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Coronavirus Accelerates Technology Curve: What Lessons Banks Can Learn In A Post COVID World.

The world, within span of two months, has been besieged by one single word; “COVID-19”. It hardly matters what kind of Social Media platform you use, all that you get to see is the posts related to CORONA or COVID. And rightly so, this is perhaps the biggest disruption in the world after WWII. Compared to COVID, even the 2008 mortgage crisis seems like an amateur school project.

COVID has changed the world, and very quickly too. Last two months or so have seen many changes in the way communication now takes place amongst people, entities and even within families. Limited commercial activities like online shopping, food delivery aggregators collecting and delivering orders, availing other services and even “work from home”or WFH (one term that has finally come of age during this pandemic) have gone mostly digital.

Compelled by the need to reduce the spread of virus which has enforced widespread lockdowns in most of the countries & people staying put amidst halted commercial activities, measures have brought the world to a grinding halt. People staying home and with limited opportunities to do anything else, have taken to their personal devices, mainly mobile phones, even more ferociously. It is only obvious that usage of social media has registered a massive jump as it helps individuals to interact with friends, family, relatives and outside word.

The New Normal

Terms that have become part of our daily vocabulary, such as, “Social Distancing, Lockdown, Work from Home, Travel Ban, Specified Zone, Area Profiling, Self-Isolation, Mask, Sanitisers, PPE (Personal Protection Equipment), Zoom Conferencing, Hydroxycholoquine, Ventilators, Test Kits, Plasma Transfusion, Vaccine & even places like Lombardy” though existed for long time have become mainstream now. Not many of us knew where Wuhan was and that a province called Hubei also existed in China, and is a big manufacturing hub for European and US brands. That’s the power of information and social media.

Sensing the challenge of lengthy lockdowns and with an objective to leverage the reach of Social Media, business establishments engaged in essential services like Newspapers have gone digital and are providing content either through app based interaction or delivering through push mechanism, such as interactive PDF. Even the typical neighbourhood grocery stores have used social media platforms like Whatsapp, WeChat & Twitter to cater to the needs of the populace.

Long live Social Media…..

So what did countries do to leverage Social Media, your devices, tracking mechanism, Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning ?

China was the first to be hit with the Covid spread and incidentally, perhaps the best suited to handle tragedy of this scale, magnitude & repercussions. Already a leader in digital surveillance, powered by Face Recognition Technology and usage of specified applications made mandatory by the government, the Chinese authorities were in position to quickly take the entire governance mobile & online. It ensured authorities could run the program throughout the period of country’s handling of pandemic. China has already mastered facial recognition to identify and locate any person in the country. Their burgeoning expertise in this field also lets them record & act on other details such as vehicle number, location where it is registered, owner detail and linkage to phone giving real time location.

Embedded in an application, a simple questionnaire to the respondent would generate a QR code in three colours, namely Red, Orange & Green. Red for the person who needed to be quarantined for 14 days, Orange for a person who needed a self-isolation for 7 days and Green for a person who was considered safe to move around. When asked, each individual is required to show the QR code which has person’s detail embedded in information the QR code carries.

As an extra precautionary measure, kiosks were also installed at several places and it was made mandatory for people to scan themselves while stepping out. Scanners built into kiosks, used Face Recognition and rescanned QR codes to re-validate isolation, restriction or movement status.

Both Singapore and China quickly developed an application that could facilitate social distancing, could identify and keep a track on number of people an infected person had met before being diagnosed with COVID. The circle of contacts was completely visualised with applications heavily leveraging IOT, Mobility & Stored data. Network Circles around infected persons were quickly created by AI engines. Individuals in the contact network were immediately informed if one of them was found to be positive later, forcing a quarantine or check-up.

Small excerpt about application deployed by Chinese government.

“Specifically, this delay can be avoided by using a mobile phone app, if used by a sufficient number of people," concluded the researchers in a paper published in the journal Science. Such an approach could keep incidence of new infections low.

The contact-tracing app works with the help of a central server, which is updated in real-time with new Covid-19 positive cases. The app builds a memory of proximity contacts based on GPS locations.

As soon as one person in the network requests a SARS-COV-2 test using the app and gets ‘positive’ result, it triggers an instant notification to possible close contacts, recommending necessary quarantine measures, while preserving the anonymity of the infected individual.

