2C2P | Payments Powerhouses: Digitalising Insurance for a Pandemic…
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Payments Powerhouses: Digitalising Insurance for a Pandemic World

Payments Powerhouses
is a monthly series featuring trailblazers on Southeast Asia’s fintech scene.
In the eight instalment of the series, we speak with Jitesh Malik to find out how he has spearheaded Pulse by Prudential's efforts to digitalise insurance for a post-pandemic world.

With over 20 years of experience in payments and transaction banking under his belt, Jitesh Malik is well poised to lead the digitalisation of insurance at Prudential, where he is the Director of Payments.

Although Jitesh received an education in mechanical engineering, he developed an interest in finance, banking, and fintech during his career. Starting from a principal consultant role at ACI-Worldwide, Jitesh went on to serve senior leadership positions at Misys, Nucleus Software, and Temenos before his role with Pulse (Prudential).

Hi Jitesh, tell us about your career. How did you end up in the world of mobile payments?

Jitesh Malik:
was a postgraduate in mechanical engineering in India. I was fortunate to get a chance to pursue my dream of innovation in IT, computers, automation, and software development. My first job was at India’s largest IT and software development house, where I learned the ropes of programming, including the methodology and the various programming languages.

But I was always interested in the ‘why’ of programming and the business logic behind it. In fact, my first project involved the automation of an enterprise resource planning system. It was through this project that I first became fascinated with finance and banking.

Soon after, I got an IT job with the world-leading private bank in Hong Kong, where I learned about banking’s more complex derivative and options products. I transformed from a ‘technical person’ specialising in system analysis and programming into someone who wanted to be involved with the domain itself.

As I wanted to learn more about banking, I left to join a payment software company called S1, now known as ACI-Worldwide. Here, I learned a wealth of knowledge, including multi-channel solutions, front-end solutions, CRM solutions, portals, transaction banking and payments. Although I started out as a project leader at first, I later moved on to become a programme manager.

At the time, there was no concept of presales. But the situation quickly evolved, with every company later setting up a dedicated presales team. My passion for fintech and my deep understanding of payments, transaction banking, and solution implementation made it only natural for me to become a presales specialist.

To further expand my fintech knowledge, I moved on to Misys, a financial services company, where I learned about back-office banking solutions. Due to my combined technical knowledge of programming and domains, I was quickly promoted to work in business development and sales. From back-office operators to C-level executives, I was a trusted advisor. To the back-office operators, I was their trainer, teaching them why and how to use our products. And as for the C-level executives, I was there to explain our value propositions and the benefits our solutions could bring to their businesses.

From here, I continued to work in sales for many years. At one point, I even joined Temenos as its regional business development head for payment & transaction banking solutions.

Then one day, I got the opportunity to join the Pulse by Prudential team at Prudential. Pulse is Prudential’s digital platform that provides a health & wealth ecosystem across all of our markets in Asia and Africa.

Although my previous roles were different from what I was offered at Prudential, I was very excited to take the new role as it allows me to use my domain knowledge, digital transformation experience of various financial institutions, and consulting background. I am Business Sponsor for payments and reward programs for Pulse in my current role.

So I’d say everything has come full circle for me. I started as a developer before I moved into presales, consulting, and sales. And now, I am responsible for strategy to build and implement the very solutions that I used to pitch, consult and sell to businesses.

Why did Prudential approach you?

Prudential’s ambition is to make our customers healthier and wealthier. And we do it by providing access to affordable healthcare and financial services on Pulse.

The Pulse ecosystem and its offerings fully reflect this direction, and payments played a considerable role in achieving this. So, what they needed was someone who not just understood the payment technology and domain but also knew how to implement digital payment solutions for Pulse.

Today, Pulse is a fully-fledged health, wellness, and wealth app that is powered by artificial intelligence (AI). This on-demand app provides 24/7 services to 19 countries with support for 11 languages and has close to 31 million downloads (as per Sep 2021).

How does Prudential cater to the different needs and payment behaviours of each country?

Prudential is focused on Asia and Africa, which are diverse in culture, economy, technology, and regulations. Central bank regulations, for one, are different from country to country.

For example, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has put the Payment Services Act in place. This act clearly defines what you can and cannot do and outlines how you can obtain your licenses and support compliances.

This is different from Africa, where the regulators are working to make the framework more comprehensive. In certain parts of the continent, cash-on-delivery is still very, very important. If you want to include financial or insurance in the picture, you have to do the groundwork and define what is best for each market. It’s not possible to use just one solution for all the countries.

Our customers, whether they are policyholders or internal business units, deserve a frictionless and efficient payment system. They should be able to use their preferred payment methods digitally and in real-time.

Can you give us examples of how digital wallets are implemented in different markets?

e-Wallets are regulated differently depending on the country. Let’s take Singapore and Hong Kong as examples. Singapore MAS has specific exclusions that the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) do not have for closed-loop wallets.

As each country regulates wallets differently, we need to understand their individual regulations and compliances before we start operations.

How have Prudential’s customers or potential customers evolved over the years?

