Banks need to continuously adapt their business to the highly volatile global environment, through a structured and analytical approach that can quantify risk from a regulatory and monetary perspective !

Richa Purohit, our next pathbreaker, Credit Risk and Advanced Analytics Practice Head at ICICI Bank, works on different models and strategies to try to keep credit risk in check.

Richa talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the role of statistical models, which are driven by sound business strategies, in reducing the Non-Performing Assets (or bad assets) of Banks.

For students, if you love Statistics/Economics and have a problem solving mindset, you have an opportunity to use statistical/ mathematical models to solve real world problems in banking.

Richa, Your background?

I grew up in the suburbs of Kolkata, in the quaint township of Hindustan Motors (HM) (the Ambassador manufacturing company). My father worked in HM and my mother is a homemaker. 

As the majority of the “good” students in my times, I too wanted to study Medicine and become a Doctor. But due to some personal circumstances, I could not appear for the Medical Entrance exams and instead ended up doing a Masters in Economics, a field completely unrelated to Medicine. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did my BSc in Economics from Presidency College Kolkata and went on to do a Masters in Quantitative Economics from Indian Statistical Institute.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

As mentioned earlier, I happened to study Economics by chance, to be honest. After my 12th Class, I could not appear for the Medical entrance exam (due to some unavoidable personal circumstances) and I did not want to waste an academic year. I was contemplating quite a few options for my graduation, including Microbiology, Biotechnology, Computer Science and Economics. One instance and a couple of people helped me choose Economics eventually.

The instance was a career counselling session which was conducted in my school (Loreto House) in the latter part of Class 12, where the counsellor had mentioned a few lesser adopted fields which had a lot of potential, and Economics was the one he spoke with great zeal and fervent. 

A couple of my school seniors who were academically strong had taken up Economics and were studying Economics in St. Xaviers College Kolkata. I went to them and explained my personal situation and sought some career advice from them. I had my own reservations about leaving mainstream Science and pursuing Economics and asked them if I would be able to cope up. They told me if I liked Mathematics, I would love Economics too. I decided to take the plunge! 😊

I had a great time studying Economics in my Bachelors and stood second in Calcutta University and first in Presidency College. My Professors encouraged me to apply for the ISI entrance and pursue a Masters there. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

To be honest, I did not plan my career as such. I was fortunate enough to get placed in ICICI Bank’s Analytics Team and have had an amazing set of colleagues and managers, who helped me get settled in the role, and a fantastic ecosystem, which instilled a lot of confidence and self belief in me. I worked on several credit risk analytics and marketing analytics projects as part of my first assignment. After spending 4 years in ICICI, I went on to work in ANZ’s Credit Risk Modelling Team for around 7 years across various roles. This place helped me firm up my basics in credit risk modelling, as well as learn the fundamentals of Project and Task Management. I also had a short stint in HSBC and learnt how to work with teams which are spread across different geographies. 

After spending almost 9 years in MultiNational Banks, I wanted to move closer to business and joined the Indian Banking & Financial ecosystem. Hence, very recently I re-joined ICICI Bank’s Data Science Team and currently manage the Credit Risk and Advanced Analytics Practice here. 

In short, I tried my best to do justice to the opportunities I got during my career and built a good network. None of the roles were perfect, but I learnt the most through the imperfections and continue to do so even till this day. 

How did you get your first break? 

I got placed in ICICI Bank through campus.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

1. Data Science is a field where you need to be good in coding. Hence, being an Economics student, I had not done much coding during my course. Though I realized very soon that I might not be the best programmer, among my peers, I identified my skills in being able to understand and visualize the data, which lies at the core of every analytical problem. While I have picked up quite a lot of coding which is required in my day to day job, I did try not to get bogged down by something which I didn’t know too well but focused on what I could do better.

2. When I had a kid, I felt the need to slow down for a while to take care of my little one. However, I didn’t think it was right to quit the work force altogether. Hence, I moved on to an individual contributor role, from a people manager role. Looking back, I don’t regret that at all. It worked well both personally and professionally for me.

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

I work in ICICI Bank’s Data Science Team and am the Credit Risk and Advanced Analytics Practice Head.

A Bank or any Financial Organization faces different types of risks, and credit risk is one of them. Credit Risk is defined as the risk arising due to a customer not repaying his/her monetary obligations back on time. My team works on different models and strategies which try to keep this risk in check.

We typically hire Engineers or Masters in Economics, Statistics, Mathematics or any related fields. Key skills required – analytical thinking, problem solving, statistical modelling, good programming, data wrangling skills and good communication (written and verbal skills).

Statistics and Mathematics are an integral part of a Quantitative Masters course in Economics. The course helps one to develop a problem solving mindset and provides the opportunity to use statistical/ mathematical models to solve real world problems.

Statistics has widespread applications in every industry today and Banking & Finance happen to be one of the earliest adopters of the then Statistics and today’s Data Science. 

What’s a typical day like?

A typical day involves several meetings with my stakeholders which are the Bank’s Risk and Policy Teams – gathering the business problems. Then I get together with my team to translate the business problems into analytical problems, analytical solutions and last but not the least deliver it back to the businesses in the form of an easy to interpret and implement business solution.

How does your work benefit society? 

My role helps in making credit available to all customers in need of it, in the most efficient manner. We also try to keep the “bad” loans in the bank and in the economy, under check.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

I had worked on a project to efficiently manage collections of overdue loans for the Bank, in the post GFC (2008 Global Financial Crisis) period, using a combination of statistical models and business strategies. This helped in reducing the Non-Performing Assets (or bad assets) of the Bank and the project won National and International Awards.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Be sincere in whatever you do; give your best in everything you do and learn to accept both success and failure. Any failure or setback is not the end of the world! Remember, failure is one of the best teachers and with the right attitude can be a stepping stone to success. While you can take inspiration from others around you, there is no template for success and everyone has his/her own journey.

Future Plans?

I like the Banking space a lot (nothing against any other sector as such, though 😊) because it offers a variety of learning opportunities. Would like to continue to be in this domain and expand my learning horizon.