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How Financial Services Can Thrive Through Digital Transformation With Sanjeev Kumar of Skience


Sanjeev Kumar

Sanjeev Kumar is the Co-founder and CEO of Skience, a firm transforming financial services firms with innovative services and solutions. His passion for leveraging technology to solve business problems inspired him to found The Athene Group in 2001, which later transformed into Skience. With a mechanical engineering degree from Bangalore University, Sanjeev found the world of technology much more challenging and fun — starting a business that lets him build extensive relationships with financial services firms all across the world.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Sanjeev Kumar talks about Skience and how it helps people

  • Skience’s partnership with Salesforce and how they built a better user experience

  • The adoption levels of Skience by financial services firms

  • The evolution from The Athene Group to Skience

  • Why Skience’s first customer chose them as their preferred CRM

  • Skience’s techniques for creating excellent customer experience

  • Sanjeev explains how they measure customer satisfaction with Skience

  • Tips for winning more customers

In this episode…


With constant evolution in the business world, financial services firms are struggling to keep up. So where can they get the right technology and guidance to help them thrive?


According to Sanjeev Kumar, firms that are adopting technology in the financial services industry are the ones making a difference. The only problem is that tech is constantly evolving. Having worked in the industry for hundreds of firms, Sanjeev has developed a tool to help financial services firms streamline and automate their operational processes.


Listen to this episode of The Customer Wins as host Rich Walker welcomes Sanjeev Kumar, Co-founder and CEO of Skience, to discuss how to thrive in the financial services industry through digital transformation. Sanjeev explains how Skience helps people, its partnership with Salesforce, its techniques and processes for creating excellent customer experiences, and its customer success stories.

Resources mentioned in this episode:


Sponsor for this episode...


This is brought to you by Quik!


At Quik!, we provide forms automation and management solutions for companies seeking to maximize their potential productivity.


Our vision is to become the leading forms automation company by making paperwork the easiest part of every transaction.


Meanwhile, our mission is to help the top firms in the financial industry raise their bottom line by streamlining the customer experience with automated, convenient solutions.


Go to www.quickforms.com to learn more, or contact us with questions at support@quikforms.com.


Episode Transcript:


Intro 0:02

Welcome to The Customer Wins podcast where business leaders discuss their secrets and techniques for helping their customers succeed and in turn grow their business.


Richard Walker 0:16

Hi, I'm Rich Walker, the host of The Customer Wins where I talk to business leaders about how they help their customers win and how they're focused on customer experience leads to growth. Some of our past guests have included Chris Waller and Chief Outsiders and Adam Holt at Asset-Map. Today I'm excited to speak with Sanjeev Kumar the CEO and co-founder of Skience. That's today's episode is brought to you by Quik! the leader in enterprise forums automation, when the last step to earning your clients business requires filling out paperwork, don't ruin a good relationship with a bad experience. Instead, get Quik Forms to make filling out forms a great experience and the easiest part of your transaction, visit quikforms.com to get started. Now I'd like to introduce our guests Sanjeev. Sanjeev is the co-founder and CEO of Skience whose product suite helps wealth management firms digitally transform their operations and create elegant advisor and investor experiences. Sanjeev has over 25 years of experience at the intersection of wealth management, and CRM, most of which have been spent leading and growing Skience. And I'm very proud to call Sanjeev a partner with Quik. Sanjeev welcome to The Customer Wins.


Sanjeev Kumar 1:25

Thank you, Rich, thanks for having me. It's my pleasure to be part of this podcast.


Richard Walker 1:28

I'm excited to talk to you. And if people haven't heard this podcast before, I talked with business leaders about what they're doing to help their customers win, how they built and deliver a great customer experience and the challenges to growing their own company. Sanjeev let's talk about your business understand a little better about it. How does your company help people?


