Q&A with Satya Upadhyaya, Vice President of Campaign Optimisation, Marketing Capability & Change at Citi

Media 7 | August 2, 2021

Satya Upadhyaya, Vice President of Campaign Optimisation, Marketing Capability & Change at Citi, is a Marketing Technology thought leader, with a proven track record in optimizing the customer journey through design, implementation, launch, and monitoring of data-driven and insights-powered initiatives. He possesses significant leadership experience across Strategic Operations, Sales & Marketing, Digital Technology & Innovation to Transformations for businesses like Accenture, The Star, The NRMA to Citibank, Bankwest to HSBC.

The key focus should be more on how data or information is consumed rather than on how it is actually produced. But within this framework, what’s important is how you use the data and information for the benefit of the customer, their privacy, and data security.

MEDIA 7: How has your professional journey been like?
I am a practitioner and a strategic leader with hands-on experience in driving customer-focused engagements across the customer value chain. This has included a broad spectrum of responsibilities over the last 15 years in areas including CRM & Campaign Operations, Program Management & Delivery, Data & Analytics, Customer Experience to Digital Transformation.

I’ve had the honor and experience working majorly in financial services with some iconic brands like Citi Bank, HSBC, and Bankwest within the financial services. I’ve also had a stint with consulting and start-up organizations, casino & wagering, and membership-based organizations such as Accenture, The Star Entertainment Group, and The NRMA. A lot of my experience is based out of Australia and a one-off short project establishing an offshore delivery center. I’m very passionate about marketing capability and technology, right from CRM strategy and roadmaps to execution and delivery.

Of recent, through my thought leadership, I have taken on to be the “Voice in MarTech” and help organizations organize their resources and teams to take advantage of marketing capability – people, data, process, and tech and making data-driven omni-channel customer communication simpler, faster, better with a flavor of agile delivery using data & analytics to provide hyper-personalized customer experiences.

M7: What was it about banking that interested you to have a career in finance?
I just happened to have most of my experience in financial services. I've worked with several banks- HSBC, Citi Bank, Bankwest, to name. I aim to drive customer-centric programs across all touchpoints which could happen relatively in any kind of organization. My focus though is more on digital transformation and how we can create a manifesto of having a customer-first mindset rather than putting the product first. So, I designed my career with that in mind that looks at operational effectiveness, where and how to automate processes, drive straight through processing looking at new ways to engage and communicate seamlessly with the customers.

I describe myself as a marketing technologist at the intersection of technology, strategy, and execution I’m just someone who looks at driving best practices, product adoption, strategy roadmaps for marketing capability - the way you can use your marketing tools, data, and analytics capability and collaborative leadership to orchestrate segmented and targeted communication with innovative ways across the omni-channel platform. Today, marketing has taken a paradigm shift. Some twenty years ago, marketing was more about media and print. Now, it is more analytic and data-driven, which is all below the line. So, it is all about how you slice and dice the customer base to provide a targeted or personalized, or even, hyper-personalized experience.

M7: What do you read, and how do you stay up to date with all the latest changes happening in the technological world? What do you do to stay at the top of your game?
I've been a thought leader and global speaker in the field of customer experience, marketing capability, and technology for some time. I have done a few of these conferences in the UK, US, Singapore, India, and of course Australia.

So, to answer your question, there's a lot of articles that come through and journals that basically I read through. I follow Scott Brinker (https://chiefmartec.com), everyone knows him as the Father of Marketing Technology and is famous for publishing the Marketing Technology Landscape. I have a network of passionate people who are either themselves thought leaders, influencers, agency founders where we bounce off ideas and validate our thought processes, challenge our ways to approach and solve data-driven, insights-led problems.

Being a practitioner is all about turning theory into concepts and then turning concepts into production. So, when I read something, I look at it, I draw some diagrams, I try to make sense of how it can be put into productions. And if we take this to an organization, then, how we can decouple the complex parts. I do a lot of experimentation and ideation as well.

More importantly, I challenge myself. I wouldn't say I'm thoroughly soaked in a lot of reading, but yes, I try to pick up new concepts, new terminologies, and new analogies and try to put them into motion. That's primarily why I'm able to remember and talk about it effortlessly. Because it comes from the heart. When you've thought about it, you understand how it works, and you understand the challenges around it as well.

