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Empowering The Unbanked & Underserved: An Up-Close Look At Siply, A Technology-Driven Micro-Savings Fintech
we get up close and personal with Sousthav Chakrabarty, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Siply, to learn more about this unique Phygital fintech and its nation-building plans through financial inclusion
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The ever-rising inflation is changing the way Indian households save, causing people to live paycheque to paycheque, dip into their savings to meet living expenses, and stow away lesser every month for rainy days. A recent Motilal Oswal Securities findings reported that the Indian Households Financial Savings (HFS) hit a 30-year low in H1 FY23, with net HFS dwindling to a three-decade low in the first half of this fiscal year at around Rs 5.2 trillion.
A Reserve Bank of India finding showed that the Indian household debt rose by Rs 6 trillion to Rs 83.65 trillion in FY22. This rise in debt points to the unfortunate possibility of people having to borrow to spend on basic needs such as groceries, provisions, medical expenses, and to pay off their past loans. Although there has been a marginal improvement in household debts as a share of GDP, from 39.3 per cent in 2020-21 to 35.3 per cent in 2021-2022, this debt has not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
More so, the effects of the pandemic were acutely felt by working-class citizens, especially from the underserved segments of society, who lacked a solid financial footing when the pandemic started and are still recovering from its aftermath. However, the pandemic did serve as an eye-opener, making Indians from all walks of life aware of the importance of saving and opening themselves to new ways of saving and investments.
In an effort to educate and encourage more Indians to make smarter and more sustainable savings, Siply, a tech-enabled micro-savings platform, came into being in the middle of the pandemic and has been making headlines for all the right reasons. Amidst an uncertain financial climate and a sea of fintech, Siply is distinct for its noble intentions and on a mission to digitise and democratise financial services for Indians across Bharat.
Today, we get up close and personal with Sousthav Chakrabarty, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Siply, to learn more about this unique Phygital fintech and its nation-building plans through financial inclusion.
What inspired the creation of Siply?
Back in 2010, I was working as a managing director for a firm that caters to the investment needs of High Net-worth Individuals (HNIs). That year, my father had a heart attack requiring immediate surgery and a pacemaker implant. To cover the mounting medical expenses at the time, I was compelled to borrow money at high interest from an unscrupulous loan shark. The financial stress I experienced during this incident and during my childhood made me realise that had the earlier generation received adequate support and guidance, they would be much more financially secure and prepared to handle such future contingencies.
My banking experience gave me an on-ground view of the lacunas on the path to financial inclusion, especially for the underserved segments of India’s working class. I reached out to Anil Bhat to seek his rich tech expertise and together, we founded Siply in July 2020 with the single-minded goal of providing financial guidance to the next generation of Indians.
What led to the decision to focus on micro-savings as a business strategy?
We wanted to target the middle class and underserved masses in India by providing them with the know-how and tools to improve their financial security. We aimed to drive financial inclusion for contract workers, blue-collar workers, gig economy workers, and small business owners. The decision to go the micro-savings route was a conscious one because we wanted this category of working-class Indians to inculcate sustainable saving habits so that they become better equipped to manage their financial needs, especially during turbulent times.
For instance, the onset of the pandemic affected the unorganised working class the most, resulting in the loss of jobs and income, with no end in sight. We realised that had there been existing financial mechanisms in place that cater to this segment, they would have been a lot more successful at overcoming hardships.
Through Siply, we have introduced innovative sachet financial services like Micro Credit, Siply Gold Savings Scheme, Siply Gold Jewellery Scheme, and more, that our users can avail to start their investment journeys with as little as INR 1.
Why did you decide to take the phygital route over just being digital?
While customers recognise the benefits of digital technology, they still desire in-person interaction at a local branch. For instance, in the retail industry, several online-focused companies have established physical locations to cater to customers who prefer to physically examine products before making a purchase decision. In the world of Fintech, physical infrastructure and education are just as vital as digital advancements. We believe that going forward, a combination of physical and digital – phygital – will be the key to financial inclusion.
Having physical branches gives customers, especially in the fintech space, the assurance they need about the safety of their investments. We wanted to give our customers just that so that they become familiar with digital banking and gain more financial independence.
Additionally, given that many of our customers are still new to smartphones, not that technologically savvy and still getting comfortable with using banking or fintech apps, it made sense for us to take the phygital (physical + digital) route. Therefore, we established physical Siply branches to make it easier for our customers to overcome their apprehensions.
Our customers can now walk into the nearest Siply Seva Kendra and ask their queries in person from our customer representatives, learn about our various financial products and how to start their micro-savings journey.
Also, a phygital presence allows companies and customers to get the best of both worlds.
What are your phygital plans?
In September 2022, we inaugurated our first phygital Siply Seva Kendra in Vijayanagar, TC Palya and Mathikera in Bengaluru, Karnataka. We opened two more Siply Seva Kendras in Mysuru and Belgaum. We plan to set up Siply Seva Kendras in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the next few months and aim to launch 1,000 branches across 115 cities in India over the next 3 years. We are looking to hire around 2,000-3,000 employees for our Siply Seva Kendras across Bharat.