MRSI Symposium explores opportunities in financial services

MUMBAI: No parallels can be drawn here. But the fact that in the past couple of years the 'sell it' phenomenon has quietly engulfed the financial and banking services sector in India, can only bring a 'con' smile to the face of a market researcher. The buzz is that Market Research, which until now was core to the FMCG categories only, is now making gradual inroads into the nascent territories of developing or executing the marketing strategies of the financial products and services. MRSI Symposium: Financial Services, organized by the Market Research Society of India on 4 February, only seems to validate the upcoming trend.



Commending on the initiative keynote speaker director general Somaiya Institute of Management Prof. P. V. Narsimha said, "The banking and the financial sectors in India are no more in the evolutionary phase. They are growing very fast. A decade back most of us relied heavily upon the report, either about a depositor or a creditor, by the manager. Today it has become more impersonal. We don't see our clients as often as we should. In this scenario the only way the system can be replaced is through highly quantitative model building techniques."



Substantiating the thought, TNS India regional director Poonam Saxena said, "I believe that now the financial sector is doing a lot of data mining while using a lot of technological and statistical tools to better understand there customers. However there is also a need to understand what drives the people on emotional levels. In today's context there is a strong need to develop a strong correlation between customers' emotional drivers and the behavioral drivers to get a complete picture."

But is the Research community in India ready to commit itself to the challenge? The skepticism amongst the financial community vis-?-vis dissemination of information and the confidentiality of key data poses serious concerns. The preparedness of a Research Agency to actually deliver tangible results also haunts the Bankers. As it is still in an evolutionary phase market research agencies' approach towards the financial services sector is still more akin to the traits of FMCG oriented consumer research. However, certain agencies have initiated focused driven business intelligence models to suffice the lack of empirical research database (most of the models being applied in India are replicas of overseas markets). Millward Brown Services vice president & head, south asia Prasun Basu explained, "Generally the research for the financial services sector is still evolving. It is the same for IMRB too. But in the last few years we have done a huge amount of financial research in various fields like Insurance, Mutual Funds, Credit Cards etc. with a variety of companies both nationalized and private sector companies. In the process we have developed a few specialized models and syndicated studies which work for the sector."



Addressing concerns about confidentiality of key data Basu denies any huge amount of skepticism in the financial community. He said we work with ICICI Bank very closely. It is the biggest private bank in India. Our experience with the institution had been extremely enriching. I believe the issue of confidentiality is more of an issue of trust. If that is maintained between the agency and the client then I believe that financial institutions in India are willing to share critical data with the agency."

Unilever - Asia director, consumer & market insight, home & oral care and Market Research Society of India president B. V. Pradeep was more apt about the relevance of market research in the financial sector. He said, "One of the issues with market research is that it is not a product that can be displayed on the shelves like an FMCG or an automobile product. The financial sector mindset still is about managing the money. And I think that that should change to managing the consumers' mind. Today a consumer doesn't go to buy a product, he wants a brand with which it can relate to and trust upon. The concept of the brand being intangible makes it very difficult for a person in the financial sector to expect tangible results out of it. The objective of a research in the financial sector will remain to produce convincing tools and models capable of producing tangible outputs while the financial sector has to realize that the purse of a consumer follows the heart rather than otherwise."

Although the symposium was well represented by the Market Research community, the absence of top executives from the Financial Services sector certainly dampened the spirits. However, the initial trends of big Financial Institutions like ICICI and HDFC pushing for greater application of quantitative techniques of research is a certain sign of strong growth oriented future for the market research fraternity.

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