not-- so you can talk about reconciliation as an example. So you can talk about reconciliation as an issue. We can go in and say, hey, we've got these tools where you can upload these invoices, get reconciled invoices back, and all that stuff.
But if the customer is inside an ERP, and they're not able to push that information back and forth between their system and ours, that's not a useful conversation. So what we've done is leverage APIs, provide those hooks inside those ERPs where we can take that solution as an experience to the customer.
KAREN: That makes sense. You said something at the beginning which I think is so interesting. You said that the digital transformation of the corporate treasurer isn't a destination, but it's a journey. And with any journey though, there is a roadmap, and then there are milestones. So you kind of know where you are on the path. You may not know exactly how much farther you have to go, but you at least know that you've hit some milestones.
When you think about these co creation sessions, and you think about all the various complexities of the environment-- whether it's legacy systems, multiple banking relationships that need to be addressed, far flung complex operations-- how do you think about defining those milestones on that journey?
SAIRAM: I mean, just to add a bit more context your question-- not that your question needed more context-- but you're also talking about treasury teams that are typically strapped for resources. They are, like most of our clients, are underfunded. And then you're also talking about teams that have to wrestle with changing business models. So as we think about digitization as a journey, it has other dimensions that make it even more interesting for our clients.
So there's two things. One is, just based on our experience working with hundreds of clients, just especially on the open banking and the API side of things, we're able to make some recommendations to say, hey. Here is what we've seen others do. Now let's talk about what does that mean as a context for your business or your investor.
So we are in active dialogue, trying to create an agile mindset where we're not just taking some kind of specs, going away for six months. We typically go back within weeks, a lot of times within days, to kind of validate, hey, this is what we talked about. Here is an update. Can we go launch this?
The other thing that we really, really push for is the crawl, walk, run. So because it's a journey, we should have milestones that allow us to get some wins, celebrate those wins, and build on those wins. So as an example, we talked about reconciliation quite a bit, but let me kind of go to the other side of the reconciliation.
So as we think about cash flow forecasting-- all of our customers want this amazing cash flow forecasting. But one of the key ingredients is access to good data. So we kind of say, hey, let's invest in the visibility of your data. Let's go solve for that. Once we have the visibility of data, now, how can we enhance this data?
Can we help you with tagging of this data? Can we help you collect additional in flight payments, either towards you or from you? Can we go bring in your-- help you get your scheduled payments, a.k.a. Invoices? So we start helping them. It's kind of assembling all the pieces, but can it help lead to this amazing cash flow forecasting world? They also have internal behavioral issues-- a lot of our clients.
So where they're not necessarily getting forecasting data from their own teams in the most consistent format-- some of them do. Some of them don't. So it's us saying, here are the pieces of the puzzle to get you there. Let's go start assembling some wins and start building on those wins. And if you business needs to pivot, and we need to focus on a different problem, we have the agility to do that.
KAREN: That makes--
SAIRAM: Is that helpful?
KAREN: No. That makes a tremendous amount of sense. As I think about business as usual-- as we all thought business was at the start of 2020, and have realized that every day is a new and different way. I think about the journey and the digital transformation and the importance of visibility of data. Have you had any conversations as an internal team or with your corporates about how they are rethinking their digital transformation roadmaps to better align with now, what is likely to be a very different business environment as we think about certainly the next quarter and beyond in 2020?
SAIRAM: Absolutely. I think there's a couple of trends that are beginning to emerge. We're still not out of this. So we'll have to go through this to get the full picture. But there's a couple of key trends that are beginning to emerge. One is the validation that us investing in the tools to make it cheaper, faster, and better for clients to adopt these solutions was the right thing.
If anything, businesses are even more strapped for cash now, so they appreciate it even more, especially if it's on a fast basis, as opposed to a huge capex investment of something at the very beginning. So I think that's one trend that this can continue to get validated. Two is-- has been despite the remote working and all these other things happening, there's been a steady stream of conversations with clients on how to help them along on the digitization journey.
So as an example, our team on the open banking and the API side of pipeline has only increased since this started, as opposed to decrease. We were actually, frankly, surprised-- the thirst and the hunger from the clients to get going on this sooner than later. So we're looking at acceleration opportunities to say, hey, how can we even go faster?
What used to take two to four weeks to implement, we're trying to see, how can we help clients implement this in one to two weeks. So there's a lot of good trends happening towards digitization.
KAREN: I'm not surprised. I mean, I think just based on the many conversations I've had-- sounds like you've had too-- I think if anything, the focus on digital everything is really front and center now, whether it's access to data or other content-- particularly for corporates, data about their cash position so that they can make the right decisions for their business-- is always important. But now it's pretty vital to the health of the business, whether you're a big business or a small business.
SAIRAM: You're spot on. And at the end of the day, a lot of the goals of digital journey, whether it's for customers or for us, is creating that powerful customer experience. And that's what we're all driving towards. For us, it's been a big, big investment towards not only are we caring about our clients' experience, but we're beginning to take an interest into their business, and saying, how can we help them create the best in customer experience as well. So we think the joint digitization investments are about to rapidly increase. And we've got the right investments in place to push that along.
KAREN: Yeah. It sounds like that. I also like what you just said, which is, the tools to enhance the experience, but also to get a better lens into the business, so as to be extremely helpful in navigating what is certainly an unprecedented time in our economy's history. Well, Sairam, it was really great to have this conversation, which I think was really insightful. I know I learned a lot. And I appreciate your insights and your time. Thanks so much.
SAIRAM: Thank you so much, Karen.
KAREN: Bye bye now.
Managing Director, Global Head of Digital Channels & Open Banking, Wholesale Payments
Sairam leads the creation and execution of J.P. Morgan’s Digital Channels and Open Banking strategy to redefine the banking experience for the corporate and institutional customers. He is a dynamic technology and product executive who is strongly rooted in innovation and a growth culture. He started his career with OptionsXpress, a fintech and as its CTO, helped grow the company from start up to its successful IPO and eventual acquisition. Sairam has led digital transformations for both venture backed companies as well as large corporations over the course of his career including running digital engineering at Capital One.
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