At a glance
- Andrew Chanmugam FCPA is executive general manager – group customer advocate at Suncorp in Sydney, Australia.
- Born in Sri Lanka, Chanmugam grew up in Sydney. He studied accountancy and finance at Macquarie University, coming from a family of accountants.
- Chanmugam’s experience is defined not by numbercrunching but by the development of a strict focus on the customer experience.
Andrew Chanmugam FCPA, like many CPAs, studied accounting at university, then started on his CPA qualification almost immediately after graduation.
What makes Chanmugam distinct from most CPAs is that, since then, his career has rarely focused on number-crunching.
Reconciling accounts and analysing spreadsheets were never going to be his calling.
Chanmugam is better characterised as “the people’s CPA”, because so much of his career has revolved around his relationships with people.
The path to accounting
Chanmugam’s family left Sri Lanka just as the civil war in the 1980s was intensifying.
The family had lived in a compound in Colombo, but by the end of 1983, when Chanmugam was aged just three, the family was safely ensconced in Sydney’s North Shore.
Chanmugam’s father instilled a spirit of hard work and study in him and his older brother. Despite accountancy having been a preferred path for many family members to that point, Chanmugam’s father believed his younger son’s future lay in software development.
Yet Chanmugam still felt the call of accountancy and the CPA designation.
Today, he regards his CPA qualification highly, recognising the doors it has opened and the many networking opportunities it has provided.
Since graduating from Macquarie University in 2002 with a major in accountancy and finance, Chanmugam has had a diverse career.
Few of Chanmugam’s roles have purely focused on accounting, but all have called for a dedication to building relationships and improving the customer experience.
“You have to make sure that whatever you do, you have a great experience with people because, let’s face it, you’re only as good as the people who surround you. I’m fortunate because I stand on the shoulders of giants,” Chanmugam says.
Working at Telstra in the early 2000s, not long after graduating from university, Chanmugam recognised that the emerging digital transformation would never thrive unless it solved people’s problems or improved their lives.
The new tech had to serve a purpose, and it needed to be seamless and easy.
“The people experience has to translate to your customer experience,” he adds.
“The innovation, the creativity, the services and products you create – they are what your customers experience. It works all the way down the line. To me it’s all the same, whether you’re in banking, insurance or telecommunications.”
The way forward was to offer customers an experience they immediately felt they could not do without. Not the shock of the new, but the delight of innovation.
Chanmugam’s digital expertise with Telstra’s growing pay TV business made him a virtual shoo-in for his next job.
When he became commercial manager at Fox Sports, sport was just going digital, but even then, things were changing fast.
Back then, it was about bringing so-called “rich multimedia services” from TV into the newer mediums of smartphones, tablets and personal computers.
Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android smartphones were constantly evolving.
This was a vastly different world, Chanmugam realised, even if many of the same principles applied. Consumers wanted animated content at their fingertips.
“Digital” now meant “portable”.
“Fox Sports had an outstanding catalogue of broadcast rights and was, by 2008, the top television sporting franchise in Australia,” he recalls.
“It was a serious opportunity to monetise what was once a TV platform into a digital media space.”
Chanmugam rates his next tenure, as general manager at Vodafone between 2011 and 2017 as formative, because it showed how technology plays a key role in the customer experience.
“At the time I arrived, we had lost over a million customers,” he says.
“It was very clear to everybody where we played in the market and what we had to do to get back on top.”
Chanmugam’s work at the time was oriented around building trust and relationships, which he describes as a “customer‑led strategy” to get back on top.
Chanmugam also ran Vodafone’s corporate strategy development, program management and transformation office, to reset “the vision and direction of the business”.
Working closely with the board and management team, he helped to secure A$5 billion in extra funding from shareholders.
Chanmugam also developed the annual operating plans each year and tracked actual turnaround performance against the commitments the company made.
By the time Chanmugam left in 2017, Vodafone was the leading provider in customer satisfaction in Australia, as measured by net promoter score, and was net positive A$500 million, he says.
If there is any commonality to his work, Chanmugam says it is about managing large sets of customers in consumer and business environments, using best-in-class technology.
After a stint as executive general manager of customer experience at CBA’s Bankwest business in Perth, he is now executive general manager – group customer advocate at Suncorp.
“Everywhere I have worked, there has been the challenge of improving multiple channels including the digital experience, the contact centre of the organisation and, of course, the old bricks and mortar – the physical branches.
The products and experience may be different between telcos and banking, but these things remain the same.”
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Strategy meets technology
To some degree, Chanmugam’s role at Suncorp encapsulates everything he has done up until now.
Part of the job includes fielding and managing customer complaints – an admittedly difficult task. Chanmugam prefers to see the glass as half full – it is about improving systems, so that a customer’s experience is as fair and transparent as possible.
Suncorp is undergoing a partial metamorphosis, transitioning from bank assurance into a pure general insurance entity.
Chanmugam believes that success hinges on a customer-led strategy backed by good technology.
“We have focused on building operational resilience across our business, from sales to claims, by leveraging digital and data, automation at scale, partnering and modernising our technology platforms to be as efficient as possible,” he says.
There are also new, more customer-centric ideas coming into the business.
These include parametric insurance, where policyholders set their own levels of cover for specific events, and usage-based insurance, where the behaviour and level of use dictate the cost of premiums, which is most widely used in setting car insurance cover.
Recent insurance innovations include building digital claims experiences, allowing digital lodgement and leveraging geospatial technology to identify disaster-affected areas to help deploy early responders.
Given the recent floods and fires that have raged through Australia, this has been an important breakthrough.
In all this, Chanmugam says, innovation means nothing if it is not customer-centric.
He is acutely aware that Australia and the world are in a highly inflationary environment. Many people are experiencing pressure from the cost of living.
“We get the reports and the data, but until you speak to a customer or jump on a call at a contact centre and hear customers at the edge, you don’t really know what is going on out there,” he says.
“It’s our job to understand the challenges some of our customers might be facing, and you won’t get that without speaking to them. That’s always at the heart of my job – to listen, learn and act.”