"Impact is most effective when it is local": Paisalo Digital's Santanu Agarwal

"Impact is most effective when it is local": Paisalo Digital's Santanu Agarwal

Paisalo aims to be India's top non-banking finance company, serving the underbanked and unbanked.


Mumbai: Paisalo Digital Ltd, in celebration of India's 77th Independence Day, launched a transformative campaign titled 'Ab Rukna Nahi.' This innovative initiative aimed to inspire a growth mindset and self-reliance among individuals, emphasizing the importance of taking action. Additionally, the company proactively supported women's employment by offering special benefits to the first 77 women who applied to become Paisalo customer service providers (CSPs), further demonstrating their commitment to empowerment and financial inclusion.

Delving deeper into the campaign, Indiantelevision.com in a conversation with Paisalo Digital Ltd deputy MD Santanu Agarwal spoke on their vision, their USP, changing market dynamics, co-lending solutions and much more.

While pursuing his studies at Amity University in Noida, Santanu Agarwal embarked on a journey to transform his dreams into reality by working on the ‘Paisalo' digital app. Launched in January 2018 under Santanu's visionary leadership, Paisalo is a lending platform for MFI borrowers that streamlines the loan process and strategically addresses the needs of the customers. Santanu's marketing expertise is marked by striking features such as cost-effectiveness, instant response, flexibility, convenience, and digital marketing.

Edited Excerpts:

On Paisalo Digital’s launch, the vision behind it and its USP

Following the legacy of S.E. Investments (1992), Paisalo Digital Ltd was launched on 24 January 2018.

At Paisalo, our promise is to empower India’s unbanked population through accessible and inclusive financial solutions. Our company is committed to bridging the gap between financial institutions and the underserved, thereby creating avenues for economic growth and social upliftment. We firmly believe in enabling individuals and communities to become self-reliant and nurturing an action-oriented spirit through our services and communication.

Our vision is simple and unchanged: At Paisalo, our promise is to empower India’s underbanked and unbanked population through accessible and inclusive financial solutions. To that end, it is imperative that we run a healthy, vibrant and responsible company. In addition to traditional lending, we do a lot to help the communities in which we operate. This, in turn, provides the foundation for increased opportunity and prosperity for all. Together, we are actively building a financially inclusive India where every dream finds support and every endeavor receives the opportunity to thrive. With our relentless efforts and unwavering commitment, we are driving positive change, enabling the underbanked and unbanked population to unlock their full potential and contribute to the nation’s progress. Our goal is to be the lender of choice for all, and we want everyone to feel welcome here and be able to contribute to our core mission to the best of their ability. Looking forward, Paisalo envisions itself as the leading non-banking finance company dedicated to serving the underbanked and unbanked population of India.

Paisalo’s USP lies in its ability to lend credit that drives awareness, accessibility and affordability.

On Paisalo Digital’s evolution and adaptation to changing market dynamics and customer needs

Reflecting on the past years, it becomes evident that our success lies in the core pillars we have steadfastly upheld. Our financial discipline has been unwavering, allowing us to navigate challenges and maintain stability. Our constant investment in innovation has enabled us to stay at the forefront of the industry, delivering cutting-edge solutions to meet the evolving needs of our clients. Most importantly, our dedication to helping clients and communities has remained the driving force behind our actions. We understand the profound impact we can have on the lives of individuals and the growth of communities, and this awareness fuels our unwavering commitment.

Our achievements are not solely attributed to the strength of our financial offerings. It is our people who have been instrumental in our resilience and success. By continuously developing our workforce, nurturing their talents and providing them with the necessary support, we have cultivated a team capable of rising above challenges and delivering exceptional results. It is through their dedication and unwavering commitment to serving borrowers and communities that we have persevered throughout the years.

Our success and accomplishments are deeply rooted in our commitment to our shareholders. We recognise that shareholder value can only be built and sustained by nurturing a healthy and vibrant company. This entails taking care of our customers, employees and communities. Neglecting any of these stakeholders would undermine the foundation of a robust organisation. We have learned through experience that it is possible to demonstrate compassion for our employees and communities while upholding shareholder value. Striking the right balance allows us to foster long-term success and create shared value for all.

As we look toward the future, our vision remains clear. We will continue to uphold our financial discipline, invest in innovation, and develop our people, as these elements are the foundation of our unwavering dedication to helping borrowers and communities across the country.

On Paisalo Digital’s contribution to the advancement of financial inclusion and co-lending practices in India

The customer service manager, a role within Paisalo, primarily functions as a local ambassador to build and nurture relationships with the community leaders, women entrepreneurs and small businesses. We now have over 1377 such managers in underserved communities and intend to keep growing that number. Our managers have hosted more than 45,000 financial events with over 600,000 people participating. We want people who live and work in these communities to feel welcomed and included when they visit our touch points. We ask them to come as they are and bring family.