Sanjeev Kumar 1:46

I think you actually answered some of it already quite well. We actually streamlined we first of all, we work in the wealth management industry. We help organizations streamline and automate their operational processes, typically based on best practices that we have observed across the industry, given the fact that we have had the privilege of working with hundreds of similar firms. We also help them manage their data, we make sure that they can run their business in a compliant fashion. And we create very elegant advisor and investor experiences including collaboration between them. So yeah, across the board, we support multiple personas, support business processes, and provide deep integrations with typically used wealthtech product companies.


Richard Walker 2:35

Now if I'm not mistaken, one of our core products is built on Salesforce, but that's not your only flavor, is it?


Sanjeev Kumar 2:41

That is correct. We work with Salesforce, there are organizations that have already made a lot of investments in Salesforce. So we can absolutely sit on top of that Salesforce investment. We have the ability to embed Salesforce this chassis in our product and sell as an OEM offering. And there are components of our product that can be offered even without Salesforce.


Richard Walker 3:03

Wow. Because what I've seen of the user experience is very, very pretty. And it's very clean. I mean, Salesforce is an incredibly powerful tool. But sometimes I feel like it's an Excel spreadsheet where like, what am I doing here? How did you guys figure out how to build a cleaner better experience in Salesforce.


Sanjeev Kumar 3:24

It's been a journey. And it's been a journey where we partnered well with Salesforce. Initially, Salesforce, user experience development was relatively limited. So we stuck to it. But as Salesforce started offering newer, more flexible capabilities and creating better user experiences, we have leveraged those capabilities. Plus, we've also used certain third-party firms that specialize in creating elegant user experiences. So we've used their services to review what we built out, tweak what we had built out and come up with what we currently have with and you're right, We fortunately have received very positive feedback about user experience from multiple firms in the recent past.


Richard Walker 4:08

Yeah, and I think that's a big part because when I talk about technology with firms, I say, it's one thing to have the functionality, it's a totally different thing to have adoption. What levels of adoption do your customers typically see?


Sanjeev Kumar 4:22

Typically, our customers have had a very good adoption. We've had firms that were worried about adoption initially in some cases, because as you can understand in our industry, in our target industry, wealth management space, a lot of the potential audience is ours to using newer technology offerings plus is coming we must have entered the average age is around 57 for financial advisors. So technology is not very easily used. But a lot of things have helped us one is our elegant user experience that we've created the other thing is also the pandemic that changed the way financial advisors work with their investor client, given the fact that they no longer could very easily meet with their clients in person. They started leveraging digital solutions like Skience to conduct their business, and they stuck to it. So we've seen a really big uptick in how our product is used and adopted for the last few years.


Richard Walker 5:26

Yeah, it's kind of crazy to think about the pandemic and some of the silver linings that came out of it, right. The adoption of digital technologies really, I think was helped by it. Did you guys change your product since the pandemic to appeal to more of those types of users?


Sanjeev Kumar 5:42

We definitely learned from it we've added capabilities, there is more coming as well, like, seamless screen sharing without the need to install any kind of a plugin, video conferencing, videoconferencing, things like that we have been working at some of these capabilities, especially as it relates to advisor investor collaboration. And I want to also point out one thing that you said, as unfortunate as the pandemic was, I do think that it was fascinating to see how the world around us changed if you were just a spectator, looking at how we used to conduct our business, not just wealth management, but anything, how we used to buy things, how we used to communicate how everything our life has changed so much. And just looking back, it was such a fascinating transformation.


Richard Walker 6:30

Yeah, for sure. Well, let's go back even further. How did you get started with Skience? And what were you trying to do back then?


Sanjeev Kumar 6:38

Well, I was just trying to survive, I guess. I'm an immigrant, I grew up in India. I came here in 2000. And I was working for a firm. And then 911 happened, the firm that I had had a lot of.com, the firm I used to work with had a lot of.com business, so that was not helping either. And once 911 happened, opportunities kind of dried up for me. So I, along with my co-founder, put in a few $100 and started this company, which was then known as The Athene Group, for me to just be able to stay in the country legally. So that was how I started it. I was just fortunate that I got opportunities. And I got some people that worked with me worked really hard created successes for our clients, we got repeat business. And lo and behold, here we are.


