Thursday, August 15, 2013

Akash Sahai Aimia India Interview

Akash Sahai, Managing Director, Aimia India

Yash Ved / 14:47 , Aug 01, 2013

Akash Sahai, Managing Director, Aimia India, has over 20 years of experience in loyalty and direct marketing industries. He began his career as a lawyer and then moved to leadership roles at United Airlines, The Loyalty Group, US Loyalty Corporation, Capital One Bank before moving to Fingerhut Direct Marketing as Executive Vice-President. Post that, Sahai led several entrepreneurial ventures both in North America and Asia in marketing and media industries. His resume boast of a law degree from the University of Toronto and an MBA from INSEAD. After having lived most of his life in Canada, Akash and his family decided to relocate back to India three years ago. 

Aimia India is the world’s leading loyalty management company. It offers a full suite of coalition loyalty, proprietary loyalty and loyalty analytics services. The Montreal-headquartered company operates in over 20 countries and employs 3,800 personnel. It owns and operates several leading coalition loyalty programs globally including Aeroplan in Canada, Nectar in UK and Italy, and Air Miles across West Asia. Aimia has delivered thousands of custom loyalty programs and analytics services, for close to 80 years, to hundreds of the world’s leading businesses across banking and financial services, retail, FMCG, travel, hospitality, telecom, e-commerce and other verticals.

In an exclusive interview to IIFL’s Yash Ved, Akash Sahai said Indian consumers are complicated, promiscuous and ready for the next generation of loyalty programs. 

Can you take us through your business strategy?
Though often described as a loyalty company, we are actually in the customer-relationship business. Aimia helps companies understand their customers better through data analytics. It then use insights from those analytics to build deeper, loyal and more profitable relationships with those customers. We aim to bring down our full-suite of loyalty services to the Indian market, help companies retain their best customers and increase sales with differentiated and profitable loyalty programs. Using our advanced analytics capabilities, we will enable companies to make sense of their data, develop insights, and then act on those insights using direct marketing to maximise customer value.

What are your expansion plans for the current fiscal?
We plan to launch several large loyalty programs for a number of leading Indian brands. We are also looking to build capabilities and a team to successfully deliver these programs. To that end, we have set up extensive partnerships with local technology, operations and system integration firms. We are also establishing a broad-based, multi-party coalition loyalty program in India, along the lines of our highly successful Nectar and Aeroplan programs abroad. We are currently tailoring it to the Indian market and partnering with some of India’s largest and brightest consumer companies.

Brief us on your partnership with Axis Bank?
We are thrilled that Axis Bank chose Aimia to launch its eDGE Loyalty Rewards program. eDGE is the first pan-bank loyalty program in India. It will enable Axis Bank to be more customer-centric in its approach by engaging customers across a wide range of products and services. The program was launched over two months ago and is already seeing substantial customer traction in enrollments and redemptions. 

What is your leadership team like?
Given that the loyalty industry in India is still young, there are not many experienced loyalty practitioners, but we were able to hire two of the best. Ajay Row, who leads our proprietary loyalty business, is one of India’s original loyalty and data driven marketing guru with over 25 years of experience in designing and running award winning direct marketing and loyalty programs.  Ajay helped build both Rediff’s and Wunderman’s direct marketing businesses in India. He managed the award winning Taj InnerCircle program for eight years before joining Aimia.  

Our COO and CFO, Vikas Choudhury, built a large analytics company after beginning his career as a consultant.  Both Row, who is an IIM graduate, and Choudhury, who is a Harvard alumini, are native Mumbaikars and well connected in the business community. We also have several senior members leading business development, account management and solution delivery. As a growing company, we are always looking for more leadership talent.

What are the services you offer?
We offer a full suite of loyalty services which covers proprietary loyalty services -- helping a company set up and run their own loyalty programs, loyalty analytics, and coalition or multi-partner loyalty. The services we offer cover the entire loyalty life cycle or value chain from doing a loyalty healthcheck, to consulting projects, managing a client’s loyalty program from design to execution, analytics, marketing and fulfillment. Our loyalty operations include providing loyalty engines and databases, establishing campaign management platforms, operating contact centers, and setting up rewards and fulfillment relationships.  Our loyalty analytics provides clients with advanced analytical capabilities down to the customer and SKU level. It helps maximise program return on investment through sophisticated targeting and predictive modeling.

Who are your clients?
In India, we work with some of the country’s leading brands such as Taj Hotels, Axis Bank, Tata Capital and Standard Chartered Bank. We assist all these clients with all or part of their customer loyalty and direct marketing needs.

Any investment plans?
India represents a major strategic bet for Aimia. Hence, we have made large investments in people, capabilities and time.  Aimia has brought several people from our global operations to help build our loyalty business here. It has also brought its state- of-the-art loyalty technology and analytics platforms to India. Realising that the India opportunity is a large and a long one, it has invested the patience needed to build a large and sustainable operation in India. 

How are your international operations doing?
Aimia is a global leader in the loyalty management space. It helps manage more than 200 million relationships across various programs. Over $76bin worth of commerce flowed through Aimia programs in 2012. We run some of the largest and most successful coalitions in Canada, US, Italy, Mexico, and West Asia. We have developed proprietary loyalty and analytics programs with more than 100 of the Fortune 1,000 list of companies which includes the likes of P&G, Coke, Microsoft, Exxon, etc.  A key area of growth for our business is emerging markets, as evidenced by our entry into West Asia, Mexico, Brazil, China and India. We are investing heavily in capabilities and continue to grow our global footprint. The future looks filled with opportunity.

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