By Kanika Joshi, Catalyst at IFMR LEAD

Digitization is inevitable for financial inclusion

In an era of unprecedented change, prior notions of ease, convenience, efficiency and innovation are being reimagined globally, by the increasing adoption of digitization in all facets of life. Prima facie, the idea of money has also progressed over time, and changed several forms- salt to cattle, then gold to paper, it has now evolved to electronic and plastic money with the advancement of technology and growing economy.While the digital revolution has tremendous implications for economic development and well-being, its potential remains considerably untapped. India ranks 91 of 139 countries in the World Economic Forum�s Networked Readiness Index (WEF, 2016), �which is a key indicator of a country�s readiness and progress in leveraging Information and Communication Technology.

The low rank is predominantly due to poor

coverage in terms of fundamental digital infrastructure. Some studies(ORF,2017) say that the use of digitization is certainly linked with levels of education/consumer income and hence the expanse of India�s informal economy reflects its stickiness to cash.

In the vision to help small businesses unlock the power of digital payments for greater financial inclusion the Government of India launched the Digital India Campaign, India Stack Initiative and various other enabling frameworks. To support and enable this ambitious vision, Catalyst is an initiative seeded by an alliance between the Government of India and USAID, to expand digital payments and financial inclusion in India, especially for small merchants and low-income consumers.

Incubator Program to support Fintech for the last mile

From a �kirana wala� to an �investment banker�, individuals across working classes and segments play a key role in driving India�s gradual shift to a digital, cashless economy. In the aim to reach every segment, one of Catalyst�s thrust was the launch of a unique Incubator program with the theme �Fintech for the Last Mile”. The aim of the program is to focus on testing various innovative digital payment solutions for last-mile consumers by focussing on network effects.

�Through this program we identified Fintech start-ups and provided them with financial support of USD 50,000 to test their solutions with merchants, distributors and customers in Jaipur. In addition, we also offer them support services such as market access,�mentorship, technology infrastructure, and research and operational support for the experiments.� says Sharon Buteau, Director at Catalyst.

The application process for the Incubator program kick-started in June 2017 with a two-month outreach drive, which resulted in submissions by 51 start-ups along with a flurry of enquiries. On receiving the applications, there was a rigorous three-phase selection process to choose the five finalists among the wide ranging submissions using innovative technology, data analytics, business models to reach the last mile consumer.

Glimpse of all startups

The five shortlisted entities represent Catalyst�s vision to help small businesses and low-income consumers unlock the power of digital payments to gain access to broader financial services and create opportunities vital to their future prosperity. Here is a glimpse of them:

One of the incubatees, Merapaper aims to digitize billing processes of subscription-based small merchants, to ease their operational burden and improve transparency for the buyer by providing various options for bill payments. �I have been using Merapaper since August 2017. Earlier, I used to spend ten hours (per month) maintaining balance books. The bill books would cost me Rs.500. With this app, life has become much easier.� says Shravan Kumar, a newspaper vendor in Vaishali centre, Jaipur, who echoes the sentiments of other vendors who have started using the application and feel the difference in their operations.

Another incubatee, Paynearby is helping create hyperlocal fintech networks that will improve last mile connectivity of financial services, by enabling existing corner shops to become a digital financial services hub. Anand, the National Sales Head of Paynearby believes that in a micro sense, their fintech network facilitates transactions such as remittances by a domestic labourer to his family in a convenient manner.

Reaching� a similar underserved segment, Kaleidofin is a platform that provides tailored financial services to the mass market including populations who are unbanked and have significant variability in their income. They leverage wealth advisory and management practices to improve the financial health of households from lower income and rural segments.

Further, PayBee�s solution automates and digitizes B2B collections in the distributor-retailer supply chain. According to a leading pharmaceutical distributor in Rajasthan who was one of the first merchants to adopt PayBee �Adopting PayBee reduces our time to collect cash from retailers, the work force deployed to each and every retailer for payment collection, and protects us from risks associated with cheating on their part.�

Finally, Fingpay enables merchants to accept digital payments from customers through Aadhaar pay with just a fingerprint, thereby removing conventional barriers to digital financial inclusion such as access to mobile phones, debit cards and so on. �Catalyst�s Incubator program will help our product to reach the end customer, and will enable them to go digital. We sincerely look forward to this opportunity to collaborate with the team and build on our work in Jaipur.�, believes the team at Fingpay.

The way forward

In following months, the Incubator program will focus on providing strategic and operational support to the incubatees, and help them establish linkages with key stakeholders in the broader ecosystem. Along with this, Incubator team at Catalyst is dedicated to support them with customer connect, data assistance and mentor support to strengthen their base in Jaipur.

Catalyst is very hopeful that these fintech champions have the potential to live up to its vision of enabling last-mile adoption of digital payments in India. We are now excited to see the digital impact that the startups will create in transforming Jaipur from a cash-based to a cashless economy using digital payments, in the years to come.


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