At Paisalo, we have championed the essential role of co-lending in fostering community growth. We understand its power to unite people, empower companies and individuals to pursue their dreams, and serve as a source of strength. We often remind our employees that the work we do holds great significance and has a tangible impact. Through our financial solutions, we enable people and businesses to access the necessary funds to realise their aspirations. By uplifting micro, small, and medium- sized individuals, businesses, women entrepreneurs, and rural areas across the nation, we contribute to their growth and the overall development of our society.

In addition to these guidelines, we have recently formulated a clear and concise purpose statement, “Bharat, Ab Rukna Nahi,” which combines our values with our everyday business practices, elucidating how we have conducted ourselves for many years. Celebrating the 77th Independence Day, we at Paisalo recently took a proactive step by introducing an initiative that aims at boosting women employment across India. To do so, the brand is offering special assistance and added benefits to the first 77 women who apply to become a Paisalo Customer Service Provider (CSP) across India.

Furthermore, with the help of these practices, Paisalo has facilitated the generation of self-employment for more than 700,000 individuals, with over 600,000 being women entrepreneurs. The combined number of lives impacted stands at more than 1.5 million.

On Paisalo Digital Ltd utilising technology to provide tailored co-lending solutions

Properly regulated NBFCs like Paisalo are designed to safeguard and strengthen the financial system. They maintain transparency with regulators and work diligently to prevent terrorism financing and tax evasion by implementing know your customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering laws. Additionally, they assist customers in various ways – from safeguarding their data and minimising fraud and cyber risks to providing financial education. These NBFCs also must comply with social obligations, such as financial inclusion of micro markets, which mandates extending NBFCs services to lower-income communities.

Meeting regulatory requirements is of utmost importance to us, with the Reserve Bank of India serving as our primary regulator. These regulations encompass various aspects, including stress testing, reporting, compliance, legal obligations and surveillance, among others. While the business functions as the first line of defense in addressing these matters, we have a dedicated team who actively work every day to ensure strict adherence to both the letter and the spirit of these rules. Additionally, our audit function serves as the final line of defense, further reinforcing our commitment to regulatory compliance.

At Paisalo Digital Ltd, we harness our in-house technology to deliver enhanced co-lending solutions tailored to the unique needs of the underbanked and small income generation segment. Through our projects, we've successfully implemented a model that underwrites credit for underbanked communities in the country. Paisalo employs a co-lending approach with various banks, utilising 'credit,' 'credential,' and 'character' based underwriting. What sets this model apart is its utilisation of proprietary algorithms developed in-house, processed through BRE, historical credit data, and field data. This approach ensures efficiency, user-friendliness, and intelligence.

The information technology model employs a high-touch, high-tech approach to connect with people across India, resulting in a scalable business model with risk mitigation. Leveraging proprietary algorithms developed under Paisalo’s leadership, our operations have scaled up, and we are successfully extending credit to over 19 lakh customers across 18 states through 1377 touchpoints.

On the role of small business owners in the growth of India and Paisalo Digital’s aim to facilitate their success

We need to consider the unique needs of communities across the country more thoughtfully. Companies of all sizes need to show up, listen and make the right investments and decisions to earn a neighborhood’s trust.

“Impact is most effective when it is local.”

A local bank branch, particularly in a low-income neighborhood, can achieve success only if it aligns with the community's needs. This is why, over the past several years, we have redefined our approach to providing access to financial education and offering low-cost lending products and services. Our aim is to assist borrowers by ensuring that Paisalo is genuinely available, aware and affordable.

We deliver this approach through our high tech–high touch model, which utilises unique spaces located at the heart of semi–urban and rural communities. Currently, we operate a total of 1377 touch points across 18 states. These touchpoints host grassroots community events, small business mentoring sessions and financial health seminars. We have welcomed community leaders and small business customers who have shared their sense of pride and optimism about what these touchpoints mean for their community. Our employees are always at the forefront and center of these events, connecting people to one another and forging new relationships.

The customer service manager, a role within Paisalo, primarily functions as a local ambassador to build and nurture relationships with community leaders, women entrepreneurs and small businesses. We now have over 1377 such managers in underserved communities and intend to keep growing that number. Our managers have hosted more than 45,000 financial events with over 600,000 people participating.

I have attended many touch point openings. The energy is vibrant. We've welcomed community leaders and small business customers who have expressed their pride and optimism regarding the significance of these touch points for their community. Our managers are consistently at the forefront and center of these events, fostering connections among people and cultivating new relationships.

