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Enabling financial inclusion on a digital platform

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Manoj Kumar Nambiar, Managing Director and Arvind Murarka, Head IT at Arohan Financial Services (P) Limited,,

A company which won the SKOCH Award for the best IT implementation in the microfinance sector in 2016/17, as well as, the SKOCH Order-of-Merit for qualifying among the top 80 projects in India for financial Inclusion in FY 17-18.

Recent studies states that over 19 percent of the Indian population is still unbanked or is financially excluded. Financial Inclusion is undoubtedly one of the most important milestones that the Government and the RBI focuses on and must be attained for sustainable growth of the population. The main objective of financial inclusion is to ensure access to formal credit for people who depend on informal sources for fulfilling their financial needs, at an affordable cost in a fair and transparent manner. This will not only help close the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged sections of the society, but also contribute significantly to the country’s socio-economic growth. This is the space where the microfinance industry operates in.

Microfinance Industry cater to customers, primarily women, in the rural and semiurban areas where mainstream banking is inadequate. The Indian microfinance industry has NBFC MFIs, SFBs, NBFCs and also universal banks operating in the space. In its efforts to mainstream financial inclusion in India, MFIs provide loans and distribute financial products like insurance, banking and pension products, as well as, other non-financial products. These small ticket sized loans do not require collateral; prospective customers are identified based on neighbourhoods and needs. However, managing microfinance business without using enterprise management systems, automation, measurement and optimization of the day-to-day operational process is both inefficient and resource consuming. MFIs also have to strive to lower their operating costs as this gets added to the cost of funds for the final pricing to the end customer. MFIs were thus quick to understand the potential and need for digitization of operations and have taken the much needed step with the implementation of mobility platforms.

The purpose of mobility is to capture operational transactions in the field on a real time basis, using mobile applications and hardware such as

tablets/smartphones. We have been one of the first NBFC MFIs to move beyond a pilot phase to a full rollout phase within 8 months. In our organization, all our 2500 odd customers service representatives have been equipped with hand-held devices. We have utilized mobile application to onboard members, track their training, disburse loans and use it to collect repayments. All the transactions are routed through the mobile application and have seamless integration with our Core Banking System. Hence the front end of the loan process has been made fully paperless. The scope of digitization encompasses facilitation of various processes in the overall management of loans, including KYC feed, online Credit Bureau checks, immediate approval /rejection of customer’s loan application on the basis of Credit Bureau response, Centre and Group formation, GEO mapping of Centre, disbursement and collection entry and dashboards for various operational purposes. If locations are remote and experience weak network connectivity, mobile applications capture the transactions offline and upload them when a steady connection is available. Thus the field employee truly has the “office in his/her hands” to empower him/her and also to provide online services to the end clients while working towards delight.

It is also the right time for MFIs to on-board its customers onto a digital transactions platform. In over a year of demonetisation, the digital payments and transactions segment has been the most focused within the Indian FinTech landscape. While mobility plug-ins with the back-end Loan Management System, it also facilitates Business Correspondents and Partnerships to explore possibilities of cash light/less disbursements and collections and geotagging helps identify remote customer meeting points. Unique efforts have been made in our organisation to partner with banks, both old school and new age payment banks, in order to bring not only a bank account but also provide accessible banking services and products to the unbanked. With the help of tech enabled field staff who carry mobile tablets to on-board customers, this is indeed a well-timed effort to enroll customers for instant bank accounts using Aadhar enabled e-KYC. This digital finance platform will be the basis for customers to conduct assisted financial transactions, with financial institutions, as well as, within their own communities. Our estimates show a close to 1 billion e-transactions possibility per year in the sector which has over 40 million beneficiaries.

This ability to provide financial services via digital channels, improves efficiencies, cuts down expenses and improves credit quality. With the use of digitization, we have rationalized the use of cash and enhanced operational efficiencies. The access to digitalised credit system and user-friendly digital platforms may also be leveraged to enable customers with the ‘power of choice’ which, in our organisation, has been facilitated through a unique rural assisted e-commerce platform which is available in the form of a mobile-app.

The prevailing micro-finance model of group lending is highly cash intensive where both loan disbursement and repayment is generally done in cash and generally at the customers’ doorstep. This is a tedious time-consuming process, requiring meticulous calculations which bear heavily on the MFI’s front-line staff. An efficient digital system allows staff to source new clients and helps them provide quality service to their existing customers in a shorter span of time. The benefits of digitization have been felt throughout our organization where turn-around-times have reduced up to 50 percent across processes and the flexibility of our solution reduces the time to market for customers and new products.

With technology, innovation, and knowledge becoming the key drivers of growth today, the MFI industry is transforming. Emerging technologies have the potential to revolutionize the customer experience, especially at the ‘last mile’ by providing greater levels of personalized service and greatly improving the back-office efficiencies at financial institutions, thus playing one of the most significant roles in the objective of financial inclusion.

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