Reported by: banking|Updated: March 5, 2020
Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services focuses on offering financial products to enhance the lives of the rural and agricultural community in India. The company believes that given the nature of the geographies it operates in and the different segments of customers it serves in the deepest pockets of rural India, it needs to have a viable mix of the digital and the physical business models in the foreseeable future. It is just being practical, says the company’s vice chairman & managing director Ramesh Iyer. He adds: “While on the one hand, the company will offer fully digital, online products for specific target customer segments, on the other, it will continue to serve other customer segments through its branch model. We will therefore have a phygital strategy where the physical and digital models will co-exist and complement each other.”
The company has been serving the un-banked and new-to credit population in semi-urban and rural India and is present in every Indian state with its 1300+ branches cover 85% of districts nationwide. It has served 6.6 million customers spread over 370,000 villages – more than half of all the villages in the country.
“Our customer-centric financial inclusion model focuses on 4 pillars – easy access to credit for livelihood, insurance, housing and investment solutions. We believe that the latent demand for financial services in the country is huge and we are uniquely placed to cater to the same,” says he.
Iyer is conscious about the unprecedented change that is happening in the Indian heartland, both socially and economically and maintains that improved communications, reduced transportation costs, changing trade patterns and the emergence of important non-farm activities in rural regions have combined to present a new set of challenges as well as opportunities to rural India. Traditional farming communities, he says, are increasingly complementing their activities with off-farm employment and exposure to the global environment with improved communications is further fueling rural aspirations and changing the business landscape. “Organized operations,” he points out, “are gaining momentum and are being increasingly accepted and adopted, especially by younger rural Indians. In line with these fundamental shifts, we at Mahindra Finance, have been working at defining new financial service and delivery mechanisms supported by integration with mobile, the use of big data and artificial intelligence to deliver tailored, personalized experiences and complementary partnerships to the rural and semi-urban communities.”
TECH – KEY ENABLER
“Hence, we look at technology as a key enabler, playing a crucial role in improving productivity, reaching a broader audience and delivering better customer experience. Over the years, we have accumulated first-hand knowledge and insights about customers in rural India, based on key data points spanning income, payment behaviors, socio-economic trends and aspirations. Such data backed by powerful analytics has enabled us to further scale and digitize the business model to drive customer engagement and design solutions customized to the needs of this unique set,” he says.
The company, he points out, as it continues to expand its geographic reach and scale of operations, continue to develop its technology architecture with new age technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning to support this growth.
Gururaj Rao, the company’s CIO, explains that the IT architecture and strategy adopted by the company, enables it to leverage both early stage and mature technologies. “In the past, we have been early adopters of open source solutions, POS devices, etc, and in recent times, we have been enterprise level adopters of platforms such data lake, MADP, MDM, AI/ML, ESB and blockchain. These have helped us in our data analysis, customer centric channels and information security,” he says.
He maintains that the organization has matured from being a stand-alone, offline, controls-oriented model to a customer-centric one, participating in an ecosystem, with real-time, online processes. “Our employees have moved from an office-oriented automation to a field-level BYOD-based set of solutions. Customers, partners and other stakeholders are able to benefit through quick and convenient transactions and experiences,” he says.
How does the company capture micro-data points about its customers? How has this helped build a successful business?
Rohit Pandharkar, head of Data Sciences at Mahindra Group, explains: “We capture data points about customers through various means: formal loan application process, digital crumbs/trails through the mobile app and post-lending transaction details. This means we are able to capture micro details about customers like the distance between his house and our branch, the number of dependents in his/her family, etc. Such data points prove to be useful in predicting customer behavior patterns and quality of lending. These micro-data points about our customers are our assets and help us in building advanced machine learning models that could be leveraged for better operations.”
Tina Singh, chief digital officer at Mahindra Finance, underscores the point that the company has successfully integrated various complex systems with new-age secure and scalable mobile platforms to build fully digital channels for its customers and employees. It has revamped its customer mobile app ‘Mahindra Finance’, making it more scalable with multilingual capabilities, enabling faster onboarding and easier login for the customer, while seamless integration with core systems and payment gateway facilitates quick look-up on pending EMIs and simplified repayments. “Mahindra Finance app has over 100,000 downloads within just 4 months of launch. It has seen a staggering growth in the number of downloads in the last 9 months with current downloads crossing over 350,000. With continuous enhancements and addition of new features in the app, it is now one of the best rated apps amongst Top 10 NBFCs in India with 4.6/5 customer rating on Google Playstore. The iPhone version of the app is ready to be launched in a month’s time,” she says.