Initially, when this whole process was launched, there was a drop in productivity. And organizations had factored the loss of productivity at around 10-20%, depending on organizational structure. But now, as most have morphed and have become used to the COVID-19 way of working – Hybrid/Remote Working.

M7: What are your preferred channels for communicating with a customer?
Marketing is currently evolving in more cognitive and data-driven ways. There are a lot of tools that are used in marketing - the interaction engine, the personalization engine, the execution engines, digital asset management, CDP & DMPs that look at the first part to third-party data stitching. The perspective, with which to look at these tools, is to understand that they don't exist in silos and don't operate as individual tools. They work in conjunction with other tools, hence integration matters. There has been a shift from direct mail and telemarketing to digital channels SMS, email, mobile push that look at sensors, beacons, location-based, virtual reality to augmented reality all trying to capture the micro-movement of customer interactions and response pathways in near real-time.

More importantly, what's very essential for today’s marketing tools is their ability to respond to customers' interactions and reactions to opportunities. It is all about how you get the insights and analytics, and how you're able to pump these insights and analytics into real-time to respect customer preferences and have a continuous dialogue putting the customer in the center of everything. The key focus should be more on how data or information is consumed rather than on how it is produced. But within this framework, what’s important is how you use the data and information for the benefit of the customer, their privacy, and data security.

M7: Due to the pandemic, the entire finance industry seems to have shifted to a work from home model. What has the shift been like for you? And how difficult is it in the finance industry to manage everything from home?
I think, some traditional sectors like finance or telecommunication that use a lot of transactional data, have legacy systems, and architecture, that cannot be easily moved. Especially with banking, there are many guidelines, a lot of regulations, compliance requirements, and security risks that must be taken into consideration. Consequently, it becomes hard to move things in an agile way and outside the security domains. COVID-19 has forced such organizations to start thinking of newer ways of working. COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of digital transformation not only in traditional banking but across all verticals leading to high-impact business processes and smart intelligent operations.

Traditionally, in the banking sector to work, on-premises was the norm. Remote working wasn't a preferred option. But today, workforce mobility – desktops replacing laptops, work from any device has paved the way for working remotely. That, I think is one of the fundamental shifts that have happened. Remote work has given the opportunity for activity-based working solving the constraints of the density of space, hot desking, incubation hubs, and innovation zones to collaborate better.

Another development that has broken the myth is, high levels of productivity can be achieved working remotely. There were initial challenges in adapting to the new ways of working, hybrid teams, and virtual meetings, but this is now the ‘New Normal’. Now, a lot of organizations are realizing that you really don’t have to come to the office every day, and advances in collaboration tools are making this possible.

When remote working was embraced most organizations reported a drop in productivity, and organizations had factored the loss of productivity at around 10-20%, depending on organizational operating structures, team size, locations, etc. But now, as most have morphed and have become used to the COVID-19 way of working – Hybrid/Remote Working.

M7: What is your advice to the people who are trying to pave their way through the fintech industry?
So, when you’re talking about financial services, there are two categories, traditional banks, and fintech providers/digital or modern banking. In traditional banking, it is a brick-and-mortar organization that predominantly works on a structure, legal, internal controls, compliance, and monolithic infrastructure. Traditionally financial services institutions were organized around different lines of business which led to a siloed organizational structure leading to a disconnected customer experience, this was more because of legacy core systems and architecture that has interdependencies in stitching transactions, data, insights, and platforms together with speed and flexibility. On the other hand, Neo Banks/Fintech challenges the big traditional brick and mortar by building an infrastructure ecosystem to achieve operational efficiency, faster turnaround time, personalization at scale, and responding to the needs of a digital customer “Show me you Know Me”.

