The Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India (ICFAI) was established in 1984. It started with a single product called CFA. The market space tapped was the working professionals desiring a contemporary finance qualification to help them in the corporate ladder. After 21 years, it has evolved as the largest private University offering a bouquet of programs ranging from under- graduate, post-graduate and doctoral programs.
The exceptional growth over these years has been catalyzed by the intrinsic value of the product, willingness to innovate and 24x7 customer service.
Many non-profit organizations are reluctant to think of themselves as brands or potential brands. Unlike many other institutions, ICFAI is always keen to invest in building brands. This has resulted in high top of mind recalls and increased brand equity for ICFAI and its programs.
Conscientious brand management, good governance, transparency and public accountability are the principles that have built ICFAI over these two decades.
The Evolution of the ICFAI Brand
Back in 1984-85, ICFAI was incorporated as a non-profit society with a very small endowment of just Rs.7000. ICFAI was born more within enthusiasm; not based on any detailed market survey. The founders believed that to build an institution of higher education what is more essential than financial capital is the intellectual capital. This belief is validated by the subsequent developments.
Within the span of next 20 years ICFAI has grown from a single product, single location organization into a multi-product and multi-location pan Indian University. The evolution of ICFAI brand is still continuing.
ICFAI Brand Evolution
Stage I: The ICFAI’s brand evolution started with a program designed primarily for undershot customers who had only few accounting courses to choose from. It started with a progressive advanced financial course (CFA). The astute identification of the unmet need resulted in a phenomenal success of the CFA Program so much that many existing CAs and MBAs took time out to pursue this course.
Stage II: ICFAI Business School was set up at eight centers simultaneously all over the country in 1995. ICFAI went on increasing the product portfolio by introducing several programs in finance and management across all customer segments.
Stage III: ICFAI is now positioned to emerge as a Pan-Indian University. It plans to be a multi-disciplinary and multi-locational University, the first of its kind in India. The ICFAI University is already established in six states; legislation is under progress in another 10 states. Within the next few years, ICFAI University should be present in all 28 states.
Stage IV: As a growing brand it has ventured into new markets like Sri Lanka. Pakistan and Bangladesh are next on the cards. Its global expansion strategies include exploring SAARC countries followed by China.
The ICFAI brand has four philosophical underpinnings:
The core philosophy of ICFAI is captured in its motto "Meritum Ethicus" which means merit and ethics. This motto expands to include these four philosophical approaches:
Merit based institution: All student admissions and faculty recruitment are strictly merit basis. Every applicant goes through the same process like an admission test, presentations and interviews. There is no management quota or NRI quota. The idea is a build a merit based institution.
Ethical institution: ICFAI has a strong ethical code for all its constituents. There is a code of conduct for institutions marketing staff and also a code of conduct for alumni.
Inclusive institution: ICFAI is deliberately being built as an inclusive institution to provide equity and access in higher education to as many deserving students as possible. Hence ICFAI is committed to increase the scale and scope of activity consistent with quality. It is always willing to walk that extra mile to become an inclusive institution.
Socially responsible institution: ICFAI is committed as a socially responsible institution complying with all the regulatory needs. It also serve the society by creating social values of the significant order.
ICFAI Brand Personality
The core personality can be summed up as an organization with academic purpose operating within corporate culture. This is a very extracting requirement particularly in the Indian context where a large number of universities are unfortunately not being perceived as accountable institution due to wide variety of reasons. In this endeavor, ICFAI has imbibed the positive aspect of corporate culture namely being result oriented, being accountable, being performance driven, being customer centric etc., to deliver strong academic results.
There are four dimensions to this core personality:
Not-for-Profit Organization: ICFAI is a not-for-profit organization with a strong academic purpose to deliver high quality higher education.
Professionally-managed Institution: ICFAI is a professionally managed institution with a very strong corporate culture. Among its managers and faculty, there are over 75 IIM graduates, bankers and business executives with very rich corporate experience. This team has brought in accountability to a great extent.
Entrepreneurial Organization: As a growing organization ICFAI is committed to sustain a very strong entrepreneurial streak. There is a very good risk reward framework in place to motivate the employees to achieve better and better results operating within entrepreneurial drive.
Private Institution: ICFAI is a private institution (not funded by the government) dedicated for a public purpose namely delivering quality education.
ICFAI and its Stakeholders
For any major educational institution, there are four important stakeholders: faculty, students, employers and alumni. In the long run a university is known primarily for its faculty and students. Hence ICFAI makes continuous efforts to focus on maximizing the levels of satisfaction of these stakeholders through periodic satisfaction surveys conducted by external agencies.
Higher education is a knowledge-driven industry, needing high quality faculty interested in research, teaching and consulting. ICFAI not only pays higher than market salaries but also promotes research and intellectual freedom to the faculty. This has not only encouraged them to undertake research and consulting activities but also to publish various books and journals. The effort is to become the best employer among the universities.
The students look for industry-relevant programs, a good course curriculum, library, computing facilities and overall personality development. ICFAI programs are market-driven and are garnished with industry relevant projects. All its centers have well equipped libraries and computing facilities. Courses in soft skills are mandatory to all the students. ICFAI likes to be perceived as a quality education provider. That will bring in great students.
The employers are looking for knowledgeable and skilled professionals with right attitude. Analytical, problem solving and soft skills are appreciated. ICFAI extensively uses case-based learning to simulate the young graduates to get a feel of the actual scenarios. It benchmarks its courses and curriculum with the best in the world. The goal is to become a supplier of right talents with right attitudes.
Alumni have the greatest stake among all others. Alumni take pride in their Alma Mater, if its reputation is growing. ICFAI alumni meets regularly in all major cities. They take pride in calling themselves as brand ambassadors. The objective is to be known as an inspirational Alma Mater.