In order to keep pace with the increasing penetration of digital payments, the company has introduced Quick Pay, a feature that enables customers to pay their EMIs via UPI, debit cards, internet banking or wallets. This feature is available both on the website as well as the mobile app. This channel fetches over Rs1.8 billion of collections every month for the business, growing at the rate of ~15% mom.
“We have also come out with a Paperless App as part of our continuous focus on improving productivity in our operations and empowering our employees. This app has enabled our field executives to process applications and approvals and sanction loans online. It provides instant CIBIL score and address verification along with faster approvals, thereby, reducing disbursement TAT. I believe this is the most comprehensive customer acquisition app for any NBFC in India,” says Tina.
One of the innovative technology-based endeavors of the company is Bharat-Maps. It has helped the company in reaching to the hitherto unventured spaces, offer products and services and bring in the unbanked into the financial services fold. Rohit Pandharkar says Bharat-Maps is a proprietary data product of the company built for internal use. “It takes into account data points at industry level, company level, branch level and even contract level in every pincode of India and can tell how the company’s portfolio is performing by the pincode vis-a-vis industrial performance, both in terms of volume and quality of business. This allows us to easily spot nation-wide whitespaces that have good industry performance. Using this product, we have opened 40+ new branches in recent years.”
ML ENGINE FOR LOANS
Machine learning is one of the hottest technologies in the financial sector, and Mahindra Finance is at the forefront. Rohit reveals that the company is currently using a proprietary ML engine for fast track loans, where it can disburse a loan in less than 30 minutes. “Our ML engine considers our Power of 20 model where 20 different parameters beyond bureau scores are used to determine the risk of a customer running into default. In fact, this model can score and lend to a customer with no bureau score, and is a unique highlight of our business model. Using this kind of ML driven lending, we are not only able to win and delight our customers with faster service but are also able to collect efficiently, since we know their risk-quality at the time of lending. We segregate the collection efforts on the basis of risk scores and focus our energies on collecting from riskier customers – thus delivering above average collection levels,” he adds.
The company has created a new data architecture using which it can achieve spectacular uptime and stability as also improved data management capability. Tina Singh says this is the result of the company’s vision of becoming One Customer-One Mahindra Finance. For this, it has built a data lake which has the capability of storing all the data related to the company’s customers. By implementing this, she says, the company plans to give a personalized experience to the customers through a single Mahindra Finance relationship. “The data lake platform brings in the features of high performance and scalability, integrated search across structured and unstructured content, machine learning, relationship management, streaming analytics and integrated development environment for deep analytics,” she says.
The company has been able to totally digitize the customer acquisition process through the field sales force – starting from prospect capture, credit and viability assessment till loan approval, powered by cloud based infra and services. “Coupled with new age data lake platform, we are maintaining 24×7 uptime and stability,” adds Tina.
Blockchain/DLT is another raging technology and Mahindra Finance has leveraged it to create a vendor financing platform. It has been among the early adopters and one of the developments is a vendor financing platform. “We were the first company in South Asia to use blockchain technology for supply chain financing. The blockchain has connected our suppliers, OEMs and the financiers and it allows them to share key data securely over the network chain to request and approve the financing, within the Mahindra ecosystem. We further plan to bring on other automakers on the same blockchain to have a seamless vendor financing system for all,” says Tina.
Gururaj Rao emphasizes that going forward mobility would be an integral part of the company’s omni-channel approach toward customer service. “Our endeavor is to provide the customer on the mobile platform, the full range of asset and liability products, across the lifecycle of the relationship. This would also be in multiple languages to improve the user experience,” he says.
A TOTAL SOLUTIONS PROVIDER
Ramesh Iyer summarizes the journey of the company with the aid of technology stating how from a captive financier of Mahindra utility vehicles in the early 1990, it has grown to become an offeror of multiple loan products as well as investment solutions in rural and semi-urban markets. Today, it offers a whole suite of financial solutions tailored to the needs of the under-served customer in under-penetrated rural markets.
“Our product portfolio includes utility vehicle and passenger vehicle finance, tractor finance, commercial vehicle and construction equipment finance and pre-owned vehicle and SME finance. We undertake mutual fund distribution, offer fixed deposits and personal loans tailor-made to suit our unique customer segment. We also offer insurance solutions, housing finance and mutual fund schemes with a special focus on rural and semi-urban areas through our subsidiaries.”
Needless to say, this quantum jump has been possible with the company leveraging the edge that technology can offer and aligning it with the business vision.