The app allows the central database to collect data on user movement and coronavirus diagnosis and displays a green, amber or red code to relax or enforce restrictions on movement using Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Source: Livemint

Implementation of preventive measures witnessed an unprecedented level of sophistication and effectiveness. Chinese police personnel were also seen wearing smart helmets which were equipped with camera and sensors to read body temperature of individuals in view, technology mostly used by military for combat operations (no stones left unturned). This further helped authorities to check if there were individuals who needed medical attention.

Singapore government, known for its superior handling of SARS and the learning that it had amassed from that period, created an extremely informative & interactive website ( which listed every infected individual and depicted the network graph of possible contacts. The website also contained information about number of cases identified, affected individuals, in hospital, treated, discharged and even the unfortunate demises.

The picture below shows a Drone holding up a QR code to be used by each car owner entering a city limit. QR codes, when accessed by applications on mobile phones, could be used to trace footprint of vehicles and its owner, should there be a need for it later.

Chinese success on tackling of COVID showcased the power of technology in governance and the speed with which different components were put to use was extremely laudable.

Data collected from patients, such as age, health profile, income bracket, gender and social network would provide immense information to authorities. This data can churn out meaningful information about impact of virus and can be greatly useful while refining medication and even in development of vaccine. Information collected from various hospitals in different cities can indicate pattern such as population density, weather conditions resisting or helping spread, medicine related data, their usage, so on and so forth.

India - Story So Far

At home, India, a power house of Software Business, has been working on digitalisation to connect every individual for him or her to take benefits of government welfare and other programs. Central Government, under the aegis of Health Ministry, quickly came out with “Aarogya Setu” app for mobile, which besides educating user about DO’s and DON’T’s about COVID, can also caution against his movement to area or individual impacted by virus infection.

Image Source – Aarogya Setu App

In addition, government leveraged its massive Payment Infrastructure to directly remit financial relief to needy individuals. In the span of a few days, banks initiated millions of credit transactions to load Jan Dhan accounts of individuals entitled to government grants.

India is yet to reach the sophistication as demonstrated by countries like South Korea, Singapore or China. Where India lags it will perhaps make up with easy access to medication, low cost hospitalisation, a social structure to support treatment and an early start of lockdown which has helped the country in keeping the cases relatively very low, when compared globally.

The impact of COVID 19 on commercial activities, especially with respect to banking & finance needs an industry level discussion even after the pandemic has been resolved. Forced to implement Work from Home (WFH), many organisations woke up with a shock that most of them were not able to facilitate WFH for their employees. With obvious need to secure their internal working environment, organisations were left in lurch as most of the applications could not be used from a device outside the network, making a large workforce redundant at such a crucial juncture. This aspect I will ponder over in my subsequent blog as many industry colleagues wish to have a specific discussion on this important subject. I see a spate of projects being taken by Financial Institutions, mainly banks, to address this jaw dropping discovery and realisation.

Usage Of IOT, Mobility, AI & ML On Governance. What About Business?

That brings us back to importance of digital footprint we produce, as an individual, for the devices we carry, data that these devices generate and share, our willingness to allow digital footprints for more and more equipment of daily use; it combines up to build up our “Digital Halo” or Digital Personality.

This Digital Halo gives an idea of a network that can be built around us. Imagine convergence and confluence of Social Media Platforms, IOT devices that we carry, Mobile Data and Financial Institutions that serve you as an individual. Add to this your Biometric information and government provided identity such as Aadhar Card, a Digital Halo is there to touch and feel. Are there any risks in that? Well, if you have Social Media, Digital Banking, IOT enabled devices, Mobile Phone and Wifi linked music system at your service; then you will surely agree “Privacy is a myth.”

Add on top of this, the Machine Learning that the enormous information will be able to unleash for AI to take over subsequently. Disparate information from usage of your car, your driving pattern, trend on wear and tear, debits to your account, reminders sent by your bank for a payment, your bill payments, your insurance renewal, your medical bills, online shopping, food delivery, washing machine needing a belt replacement, your travel history or your car tyre warranting a change is the type of data that AI can use to give you a meaningful (and business ready) information.

