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Crisil's revenue has seen an upswing under Ashu Suyash's innovation-led agenda.

By Mahesh Nayak  
Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ashu Suyash took over as Managing Director and CEO of rating agency Crisil in June 2015, at a time of great uncertainty for the company. The previous CEO, Roopa Kudva, who had headed it since 2007, had abruptly announced her departure nine months ago. A number of other senior management exits had followed, with the company being compared by critics to a headless chicken. Suyash's appointment evoked mixed reactions as well: not only was she an outsider - unlike all Crisil's past CEOS who were promoted to the position - but she also had no experience of the rating business. Starting her career with Citibank, she had been CEO of L&T Investment Management Ltd before taking charge as Crisil. Did she have what it would take to rejuvenate the company?

Fifteen months later, all fears have been belied. Despite the state of the domestic market, with investment demand weak and credit growth low, Crisil posted a consolidated revenue of Rs 359 crore in the last quarter of 2015/16, a 17 per cent rise over the corresponding quarter the previous year, while net profit stood at Rs 78.60 crore - a 40 per cent increase. The two key drivers, industry watchers maintain, were Suyash's added emphasis on technology and intellectual property (IP)-oriented products, and her concerted expansion into markets overseas.

"The world is changing more rapidly than ever before," says Suyash. "For Crisil to stay ahead, an innovation-led agenda was the next logical step."

Accordingly, she set up an innovation lab in Mumbai to conceive and test new ideas. Since she took over, Crisil has developed new offerings in buy-side support, compliance analytics and modelling methods for banks and financial institutions (such as fundamental review of the trading book or FRTB and pre-provision net revenue or PPNR). Its derivatives business has diversified into areas like risk change management, which helps companies reduce risk in the face of increased scrutiny by regulators. Last year saw the launch of CI360, a new Crisil tool to help clients analyse competitors' performance, as well as the Coalition Analytics Platform (CAP), a new platform for banks that can access and analyse more than a million data points. It also launched products for insurance companies to enable security-level valuations, as well as a unique web-based platform to provide information on ratings.

Crisil, under Suyash, has also improved its capabilities in infrastructure advisory, winning contracts to provide such advice for five of Maharashtra's forthcoming smart cities. It has advised the Karnataka government on improvement of state highways. It has provided inputs to 11 states and union territories on shaping their roadmap towards 'Power for All by 2019' - a key initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is helping Indian Railways to structure its development fund to support its investment plans. It has also set aside a corpus for investing in high-potential fintech start-ups. "Apart from looking at the best ideas from our own team, we are working with external start-ups," says Suyash. "That's the way you get to the next level."

At the same time, Suyash has established Crisil's presence abroad, in countries such as Argentina, Poland and China, with new product additions and larger client teams. "Around 25 per cent of our 3,700 plus employees are now based outside India," says Suyash. "Most of our fresh recruitment has been in Argentina and China. Argentina, in particular, is a market well known for its quantitative talent and has been Crisil's largest growth area. In terms of products, the risk analytics business has been the growth engine, contributing 20-23 per cent to our growth." Simultaneously, UK-based Coalition, a banking analytics company Crisil took over in May 2012, has launched analytics in transaction banking and stress testing. It also deepened its engagement with global rating firm Standard & Poor, which has been Crisil's majority shareholder since 2004.

Suyash, a mother of two girls, firmly refutes any suggestion that the past 15 months have been particularly stressful. "I started with complete trust in my team and it has been vindicated," she says. "When I took over, all I could sense was the strong desire to take the company forward. Given the diversity, energy and youthfulness of the staff, I knew we had a bright future." She encouraged employees at all levels to reach out to her directly if they had any issues, and took care to respond to all of them. "One thing I made clear is that ours is an iconic brand and this brand should not be compromised on any account," she adds. "Suyash has brought in a fresh vision as well as a market perspective," says Ramraj Pai, President, Crisil Risk and Infrastructure Solutions as well as Crisil Foundation. "She is a people-oriented person, who makes employees comfortable at work. She has been focusing hard on creating innovation and building technology at Crisil."

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