Signals and Attributes of ICFAI Brand
A brand has several signals/attributes. The major signals/ attributes of ICFAI brand are price, service, quality and innovation.
Price: Price is a discovery process. There is no ultimate or given formula for arriving at the "right" price. ICFAI keeps discovering the right price from time to time. Obviously the right price is the one a customer is willing to pay because there is a strong value-for-money proposition in favor of the customer. Price is obviously dependant on a wide variety of internal and external factors. Students of IBS pay about Rs.4 lakhs for the MBA Program. Usually the pay back comes within one-and-half to two years. Quite often in less than a year. Attractive merit scholarships are offered up to 50% of the fees payable by the meritorious students. More than 70% of the students finance their MBA education through bank loans. All the distance learning students are encouraged to pay the fees through easy monthly installments. Thus while pricing, ICFAI takes care of the needs of the students.
Service: Education comes under service industry. Differentiation comes through service. ICFAI provides full service on an end-to-end basis and also on 24x7 basis. There are more than 200 branches of ICFAI spread all over the country to provide primary services to all the students. 95% of the students deal with ICFAI using the Internet and make the payments using the secure Internet payment gateway established by ICFAI. All emails received from the students are responded within two hours after their receipt. ICFAI is also setting up a dedicated call center for catering to the needs of the students.
Quality: Quality of an educational institution is reflected in many ways. For the distance learning programs quality is reflected through courseware, timely examination, prompt attention to their academic and administrative problems. The courseware provided by ICFAI for each subject includes standard textbook, detailed study guide, workbook, book of readings, case book and e-learning package, all developed by the faculty members at ICFAI. The courseware is regularly updated. Examinations for distance learning students are conducted once in every quarter at more than 140 test centers all over the country and the results are announced within 3 to 4 weeks. Examinations are conducted on Sundays as the majority of the students in the distance learning programs are working executives. Examinations are also very innovatively formulated consisting of computer assisted assignments based on objective type questions, applied theory questions, numerical problems, case-lets and case studies.
For the students of campus programs the quality of instruction is at most important. Training is provided in knowledge skills in addition to a series of programs aimed at improving soft skills. The focus is on student centric learning rather than faculty centric teaching. Students are also provided with well stock libraries and computer labs.
Innovation: The entire success of ICFAI brand revolves around sustaining the attribute of innovation. The innovation is practiced in three levels in ICFAI. At process level, product level and institutional level. There is always something new, contemporary that is happening at ICFAI. For example ICFAI offers a large portfolio professional programs on very contemporary subjects like brand management, supply chain management, customer relationship management, e-business, accounting standards and US GAAP, investment banking etc. At the institutional level, ICFAI adopts a philosophy which merges academics with corporate culture.
ICFAI Brand Dimensions
ICFAI brand has four major dimensions namely, aspirational, insurance, convenience and innovative.
One of the objectives of ICFAI is to raise the aspirations of students and faculty by setting new benchmarks. They are encouraged to think big, to aim high, to work hard and to discover their own potential. ICFAI has set up 150 INC Centers at various districts and towns all over the country. There are plans to expand this network to about 400 centers in the next two to three years. The goal is to raise the aspirations of the students in the districts, towns and bridge the divide between the small towns and the big metros.
ICFAI is also positioned as an "Insurance" product providing a safety-net. In a manner of speaking ICFAI tells students "Ham Hai Na". The safety-net comes through achieving 100% placements at attractive salaries to all the graduates of ICFAI colleges. There are no unemployed graduates of ICFAI.
Convenience: By operating at nearly 200 centers all over the country through IBS, ICFAI-Tech, INC, ILS and others ICFAI is providing a great convenience to students who cannot go far off places due to family and financial reasons. For instance many parents are not willing to send their daughters for higher education to any place outside their own town of residence. Similarly students coming from under-privileged sections of society cannot go to far off places due to financial reasons. For all of them ICFAI is in their neighborhood.
Innovation: The fourth dimension of ICFAI brand is innovation. There is always something new happening. For instance to encourage the skill development, two years ago IBS introduced a stipendiary assignment program for all the students on a voluntary basis. Students developed a number of skills like presentation, communication and persuasion skills. They also earned very attractive stipends and incentives. Recently a new e-learning package was developed to take MBA education directly to the laptop of the students.
ICFAI Brand Architecture
The brand architecture of ICFAI is conceived on the following four principles:
Umbrella Brand: ICFAI is projected as an umbrella brand in line with the practice adopted by several leading academic institutions worldwide like Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge etc. all the schools established by ICFAI carry the prefix of the mother brand like for instance ICFAI Business School, ICFAI Tech, ICFAI Law School, ICFAI College for Education, ICFAI School of Public Policy, ICFAI Press etc.
Teaching Brand: ICFAI has established as a major teaching brand through various schools which offer several educational programs at undergraduate, post-graduate levels.
Research Brand: ICFAI projects a strong research brand through its courseware, cases, books, magazines and journals. The cases published by ICFAI are used worldwide by leading business schools in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. Several cases written by ICFAI faculty have been included in the standards textbooks in these countries.
Synergistic Brand: As ICFAI is engaged in a number of activities in the field of higher education, It also projects as a synergistic brand. It creates intellectual capital through research and feeds into the classroom. The magazines, journals and books published by ICFAI Press assist in enhancing the brand equity of various ICFAI schools. Thus one leads to the other and the brand gains momentum.
ICFAI Brand: A SWOT Analysis
ICFAI Brand Signifies Leadership
Leadership in customer value
Leadership in Sustainable Growth
Leadership in creating Social Value
Leadership in responsible citizenship