Shweta Srivastava, Chief Information Security Officer, Paul Merchants Finance (P) Ltd.

India is home to the third biggest Start-up ecosystem in the world, adding over 1,300 new Startups in 2019. To say that the pace at which the country has adopted digitalisation across industries is daunting would be an understatement. Every day we see hundreds of new Mobile Apps on our feeds that come with the motive of market penetration, customer service and engagement.  The underlying motive of each App is to reach potential customers across geographies and to collect as much data as possible. In this scenario, it is vital to ensure the security of customer’s sensitive data and keep the individual’s privacy intact. The importance of information security becomes even more grave in the Banking and Finance industry.

Apart from these apps, there are scores of online payment channels and technological advancements that have changed the BFSI landscape completely. With UPI, QR Code, Aadhar-enabled payments, BBPS, API Banking, Video KYC, and Online wallets, giving extreme flexibility and convenience to customers to transact anytime anywhere, how does these translate to information security? More importantly, how does this translate to a BFSI industry player? Although there are several clauses in the IT Act that are intended to protect the data of sensitive nature and constant efforts being made towards firming up the information security framework, it would do an organization good to have an expert on its side.

Shweta Srivastava is one such expert who joined Paul Merchants Finance (P) Ltd as its Chief Information Security Officer in 2017. The word ‘expert’ is not used here in vain, as Shweta is a true expert. A recent testimony would be that within two days of the country’s lockdown announcement, Paul Merchants went digital. The company, two years back, had migrated completely to the cloud with a robust PR & DR setup with a replication set on a real-time basis. Since Paul Merchants’ setup was up and running on the cloud, working from office/home did not change how these were accessed. This migration helped Shweta and her team in testing the infrastructure and policies in a real-world scenario. Hence, when the lockdown dawned, all she and her team had to do was to ensure computers at the residences of all key employees and ensuring updated virus definitions & other security patches. Shweta proved that a true leader envisions the problem before they become emergencies.

A BFSI-Curious Mastermind

Shweta had a vested interest in the BFSI sector as the sector had seen tremendous growth in the past few years, especially with digital payments, which has shown a great breakthrough of technology in the payment industry. With Paul Merchants being quite open to new technology and automation tools, Shweta decided that it would be the perfect avenue for her to flex her skillsets and ideas to further both the company and herself.

Strongly believing in leading by example, Shweta understands that a true leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. Which is why instead of expecting the outcome on assigned goals, she prefers working along with her teammates and taking on the new challenges as a team player to give confidence to her peers. Identifying Delegation, Empowerment, Empathy, and Compassion as the core traits that mark an excellent leader, Shweta says, “I am quite in easy reach in case my support is desired. At the same time, I encourage new ideas and innovations.”

Speaking of the current BFSI trend, she says that the industry has been extremely agile and is not shying of by disruption caused by technology. “The trend is going to continue, and it will be interesting to witness the changes as they touch every single individual of the Indian population. India is progressing towards a cashless economy and is aggressively exploiting new-age technologies like ICT, AI, ML, Blockchain, Robotics, RPA etc.  These developments are highly disruptive and will bring about major transformative shifts in the way industry functions. With the adoption of these changes, we cannot undermine the threat posed by it, in terms of cyber-attacks, ransomware, malware, botnets etc. It calls for strong security infrastructure and impeccable governance model. We need a strict vigilance mechanism to counter cybercrimes and Computer Emergency Response Teams to keep a check on malicious cyber activities and educating the teams against any vulnerabilities. I personally believe that Technology is not a support function anymore. It plays a vital role in achieving business needs and therefore it is the time that organizations should re-visit their technology landscape and deploy right technologies, tools, processes and people to ensure efficient, effective and productive ways of running the business,” explains Shweta.

Having worked with several people over the years, Shweta takes care to be receptive of the lessons each person has to offer. However, there is one person whom she looks up to. Shweta met this particular maestro in her career’s formative years, working with and learning several lessons from him. “Mr. Gunjan Kumar has been my go-to person for the smallest of the issues. I am fortunate enough to have him as my mentor. A very recent advice that I took from him was related to strengthening cyber-security in times of COVID-19” says Shweta.

A regular of several Newsletters and magazines like TechTarget, ComputerWeekly, SearchCIO.com, Search Security, Express Computer, ETCIO, etc., Shweta admits that it is paramount to stay abreast with the latest developments in the industry and technology. “I make sure that I read as much as I can, attend webinars, tech discussions, network with industry experts and try to upskill myself whenever possible. Apart from technology, it is also important to be aware of regulatory and statutory changes in the industry. I indulge in deeper discussions with subject matter experts and try to understand the market trends and upcoming trends in the industry,” she says. No wonder, she has won awards like “Champion ‘Tech Woman’ of the Year” by Women Leadership Influencer Awards, ET CIO Annual Conclave Awards 2019, ITNext100 CIO and InfoSec Maestro Award 2019 among several others.

Read, Learn, Evolve

When she is not working, Shweta can be found reading. Although her book collection primarily includes fiction, she loves reading current industry updates as well as about new advancements in technology. “I read articles from different publications as well as follow different groups/pages on online platforms. Especially now, during the lockdown, I try to attend a lot of webinars and fireside chat sessions on subjects relevant to COVID and technology enablement in different sectors. Recently I completed a crash course on PDPA (Personal Data Protection Data) – India and have joined the Indian IT Act Workshop.”

An Executive MBA graduate from IMT Ghaziabad with specialization in Information Technology, Shweta’s thirst of learning and information can be quite visible in the number of Professional Certifications that she has managed to garner over her career period. Namely-Prince2 Foundation & Practitioner, ITIL V3 Foundation, and Project Management from the Symbiosis Institute of Management.

Looking back, Shweta reminisces that the past decade has really been a roller coaster. Having switched industries from healthcare to logistics and then to BFSI, she learnt an important lesson—technology and automation are only enablers. “The real ROI comes only with how efficiently technology is utilized and adopted by the intended user group. As CIO/CTO/CISO, it is vital to understand the business requirements and the pain-areas where technology can add real value. It is the business objectives of digital transformation that define the success of a particular technology solution/tool. The decision for adoption of any technology should purely be driven by a strong business use case and not because something is trending in the market. ROI achieved by adopting any technology should always be more than the investment towards it” she concludes.

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