Richard Walker 7:35

So it was originally a CRM play, or were you doing consulting and processing.


Sanjeev Kumar 7:40

We were a services company, given that my background, just before I founded, the company was in CRM space, from a technology standpoint, we were providing CRM services to financial services firms. Because again, my background was in financial services, from an industry standpoint. But once we worked with a few firms, we saw a pattern in some aspects of our work. That's when the light bulb kind of went on. And we said, this is a regulated industry. Everyone is doing somewhat similar business, so they have common needs. So why don't we build something that we can call our intellectual property, productize it and start selling it in addition to our services, that's how Skience was born, it was known as data objectives and its first iteration. We succeeded quite well with it. For the first four years, we signed up some big broker-dealers. But then we decided to re-architect the platform that in 2010 ish. And we decided to go with Salesforce 2012, we introduced the first version of our product, or rather, the revised product, we call it Skience. So that's how data objectives kind of transformed into Skience. And a few years later, we realized that Skience was bigger in terms of brand recognition than The Athene Group name of the company. So we decided to rebrand the company as well as Skience.


Richard Walker 9:10

One of the things I love about your story is number one immigrant, you came here, you had opportunity, you took that opportunity, and you worked on it. Second, you chose something that is quite challenging. There's a lot of CRMs. And you're excelling at it. I mean, I'm sure it wasn't just a CRM at the moment when you're thinking about it, but you chose something really difficult and you're excelling at it. Whether you want to name your first customer or not. Tell me about your first customer. Why did they choose to work with you from the Skience product perspective versus whatever other CRMs they were using?


Sanjeev Kumar 9:44

Well, the first customer I can talk endlessly about it. It was a pivotal moment for us as a company, we had obviously invested quite a bit in developing the product. We did not know if we could survive much longer. without landing a client. And the client or the prospect that was considering us was a large company. We went through the RFP process, because we knew somebody that had used us for services in the past. And when the time came for due diligence, I remember, one of my colleagues and I are going to use furniture warehouse, buying a lot of tables and chairs and assembling everything in our office overnight, just so that when people came in for kind of due diligence, we went on looking like, just a bear shop. And we had our staff come in and spend at the office versus working from home. Some of them used to do that back then. So yeah, we went through a lot to win that customer not that we did anything incorrectly, we did not, we had our employees there. And we did set up the office that was used for years after that. But all of us, I guess pull in our energy and did a lot of things to make that work. The client was the prospect was very impressed with the product that was given. But they had doubts, given the fact that we did not have any clients. And we were more of a startup at that point in time. But at the end of the day, they were convinced and we also agreed to put our code in escrow all that led to our first client, it took a few months to implement it. But once implemented, it was actually a quite successful, multi-year relationship until that firm got sold to a much bigger firm. I remember their CEO telling me repeatedly that he used to go through FINRA audits, and our product came in very handy. And FINRA actually apparently made a comment that they hadn't seen a product that provided such clean information in their audits in any other firm.


Richard Walker 11:53

And that's such huge value for these companies. These audits are challenging. Oh, man, I love that story. That's so great. And it feels like I guess as you're growing up that first date, or that first acceptance into some group, it's so hard to win that first customer when they believe in you, it's so validating. And they had reason to I mean, look at where you are and what you've accomplished. So essentially, if I'm curious, I've been fortunate. Yeah, I'm curious, because you have built what I think is a great product. But I think there's more to the product when it comes to a customer experience. What are some of the techniques and processes that you your company use to create an overall excellent customer experience,


Sanjeev Kumar 12:36

We learn. We've absolutely, obviously added a lot of people that have very deep and broad industry experience people and I work for renowned large and small firms and have dealt with, whether it's operations or compliance or playing relationship management in wealth management, day in and day out. So they are able to come in and help us provide their perspectives provide that experience, to improve the product, improve the capabilities that we provide, improve the experience that we provide. But we've also learned from our clients, they have been very, very vital, very, very key in helping us improve our product, and our partners too, let you look at some of our custodial partners, that gave us a lot of opportunities in the very beginning of our lifecycle. You look at some of the executives that we've had the opportunities to work with, they shared a lot of their pains and best practices and how things could be solved, etc. So all those lessons we managed to put together and, again, create an integrated experience for our audience.