Traditional banks are at times limited by what they can do and offer to the customer. From the customer lens, there has been a shift in the way customers think about ways of banking – increased online and mobile banking. Having said that, the pivot to digital has been supercharged for the traditional banking organization. But when you talk about fintech companies or digital banks or neo-banks - they enjoy the advantage of not having a lot of legacy infrastructure to carry with them. So, for example, traditional banks must consider how the information will have to go through multiple systems and channels, just for the simple task of sending their customers any alert message. This causes a considerable time delay. On the other hand, modern banks have built that infrastructure on digital-first capabilities into their systems that provide a faster turnaround time, conversational banking, and data-driven decisions leverages by artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. They don't really have legacy issues to deal with. Their customer base is generally not that large and their CRM ecosystem is state-of-art. So, they can do all those things in a very agile fashion. Even if something goes wrong, modern banks can turn back and rewind quickly. Traditional banks, though, are slow-moving they take time to react.

So, it’s largely based on the structure and operations. I work in customer analytics. To someone looking to pave their path in this field, I’d say, “You need to be data-hungry. You need to have an inquisitiveness for data. And you need to be a storyteller.” It is important to know how to fetch and pull the data, paint a picture, and tell a story. The first part is working in data governance and strategy, the second is working on enhancing the insights from the data and the third is problem-solving through campaigns.

If you're running a campaign, it means that you're selecting a base to talk to, decide what to talk about, and finally pushing out an offer across one or several channels. You need to be a combination of left-brain and right-brain – a collaborator, a problem solver, and a customer journey orchestrator who looks at maximizing the ROI, experience, and engagement with the customer.

I challenge myself. I wouldn't say I'm thoroughly soaked in a lot of reading, but yes, I try to pick up new concepts, new terminologies, and new analogies and try to put them into motion.

M7: As a business leader, how do you prepare for an AI-centric world?
With the advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and RPA – Robotic Process Automation leads to the start of the automation journeys, looking at processes to improve efficiency, elevate the customer experience, deliver improved accuracy and quality by eliminating manual interventions where possible. An AI-centric world is making things get simpler, faster, better, and easier.

So again, there’s a cultural shift that is required, first is in the way we operate – do we have the right tools and process to respond quickly to a business need, and two, the way we think – do we have the right mindset for it. With this backdrop we plan the coexistence of man and machine in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, define the low hanging use cases in operations and marketing to supply chain that enables the AI-led transformation journey. For marketing, this could include improving campaign workflows to be more responsive to real-time events, improve targeting accuracy and effectiveness, better segmentation and personalization, adverts based on attributes and affinity groups, for operations that may surround customer on-boarding, application processing, and account maintenance as an example.

M7: What are some of the strategies and practices you have implemented to optimize and simplify customer communications?
Optimisation, essentially, is to get something better from the previous version to maximize ROI. It depends largely on what levers you push – data, segment, creative, channel, etc. So again, the way to look at optimization is to have a total business view of all communication activities, use data to build deep relationships with customers, and better understand customer needs, behaviors and serve them. It starts with communication planning, then defining your campaign metrics, and then considering your reporting framework. As you dive into it, always have an eye on the prize, and not lose focus. The way to not lose focus is to measure and learn from your mistakes. The mantra is “fail, fail fast and get back up quickly to respond again.”

Look at what you are good at and determine what requires improvement. Ask yourself if you can communicate with your customer at the right frequency. Ask yourself if you are experimenting enough. Do you have contact protocols, resting rules to manage customer fatigue, and over contact? Are you constantly looking at the effectiveness of follow-up communication across single/multiple channels, contact intervals, customer life cycle frameworks, and how you pivot from batch to automated, tactical to strategic, one size fits all to behavior led and personalized, manual to looping set and forget?

The key to optimization is, to listen, think, speak, and learn. Listening means you absorb the ideas; thinking is about how you plan the ideas; speaking is all about executing the ideas, and learning is about the ability to iterate. So, if the idea doesn't work well, you're able to get back up, reshape the process to quickly adapt to change. Optimization is an approach that must be user-centric, iterative, and built for continuous learning – always on, always processing.


Citi's mission is to serve as a trusted partner to their clients by responsibly providing financial services that enable growth and economic progress. Their core activities are safeguarding assets, lending money, making payments and accessing the capital markets on behalf of our clients. They have 200 years of experience helping their clients meet the world's toughest challenges and embrace its greatest opportunities.