The financial services industry is in the midst of a significant transformation, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also accelerated the adoption of digital payments and the shift away from physical cash usage. Digitization plays a key role in the financial lives of the global population; digital payments are at the epicenter of this transformation.

Acceptance of digital payments has helped us deliver digital products and services to our customers across all of our markets, including countries considered that were considered “Cash-Heavy” a couple of years back, such as Vietnam, the Philippines, and others.

As a result, wallets, mobile wallets, and real-time payments have gained significant momentum in all countries. As per various research studies and analyst reports, it is clear that Mobile wallets stand out as the digital payment method of choice for most people.

The technology for all these alternative payment methods has always been there. COVID-19 simply accelerated the adoption rate, and we of course have to adapt to this change. On Pulse, we have implemented digital insurance policies and enabled digital payments. We can now collect premiums, perform settlement claims, and disburse payouts to our policyholders using a digital payment method of choice.

I think this shift to digital payments is permanent. Consumers aside, even merchants now understand the flexibility, convenience, and ease of digital payments. Settlements are much faster than credit card payments, and it’s also cheaper due to the elimination of business interchange fees.

Share with us some projects you’re especially proud of.

One project that I’m proud of is building the architecture for Pulse (Prudential) to accept the payment methods preferred by our customers. This project was initially very challenging for us - we had 19 countries under our belt, all with different preferred payment methods and compliances to adhere to.

But I believed that we’d be able to succeed by finding the right payment partners and methodologies. To make things work, every department in Prudential came together - including legal and compliance, operations, finance, IT security, data privacy, and regulations - to build a framework. We also had to find partners like 2C2P to provide support for various payment methods in multiple countries.

The entire process was like building with Lego blocks; every Lego block was crucial to forming a strong, elaborate structure. So basically, we have all the complexities of many different countries condensed into a simple architecture. And that made me very satisfied.

What are some of the upcoming developments in the payments landscape you're excited about?

Cryptocurrencies and the subsequent development of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). Personally, I’m very keen to see how real-time payments can be paired with CBDCs to further bring innovation to the payment world.

CBDCs is not only a digital currency but a smart currency too. CBDCs are endorsed by their respective governments and regulators. For example, all transactions can be traced while using China Digital Currency/Electronic Payments (DCEP). Life insurers may leverage it to determine the source of customers’ funds, which may be challenging if they pay insurance premiums through other means. Therefore, the DCEP can become a robust anti-money laundering (AML) tool for life insurers.

Another development that interests me is offline payments using digital currency. This means that even in a remote area where Internet connectivity is unstable, digital payments are still possible. During a disaster or other situations where an internet connection and/or electricity are temporarily unavailable and that the customers are in need of claims payments, offline transaction functionality of the DCEP would bring huge convenience and relief to those in need, as the life insurers can expedite claims payments by simply bringing their device next to the policyholders or beneficiaries’ mobile phones to complete the transactions.

The third development that I’m especially passionate about the integration of real-time retail payments of various countries. Specifically, I’m interested in integrating multiple real-time retail payment networks for cross-border payments such as PayNow-PromptPay, PayNow-UPI, and others, along with their impact on SWIFT and correspondent banks.

Central banks are working to integrate their real-time retail payments.

And the last development that piques my interest is Machine Learning and AI. With these two tools, we can better understand customer behavioural patterns and propose the right products for them.

Does Prudential use AI and/or machine learning at the moment?

Yes, Pulse (Prudential) uses AI in its operations, products, and customer journeys. AI has been especially useful for us during the pandemic, as people may be uncomfortable visiting a doctor in person. Pulse provides self-help tools and real-time information to help users manage their health and wealth. Pulse provides easy-to-access preventive healthcare tools, including an AI-powered symptom checker, health assessment, and video consultation with a doctor.

In addition, our wealth ecosystem, Wealth@Pulse provides a suite of wealth solutions designed to help people with their financial planning. Users can ask our AI digital assistant questions on financial planning, set and track financial goals or connect with Prudential Financial Consultant.

What do you think of the decline of the correspondent banking system and what does this mean for cross-border payments?

Over at Prudential, we think mainly from a customer service point of view. We want to create faster, efficient, and cost-effective cross-border payment solutions for our customers. SWIFT has been implementing several innovations, such as Global Payments Innovation (GPI).

And if such real-time payments can be delivered with less friction and costs, we’ll be better able to serve our customers without having to rely on an expensive system.

What do you think is the biggest payments challenge in the insurance industry?

I think the biggest challenge we face is ensuring that we can adopt and implement new and innovative digital payments while providing the right e-KYC (Know Your Customer), AML, sanctions screening, data privacy and others. As some new digital payments (eg. mobile wallets) are evolving, enabling their use brings some challenges and complexity.

So we have to be extra cautious and implement additional controls to ensure that payments and disbursements are correctly processed.

Will we be able to use crypto to pay for insurance any time soon?

We certainly want to work with government bodies to drive their agenda of financial and insurance inclusion.

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Payments Powerhouses is a monthly editorial series interviewing the movers and shakers of the payments and wider fintech industry, in Southeast Asia and beyond. If you’d like to be featured on Payments Powerhouses, reach out to us here.