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Zoho Corporation is a privately-owned business software development company, with its development headquarters in Chennai, India. The company began in 1996 as AdventNet and rebranded as Zoho Corporation in May 2009. Currently, Zoho consists of three primary brands: Zoho, ManageEngine and WebNMS. It offers a range of cloud-based business tools and information technology solutions, that includes an office tools suite, Internet of Things management platform, and a suite of IT management software. Zoho Corporation has offices across seven countries with about 5,000 employees globally. The platform currently has about 35 million users. Key geographies/markets include US, India, Europe and the Middle East.

Zoho began its journey as an OEM provider for telecom firms with network management product suite WebNMS, and ManageEngine, an IT product suite targeted at internal technical support teams. While these products still exist albeit with changes, Zoho’s claim to fame comes from the Zoho suite of cloud-based business and office management tools such as CRM, Writer, Zoho Meeting, Zoho People, Zoho Mail and so on. In 2008, Zoho ventured into back office products with Zoho Invoice and later launched Zoho Books in 2011. Zoho also has custom cloud products built on its own, low-coding programming language called Deluge, which companies can use to extend the application for specific purposes.

Launched in 2011, Zoho Books is an end-to-end cloud accounting software that is aimed to help businesses manage their finances through numerous facilities such as sending invoices, tracking inventory, reconciliation of bank transactions and so on. Besides accounting solutions, the platform also handles tax compliance globally. Zoho Books provides seven country-specific editions with the necessary accreditations, as well as a global edition that caters to the compliance needs of businesses across the world. In India, Zoho Books has witnessed a substantial growth in users over the last year, owing to the release of the GST-compliant edition that offered accounting and GST filing from a single platform.

The collaboration between Zoho and ICICI Bank was a milestone in transitioning Zoho Books beyond an accounting platform. Traditionally, banks have been perceived as standalone entities that are reluctant to partner or share data with third-party platforms. Hence, accounting and banking transactions have been mutually exclusive, making the processes time consuming and tedious. By joining hands with Zoho Books, ICICI Bank pioneered a first-of-its-kind integration where the online worlds of accounting and banking would merge into one, simplified platform. Termed as Contextual Banking, it enables conducting bank-related transactions directly within the accounting software, instead of revisiting the online bank account to complete the transaction. Thus, transactions are made less redundant and time-efficient.

The application is aimed at individuals and small businesses that hold an ICICI bank account and a Zoho Books subscription. For customers on other accounting platforms, Zoho provides support through its own technical team as well as a partner ecosystem for data migration. The customer journey begins with a business creating an account within Zoho Books. Integration with ICICI Bank is then a straightforward process and aided by multiple channels through which the customer can understand the platform and integration features. This includes educational content (such as help documentation, landing pages, blogs and videos), product webinars explaining the integration in detail for customers and dedicated customer support teams for product demos and solving queries.

Once the integration is done, businesses can:

  • Provide multiple payment options such as credit and debit card, NEFT, RTGS, IMPS, UPI to customers
  • Pay their vendors directly from Zoho Books
  • Reconcile bank transactions automatically through direct feed from the bank
  • Manage employee reimbursements easily
  • Eliminate manual data entry
  • Request for working capital loans from within Zoho Books

The development was primarily completed by Zoho and was fully supported by the IT team of ICICI Bank. During this period, one of the key challenges was of data security. A key requirement here was to ensure that adequate privacy and security steps were taken while enabling seamless exchange of data between the banking and accounting platforms. After six months of work by the respective teams at ICICI Bank and Zoho Books, the security feature was officially launched in February 2018.

The integration was successful and cost benefits were realised by customers. One of the first customers to pilot the integration and provide feedback to Zoho was Sharman’s Cab Company, a transportation management company that manages and runs the cabs/shuttles used by Zoho employees. Sharman’s Cab Company has an ICICI Bank account for managing its business finances.

Owing to long and tedious vendor payment processes that took three days each month, Sharman had a separate team to manage payments and reconcile the transactions with its bank account. Once it set up the ICICI Bank integration in Zoho Books, payment to its vendors and reconciliation of transactions with existing bank statements could be done with a few clicks, thus reducing manual data entry for redundant tasks.

The implementation marked a first in the financial technology industry. Zoho feels confident that going ahead, the concept of contextual banking will be replicated by major banks and accounting solutions worldwide.

Key Facts

  • Bank: ICICI Bank
  • Headquarters: Mumbai, India
  • Vendor partner: Zoho Corporation
  • Solution: Zoho Books
  • Timeline: 6 months
by Vipin Vishwanathan