Richard Walker 13:45

I think the key you started off with is so important that you learn. Is that part of your company culture, is that a style of leadership?


Sanjeev Kumar 13:53

I think it's both, at least I realized that I don't know everything. There are, again, I have been very, very fortunate in my life to have met with and worked with several people that know a lot more than I do. And these are whether some of them have been clients. Some of them have been partners. Some of them have been clients our coworkers, and so on and on. And I think that has definitely expanded across the company as well. We do have a culture of trying to learn from every single client every single implementation. And that actually fits into our product roadmap and our implementation practices and pretty much everything that we do.


Richard Walker 14:35

Yeah, I love it. I think that's a really powerful mechanism for leading a company and really engaging your team to do their best work, because they're not penalized for having to make a mistake. They're absolutely not a mistake, maybe but not learning from it.


Sanjeev Kumar 14:52

Yes, yes, I do say that. Curiosity is a trait that I deeply respect, and I do encourage people to do at risk. And I say that as long as you are doing what you're doing in the interest of our client, in the best interest of our client in the best interest of our organization, I don't care if it ends up being a mistake down the line, it's fine. But again, just don't repeat a mistake that we make, not just what you make, but also something that we've seen others making the organization outside, it's important to learn from not just our mistakes, but others mistakes as well, right?


Richard Walker 15:24

Absolutely. I had a mentor, say to me, look, it's inevitable, you're going to make mistakes, the goal is to make fewer, so 5% 3% of your choices will end up in the mistake, then the goal is to make those the minor mistakes, not the major mistakes. Like, right, so I'm wondering what tools or techniques you use to measure satisfaction, whether customers like your products or your company? How do you know other than revenue? How do you know that customers are happy with Skience?


Sanjeev Kumar 15:54

It's a mixture of a bunch of things, like some are very formal surveys and scores that we capture from our clients on a periodic basis. And some of it is just relationship-based conversations, understanding what's good, what's bad, where can we improve, and so on and on. So that's an ongoing process. A lot of people, whether it's our customer support team that actually deals with customers on a daily basis, our relationship management team that manages relationships with more of senior executives and our client firms. And of course, me as well, that interacts with clients and on a product implementation team that actually works with the clients on implementing our product. So pretty much every person that has some kind of a touch point with our clients, captures information and we try to analyze or gather that periodically analyze that, see how we can do better, whether it is something that we can improve in our product, something that we can improve in our implementation processes, or customer support, anything. So it's a, again, we try our best to capture all these things. And of course, there are also objective methods we use, like service, like I mentioned, that help us measure whether somebody's happy with us or not. And if obviously, somebody's not happy, you want to have a conversation and see how we can improve things.


Richard Walker 17:17

So you mentioned yourself on there, are you a hands-on CEO? Do you talk to your customers and get dirty and figure out problems? Or how deep you go in these conversations?


Sanjeev Kumar 17:27

The best part of my job, or at least the one that I enjoy the most is interacting with our clients and prospects. So yeah, I mean, for now, and I also am a, I guess, an old school person, I prefer meeting people in-person than were actual zoom sessions. So I'm the one who will travel a day to have a one-hour meeting with somebody. So yeah, I still travel a lot. I meet with people. I try to understand how they're using our product. Are they happy? How they intend to use our product? All that. So yeah, I enjoy that. So one of the things from that perspective.