We understand that the sustainability of this effort hinges on measurable outcomes. Our company diligently monitors metrics such as the number of opened loan accounts, funded borrowers, the pace and scope of new small business loans, and various other indicators. This practice ensures that we not only attain results but also pay heed to feedback, allowing us to amplify our impact. Our specialised loans, designed to promote income generation, have gained significant popularity in rural and semi-urban markets, effectively addressing pressing financial requisites.

Through our products such as the small income generation loans (Umeed, Pragati and Vikas) and Entrepreneurial loan (Udaan).

Product Page Link: https://paisalo.in/home/products

On instances of local entrepreneurs who have benefited from Paisalo's brand film 'Ab Rukna Nahi' and these initiatives positively impacting their lives and the communities they operate in

Our recently unveiled brand film, ‘Ab Rukna Nahi,’ showcases real-life stories of transformation that have the potential to rekindle hope and spark a growth mindset. It serves as an inspiration for individuals to overcome limits and succeed in their respective endeavors. Celebrating the action oriented spirit of Indians, this groundbreaking campaign cultivates a mindset of self-reliance, urging Indians to wholeheartedly embrace their potential to the fullest. The brand film is fueled by a genuine narrative of action oriented and unstoppable approach towards pursuing the small business goals.

“From struggling to make ends meet to thriving in my business, Paisalo Digital Ltd changed my life forever,” shares Shashi.

“My name is Shashi w/o Balvir and I run a small grocery store. For years, I struggled to make ends meet, barely earning enough to provide for my family. Later someone told me about Paisalo Digital Ltd, and it changed my life forever. I decided to take a chance and applied for a loan of Rs. 35,000. With this money, I was able to buy more inventory for my store and improve my business. And the results were almost immediate. My store started earning more money, and I was finally able to provide for my family in a way that I never thought possible. But it was not just about the money. This loan from Paisalo Digital Ltd gave me something even more valuable: hope. For the first time in a long time, I felt empowered and in control of my life. I was no longer just surviving; I was thriving. Now, my children can attend better schools, and I can provide them with the education they deserve. I am filled with gratitude for Paisalo Digital Ltd and the opportunity they gave me to improve my life. This experience has taught me that anything is possible if you have the courage to take a chance. It is easy to feel trapped in our circumstances, but we must never give up hope. With the right support and resources, we can overcome any obstacle and achieve our dreams. To anyone who may be struggling like I was, I urge you to take a chance and reach out to Paisalo Digital Ltd. They are more than just a financial institution; they are a source of hope and empowerment. Thank you, Paisalo Digital Ltd, for changing my life and giving me the opportunity to create a better future for myself and my family.”

These endeavors have not only improved their lives but also uplifted the communities they serve, reflecting our commitment to empower individuals and drive positive change.

For more testimonials, refer to this link - https://paisalo.in/home/livetouched

On 'Ab Rukna Nahi' aligning with Paisalo Digital Ltd's overall vision and mission and you envisioning on the film's message resonating with both current and potential customers

The recently formulated clear and concise purpose statement, ‘Ab Rukna Na,’ combines our values with our everyday business practices, elucidating how we have conducted ourselves for many years.

While we take pride in our company and its pivotal role in driving economic growth, we recognise the significant advantages of being a purpose- driven organisation. Research has consistently demonstrated that companies with a strong sense of purpose achieve superior business outcomes and make a greater impact by prioritising the well-being of their customers, employees and shareholders.

By documenting our purpose, our primary aim is to invigorate our employees, differentiate our company from competitors and inspire our organisation to foster innovation on behalf of our clients, colleagues and communities. We firmly believe that this clarity of purpose will propel us forward, enabling us to better serve our stakeholders and make meaningful contributions to their success.

Celebrating the action-oriented spirit of Indians, the groundbreaking campaign, ‘Ab Rukna Nahi’ cultivates a mindset of self-reliance, urging Indians to wholeheartedly embrace their potential to the fullest. At Paisalo Digital Ltd, we wish to empower our customers through means (extend credit), communication and initiatives. The brand introduces a captivating campaign film that highlights the core motivation behind success, i.e. the continuous drive to take action. This notion reflects our belief that small business owners can sustain their enterprises for the long term, benefiting from lending and other resources.

On additional components or initiatives associated with the 'Ab Rukna Nahi' campaign, such as workshops, events, or partnerships

Commemorating the 77th Independence Day celebrations, we at Paisalo Digital Ltd undertook a significant step by launching an initiative aimed at enhancing women's employment opportunities across states.  We are offering special assistance and added benefits to the first 77 women who apply to become a Paisalo customer service provider (CSP) across India. These women will be trained in offering banking services, provide financial literacy and financial inclusion in the country. This strategic move stands as a testament to the company's commitment to championing and empowering women, encapsulating the spirit of the campaign.

Being the lender of choice for all is our goal and we want everyone to feel welcomed here. And be able to contribute to our core mission to the best of their ability.