Yashvendra Singh
Regional Executive Editor for India and Southeast Asia.

CDO Deepak Sharma on banking IT success

Jun 13, 20235 mins
BankingDigital Transformation

With close to three decades of experience in consumer services, telecom, and banking, the chief digital officer at Kotak Mahindra Bank reveals what it takes to become a successful business-technology leader.

Digital transformation in Banking
Credit: iStock

As chief digital officer of Kotak Mahindra Bank, Deepak Sharma has been instrumental in driving the bank’s digital transformation, future-ready initiatives, and business model innovation strategies. Leading from the front, Sharma has implemented various innovative technology projects such as WhatsApp Banking, 811, conversational banking bot, and open and connected banking.

In a wide-ranging interview with CIO.com, Sharma discusses, among other aspects, his achievements, leadership style, and the trends shaping the banking industry.

Why and how did you decide to get into technology?

Sharma: I was fortunate to work across diverse roles and firms starting with the first wave of telecom in the mobile/cellular space and thereafter into banking and financial service. I have been a business builder and product person and realised that great products and experience can’t be created without technology. As I was setting up the NRI banking and remittance platform in 2010, I started getting involved with technology. My role needed setting up remittance portal, online account opening, online digital service, and support and digital marketing capability. One thing led to another and as I moved into the role of a chief digital officer, I got the opportunity to work deeper with technology folks in setting up digital platforms, process automation, innovation, wealth and paytech, and incubating and scaling up of new stacks such as open banking, India stack, etc. So subconsciously, over a period, I got more embedded in the technology landscape.

What has been your greatest career achievement to date, and what makes that achievement stand out for you? 

Sharma: It is difficult to single out any one achievement. I’m fortunate to be a part of the growth story of Kotak Mahindra Bank, which has a strong digital-first focus. Some of the things that stand out in this journey include the launch of multiple digital-first products platforms such as launching and running multiple digital channels like mobile app, website, WhatsApp, and conversation AI. Our mobile app is among the highest-rated flagship app. This apart from helping build many industry firsts such as 811 Digital Bank, wealth platform Cherry, digital account opening with video KYC [know your customer], API and open banking, innovation lab and design studio will be the highlights of this journey.

Those are significant achievements, but not everything in IT goes as planned. When you experience a failed program or project, how do you react? How do you apply the lessons learned?

Sharma: Failure is a part of the experimenting and learning process. In digital, we take several bets and not all go as per the plan. If we win more than we lose and the outcomes of the wins are impactful, I believe it is worth pursuing.

Tell us about a time when you acted on a new idea. How did you translate that idea into an action plan and eventually achieve outcomes? 

Sharma: As a team, post demonetisation, we seized the opportunity to build and launch 811-digital bank in less than 100 days. Similarly, during COVID, as video KYC was approved by RBI, we were the first off-the-block to launch it. During COVID, we went ahead and built the first wealth tech platform from any large financial institution. There are many similar stories where once we identify an opportunity and are convinced about it, we move fast.

What would you do differently in your career if you had a chance? 

Sharma: If I had a chance, I would like to find the right balance between several small bets with incremental outcome versus a few large outcomes in a structured, phased, and time-bound banner.

How do you explain the success you’ve had in your career?

Sharma: I will define success as enjoying problems and uncertainty, identifying meaningful opportunities, and working with a great set of mentors, leaders, team, and organization. There is an element of luck, timing, and ecosystem support in everything we do. However, one needs courage and conviction to walk that path. Unafraid of asking for help and continuous learning are two essential elements of success.

How would you describe your leadership style? How has that style worked in your previous positions? 

Sharma: I would like to define my style as open, collaborative, strategic, imagineer, result-oriented, learner, communicative, and connected. While one needs to adjust and learn a few things around the role and task, I believe at the core, the leadership style remains unchanged.

What top three trends do you see in the banking sector and how are you gearing up to meet them? 

Sharma: A. Banking is becoming more like technology firms. Customer experience, technology, and risk management are now at the heart of banking. We will see banks moving from products to platforms and designing around customer experience. B. AI, cloud, API, and automation are becoming deeply embedded in how the future of financial service will get reimagined. C. You will also see banks building and launching more fintechs within while working with ecosystem on embedded finance.