Richard Walker 18:07

That was one of the things that impressed me early on about you is that you were willing to be on the road and meet people and you were so committed to that which, wow, that's a lot of work. It's a lot of sacrifice to be on the road that much.


Sanjeev Kumar 18:18

Yeah, it does get difficult. But luckily, I have a great understanding family, and they've been very supportive. I think I have a good mix of time on the road time with the family. And again, I think by meeting people, I learned a lot, not just about their experience with us, but like I said, love best practices and industry challenges and so on and on, which may give me indirect lessons that I can take to, you know, how we are trying to solve for future problems in the industry. So it's all beneficial.


Richard Walker 18:53

Absolutely. So Sanjeev tell me about one of your favorite customer success stories, like how did you help them? How are they transformed? What was their outcome by working with you, your team and your product?


Sanjeev Kumar 19:06

I think it goes back to one thing that I mentioned, to an extent, this is the large firm, with a population of users that are relatively older. And it ended up being a very custom one of the most complex implementations of our product, just because there were multiple wealthtech products and platforms and applications involved in the final solution. So there was a lot of integration, there were a lot of complex integrations that had to come together seamlessly for this solution to work. So it took quite a bit of time for us to collectively build out the solution based on our platform. When we were almost very the challenge that the firm the client faced was, hey, our users are very reluctant to use anything new in terms of technology, these are very successful financial advisors that prefer to not change what has worked for them. And what they were doing was actually using paper, they were still using paper-based forms, to open accounts, they were mailing them out to the home office, there were a lot of mangoes, I think they had more than 50% Mango rate at that point in time. And I think the account opening cycle was four to six weeks or something like that, because of a lot of back and forth that was involved. Yeah. And of course, we were bringing that down to minutes if all the information was available, but would the users use it. So they were very reluctant. And they had almost a four-year roadmap for fully deploying the solution in small batches of users coming on board every month or so. But then the pandemic hit. And that forced them and the other users to adopt the solution pretty much overnight. And they did not have any challenges whatsoever. They're super happy customer, of both your and our solution, because obviously Quik! is our embedded forms library here. So that's a great success story in and I talk about. And I also tell people that when I was watching them do the testing, it was one of the most fulfilling, gratifying moments of my professional career to see such a complex solution work flawlessly for that large organization.


Richard Walker 21:31

And to me, I try to equate it to being a singer who gets a record or being an author who gets to sign their book for an audience, when you get to see your software in use, demonstrating its capabilities to its fullest and it's valuable. And then the users like this is going to change what we do. It's one of the best feelings in the world.


Sanjeev Kumar 21:49

Absolutely. When I started my journey, as a software engineer, one of the managers said, if you bought you just bought a flight. And if you found out that there is no pilot and the plane is being driven by are flown by a software that you develop, would you fly on it? And this was one of those moments, it's such a complex implementation, there are so many moving parts to it, of course, all built on our platform. And it works so flawlessly. I had a smile patient on my face for hours as I was watching them do their testing before they really open it up to 1000s of users.


Richard Walker 22:29

Yeah, that's awesome. I want to change topics here because something that's in the forefront of a lot of people's minds these days, and I've been talking about this for past six-plus months is artificial intelligence. And I know we could talk a lot about this because we're both tech. However, I want to focus this how do you see artificial intelligence changing or impacting the customer experience? Again, whether that's your company, the industry, your product? What's your view on AI?


Sanjeev Kumar 22:56

I think AI is kind of an equalizer in many ways. It helps organizations, step one, background work that you do you create, what should be the ideal experience, based on best practices and so on, then AI can enable an average resource to do things that can be done by somebody that is excellent in that role. Think of making the right suggestions, think of the clients to reach out on a specific day based on the information, the analytics that's available. Think of the actions that customer service rep or even a financial advisor needs to take based on a lot of things that are happening in the market, in the relationship events that have taken place historically, and so on and on. So I think again, there are average customer service, folks that are superstars, it, I think it can help take away the need for superstars are the subjective skill sets that one brings to the table. As long as you have the right platform, as long as you have the right information within your tech stack. AI can enable average folks to be variable average. Yeah. And create, again, variable average customer experiences in term.