Or, share, with your approval, this meaningful information with your financial institutions that serve you. Result, “Mr Trombay, thank you so much for ordering the cake to celebrate your son’s 18th birthday yesterday. We wish him great success. And as our valued customer, would like to offer you education loan for his studies overseas.”Aaha! Eerie? Oh come off those Orwellian fears……

Tesla Cars Using IOT

For 2017's Hurricane Irma and 2018's Hurricanes Florence and Michael, Tesla temporarily extended the range on Model S and Model X 60D vehicles in hurricane states. These vehicles have identical 75kWh lithium-ion battery packs to the more expensive 75D models, but they are software-locked to just 60kWh. We believe that for Hurricane Dorian, this offer also extends to anyone in the affected area with a standard-range Model 3, which similarly has its battery locked to provide 220 miles (354km) of range instead of the 240 miles (386km) of the SR+ Model 3

Source -

(Source – @Twitter)

Take that as a use case of a collaboration that businesses can have with their customers.

Is Technology Driving Business Now?

I was interacting with one of the Asia’s best known CFOs who is a leading Digital Evangelist known globally and chewed his brain on how he sees his institution becoming part of the value chain in IOT world.

Question is while a product manufacturer, say Tesla here or BMW or IFB machine that your customer buys comes fully equipped with IOT device that manufacturer has inserted to serve their customer, what is the role that institution would be seeing for itself. Or in case of Tesla where some of the on-board services can be used only through additional payment or on a subscription / pay per use based model, something very close to activating addition cores on your computing system? There is the opportunity for Finance Industry to become part of the lifecycle of the product and not restricted to the time of purchase through Car Loan or Consumer Durable Loans.

Leading analysts predict that by 2025, goods manufactured for trillions of dollars will be IOT enabled and will interact seamlessly with the consumer on Mobile and other interactive devices, throughout their lifecycle.

This necessarily means financial institutions working actively with manufactures and even becoming part of their ERPs to upfront know Service, Replacement, Warranty Renewal and schedule for other charged services. Customer can become part of the programme to benefit through 3 way partnership. The 3 way communication can ease customer burden by bank offering to prefund the cost of such services with options for him to pay through EMI or debits to the account. Manufacturer can also make its engagement with customer more competitive by offering discounts on timely service and replacement of parts etc., wherever backed by bank.

On manufacturer side too, banks in addition to inventory funding, can leverage the future receivables from customer that are likely to be generated through such schedule.

The engagement with customer has to be 3 way in true sense that Manufacturer can work with Financial Institutions or banks to offer other deals such as cheaper hotel tariff for customer of Tesla reaching New Delhi by road, for example.

It doesn’t end here. The data that is generated for customer through a 3 way (it will be a parallel network with multiple manufacturers and vendors for customer for all such equipment he uses) association will provide enormous information to customer and his servicing institution to create a much sharper Customer Profile or “Digital Halo”. This clear picture will help bank in offering rightly priced products and services to its customers and even incentivise them appropriately.

I am of the opinion that a smart customer with “Digital Halo” and with correct knowledge of his interaction with Bank and Product Manufacturer can actually demand incentive from his bank, not be charged by bank at all, is given.

IOT, AI, ML, Mobility – There Is No Running Away

As it is clearly & successfully demonstrated during the Covid pandemic, technology is going to play a more intense role in our day to day life. It doesn’t matter what reservation that you may have towards the usage of information about you, it will be used for larger good of society that we all are part of. While one may choose to live a simpler (non-digital) life, government authorities are going to see you with digital prism. Your identity will be a digital identity while you may choose to use a feature phone. Why in that case not be digital and use it to your own advantage?

Financial institutions and Product Manufacturers can collaborate extensively keeping their customers at the core of their business. Time to look at “Cost of Ownership” of product in a different light, for its entire lifecycle and Net Total Cost of Ownership (N-TCO) after offering the projected discounts, should the customer be willing to be part of the program.

Orwellian amongst us may have basis for their fear of increased snooping from Government authorities but we must remember that we are part of Digital World and there is no running away from your “Digital Halo”. Might as well “Embrace it and let it glow”.

Article Authored By Sharad Bishnoi,

Practice Head, Care Risk Solutions.

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