The New Normal at Manappuram
V.P. Nandakumar is MD & CEO of Manappuram Finance Ltd.
Ever since the outbreak of Covid-19 forced authorities to impose lockdowns and other restrictive measures, organisations around the world have been engaged in a race against time to reinvent and transform themselves and become battle ready for the “new normal.” The new normal is more than just another jargon; it refers to the altered situation in the world today where many of the old ways of doing things have become irrelevant. The organisational changes to adjust and adapt to the changed ground realities (relating to both economic and social aspects) has created a new challenge for business and industry, i.e. how to respond effectively to this new normal.
In this article, I wish to highlight some of transformational changes that we have put through at Manappuram Finance. I am convinced these are changes that will go on to outlive the pandemic itself. While these transformations happened in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic to meet the near-term challenges, their benefits will continue to accrue for long due to the efficiency gains they bring about.
Earlier, in this magazine’s September issue, I had written at length in general terms about digitisation and virtualisation in the article titled “Virtualisation is the new Industrialisation”. It now follows that I also highlight what challenges we faced in bringing about change in my own organisation, and what the long-term benefits offered by these transformations would be like. To start with, I must clarify that we had embarked on the digitisation drive even before the pandemic; in fact, I would say that the demonetisation exercise of November 2016 was an earlier trigger point that set in motion this trend towards accelerated digitisation.
However, after the pandemic, the speed at which we adopted these transformative changes was breathtaking. Within a few days of the lockdown announcement, we succeeded in extending work from home facilities to all our 22,000 employees. This was feasible only because of the technology initiatives we had implemented over the previous four or five years. Necessity being the mother of invention, the pandemic acted as a catalyst in the faster adoption of digitisation and the virtualisation processes. While the list of organisational changes made within Manappuram is long, I would like to focus on those that have much wider possibilities of adoption by other companies, irrespective of the industry or the scale of their activity. These transformative changes are well suited for MSME, government, educational insitutions, healthcare and other sectors. Some of them would be beneficial at the personal or social level too.
Every organisation, large or small, has to train its manpower about their products, processes, policies and so on. Moreover, in times when the pace of change has accelerated, organisations have no choice but to emphasise learning as a continuous process. As a leader in the NBFC space, Manappuram Finance believes strongly in providing adequate training and learning opportunities to our employees. We have been providing classroom training programs from on-boarding to on-the-job training. We gave our employees over 700,000 hours of training in FY19, averaging 35 hours of training per employee delivered through our 32 Regional Training Centers. This figure jumped to over 10,00,000 hours in FY20, averaging about 53 hours of training per employee. Coordinating these training programs is a herculean task. At Manappuram, we made the transition from classroom trainings to virtual classes to eLearning courses, thereby saving a lot of time and money, including from the elimination of 32 regional training centres. We prepared over 400 eLearning courses of over 220 hours duration and now Learning Management System is the main platform for learning and development at our Company. Micro eLearning courses are the tool for updating each employee with the latest development in their field of expertise. We introduced pre-training modules so that employees are adequately trained for their next role, and prepared to hit the ground running.
We are implementing augmented reality (AR) framework in our training programs to create near real, yet fully virtual classroom environment. AR is the merging of the physical and the digital world in a way that combines the best of both online and offline, in one platform. Offline learning through classroom traning helps trainees to gain insight and understanding not only from the trainer, but also from their peers through Q&A and other interactions. But theoretical learning can only stretch so far, employees need to have a hands-on experience to complete their task efficiently and effectively. AR infused training program would be transformative for imparting role critical training and getting the employees ready for future challenges. AR has the potential to revolutionise the learning industry completely.
Imagine the vast benefits of such learning systems in the healthcare industry where AR offers sizable learning opportunites without the need to experiment on live patients while learning (with all the chances of making a costly mistake). Hands on skills, such as surgery for doctors or jewellery appraisal in the gold loan business, have a steep learning curve and takes a lot of cognitive effort. AR can help to overcome these barriers, allowing learners to experience, imbibe, and test the skills that they learn. In an AR training environment, employees interact in simulated environments, streamlining both communication and skills development, thus enabling in-the-moment learning. Technological transformation in the learning space is only starting and we are clear that Manappuram will lead from the front.
Green Office (Virtual Office)
The next set of transformative change is the virtualisation of the office environment. Gone are the days when your working day began when you entered the office and ended when you left for the day. Some industries, specially the IT enabled services, had adopted this framework early on. The pandemic forced non-IT, customer centric businesses to relook at the virtual office framework after having tailored it to meet their needs.
Manappuram has been investing heavily in creating the virtual infrastructure needed to meet the demands of the next decade and more. Manappuram was the first gold loan NBFC to launch the online gold loan (OGL) application, today the most successful application of its kind in the industry. Although the app was launched five years ago, adoption was relatively slow but once the pandemic hit us, there was a marked pick-up. Before the lockdown, OGL accounted for about 45% of our gold loan business, but now it is approaching 70%.
We started our Green Office project by implementing the paperless system of moving files so that there are no paper files to be moved about anymore. The focus was on making systems and procedures paperless, and tech initiatives were launched to make the operations at Head office completely paperless. Today, everything is digital, saving trees and many hours of manual file movements.
The second set of changes came out of compulsion with physical travel having been grounded by the pandemic. We therefore had to move to virtual meetings. Earlier, I used to spend an average of two to three days every week on travel but in the past seven months, I have not stepped out of my office at all. Today, we conduct all our meetings online through various digital platforms. On any given day, I hold multiple meetings with with people from different locations across India and even abroad, and all these meetings are held one after the other, without any loss of time. In earlier days, this would have entailed tiring travel for hours, even days. No surprise then that virtual meetings are here to stay and even though it may not fully replace physical meetings, the advantages are enormous. In fact, now that I have tasted the fruits of the digital office, I am sure I wouldn’t want it any other way!
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