Richard Walker 24:18

Yeah, I'm right now I'm looking into some of the agent AI's that you can train on your own documentation for your product, and then enable your customer to have a chat interactive chat system with your documentation. I'm like man, this is this is going to make our customers even better at solving problems. Not that I'm trying to force them to do it, but they often want to they want to figure it out. And yeah. I'm super excited about how AI can impact some of these experiences.


Sanjeev Kumar 24:45

I agree. It's fascinating. It's also intriguing to see the possibilities as they shape over the next few months and years. It's changing very fast.


Richard Walker 24:56

Yeah, it is. Sanjeev, as we kind of get close to the end here, is there like one key secret or lesson that you've learned that you would share with other business leaders to help them help their customers win. Or to win more customers.


Sanjeev Kumar 25:11

I think there were only two things that we've stuck to all to the journey, The Athene Group and Skience, which is do what's right for your client, and do what's right for your employees. As long as you're doing that, I think success just follows. So if I could share something, I would say that it's just those two. If we are doing something right for our clients, they will absolutely come back, give us more business, spread the good word about what we're doing. So that's pretty much it.


Richard Walker 25:43

I think that's awesome. That's a great way to look at it. All right. So I do have one more question. But before we do that, before I asked you, what's the best way for people to connect with you?


Sanjeev Kumar 25:53

I am available on social media. I'm on LinkedIn, Sanjeev K72, I think is the handle. Or you can look for Sanjeev Kumar at Skience. I'm on Twitter, you can reach me there again, at Sanjeev K72. I'm on emails sanjeev@skience.com. I can be reached in many ways.


Richard Walker 26:13

Awesome. All right. So here comes my last question. Who has had the biggest impact on your leadership style or even your approach to wealth management with Skience?


Sanjeev Kumar 26:22

That's a great question. I've been again, very, very fortunate to have had the opportunities to work with observe, learn from several great individuals in my career. I've learned how to manage relationships from people that I worked alongside of, and then I've also learned a lot about the industry and in some cases, leadership style, too. I think there's a long list of people that I would love to thank and mention, if you're asking for one name, I think I would like to thank our mentioned George Baumgarten. He's a retired executive. He was with Fidelity for a long time. And he also worked at Skience before he retired. I've learned a lot from George, especially about the industry, the wealth management industry. And I think that shaped a lot of what we built into the product, how we built it, how we serve our customers, and so on. So yeah, I'm eternally grateful to George for all the lessons that he taught me either directly or indirectly.


Richard Walker 27:25

And I know George, because he was a client of ours before I ever met you, in fact, and I loved the interactions with him that high quality, super smart guy, and he still talks about the breakfast I took him to and Manhattan Beach.


Sanjeev Kumar 27:40

A big human beings.


Richard Walker 27:42

Yeah. And you were really, really lucky to have him on your team. I was very jealous.


Sanjeev Kumar 27:48

Yes, again, I've always looked up to George and I still do.


Richard Walker 27:53

Yeah, look, I want to thank Sanjeev Kumar, the CEO Skience for being on this episode of The Customer Wins go check out Skience's website, which is skience.com. I always say it's science with the K. So Skience. And don't forget to check out Quik at quikforms.com where we take the work out of paperwork, but you'll learn that at Skience too. So I hope you've enjoyed this discussion, and we'll click the like button, share this with someone and subscribe to our channels for future episodes of The Customer Wins. Sanjeev thank you so much for being on today's episode.


Sanjeev Kumar 28:26

Thanks for having me, Rich.


Outro 28:29

Thanks for listening to The Customer Wins podcast. We'll see you again next time and be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes.


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