Building for Bharat – A Bharat Inclusion Initiative

Bharat Inclusion Initiative seeks to equip entrepreneurs with the right knowledge, skills and tools they need to solve some of the toughest problems of India in a scalable manner using technology. While Bharat Inclusion Research Fellows are working on some of the most interesting studies, another important source of knowledge is thought leaders and domain experts who have been there and done that. In this three-part video series, we have Dr Pramod Varma, the Chief Architect of Aadhaar, providing his perspective on how entrepreneurs can go about building solutions for Bharat.

Part 1: The Key Construct

What are Bharat’s unique attributes? Its needs and aspirations? With data becoming one of Bharat’s key assets, how can entrepreneurs leverage it to provide solutions that matter? Watch the video to know some answers to these questions and much more.

Part 2: The Journey So Far

How to leverage the opportunity made available through Data empowerment? Know how Aadhaar, India’s biometric ID, has fundamentally changed the economics of reaching the poor. Understand how the Aadhaar platform has aided in building further platforms of IndiaStack such as eSign and Digilocker which have further reduced cost and increased trust at scale. The video rounds off with another uniquely Indian platform — Unified Payment Interface (UPI).

Part 3: Exciting Times Ahead

Reimagine solutions. With the newer domain, specific stacks being built, learn how even seemingly unrelated domains can use these platforms to offer innovative solutions. With GST and BBPS already in place, and more being built around transport (ETC), National Health Stack, Diksha and Drone Stack it has been never this good for entrepreneurs crafting solutions for Bharat. Watch the video to understand how.

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What is Bharat Inclusion Initiative?

Bharat Inclusion Initiative (BII) is an incubator platform at CIIE that provides entrepreneurs with the domain knowledge, training, financial support, mentorship, and market access they need to bring inclusive, for-profit-business to life. BII’s core design is to promote technology-driven entrepreneurship towards the delivery of affordable services to the Bharat Segment- the poorest 200 million households in India who survive on less than $5 per person a day through programs, fellowships, and funding where possible.

The program focuses on solutions leveraging technology, especially the India Stack. It integrates financial inclusion research with entrepreneurship and training to transform these solutions into scalable, viable and high impact businesses.  Keen on partnering with entrepreneurs who are driven by building next-generation digital services for India. Reach out to us at [email protected] or ask your questions in the comments section below.

Please note: The above information was first published by Bharat Inclusion Fellows here: https://medium.com/bharatinclusion/building-for-bharat-df8b12867271

Understanding iSPIRT’s Entrepreneur Connect

There is confusion about how iSPIRT engages with entrepreneurs. This post explains to our engagement model so that the expectations are clear. iSPIRT’s mission is to make India into a Product Nation. iSPIRT believes that startups are a critical catalyst in this mission. In-line with the mission, we help entrepreneurs navigate market and mindset shifts so that some of them can become trailblazers and category leaders.

Market Shifts

Some years back global mid-market business applications, delivered as SaaS, had to deal with the ubiquity of mobile. This shift upended the SaaS industry. Now, another such market shift is underway in global SaaS – with AI/ML being one factor in this evolution.

Similar shifts are happening in the India market too. UPI is shaking up the old payments market. JIO’s cheap bandwidth is shifting the digital entertainment landscape. And, India Stack is opening up Bharat (India-2) to digital financial products.

At iSPIRT, we try to help market players navigate these shifts through Bootcamps, Teardowns, Roundtables, and Cohorts (BTRC).

We know that reading market shifts isn’t easy. Like stock market bubbles, market shifts are fully clear only in hindsight. In the middle, there is an open question whether this is a valid market shift or not (similar to whether the stock market is in a bubble or not). There are strong opinions on both sides till the singularity moment happens. The singularity moment is usually someone going bust by failing to see the shift (e.g. Chillr going bust due to UPI) or becoming a trailblazer by leveraging the shift (e.g. PhonePe’s meteoric rise).

Startups are made or unmade on their bets on market shifts. Bill Gates’ epiphany that browser was a big market shift saved Microsoft. Netflix is what it is today on account of its proactive shift from ground to cloud. Closer home, Zoho has constantly reinvented itself.

Founders have a responsibility to catch the shifts. At iSPIRT, we have a strong opinion on some market shifts and work with the founders who embrace these shifts.

Creating Trailblazers through Winning Implementations

We are now tieing our BTRC work to specific market-shifts and mindset-shifts. We will only work with those startups that have a conviction about these market/mindset-shifts (i.e., they are not on the fence), are hungry (and are willing to exploit the shift to get ahead) and can apply what they have learned from iSPIRT Mavens to make better products.

Another change is that we will work with young or old, big or small startups. In the past, we worked with only startups in the “happy-confused” stage.

We are making these changes to improve outcomes. Over the last four years, our BTRC engagements have generated very high NPS (Net Promoter Scores) but many of our startups continue to struggle with their growth ceilings, be it an ARR threshold of $1M, $5M, $10M… or whether it is a scalable yet repeatable product-market fit.

What hasn’t changed is our bias for working with a few startups instead of many. Right from the beginning, iSPIRT’s Playbooks Pillar has been about making a deep impact on a few startups rather than a shallow impact on many. For instance, our first PNGrowth had 186 startups. They had been selected from 600+ that applied. In the end, we concluded that we needed even better curation. So, our PNGrowth#2 had only 50 startups.

The other thing that hasn’t changed is we remain blind to whether the startup is VC funded or bootstrapped. All we are looking for are startups that have the conviction about the market/mindset-shift, the hunger to make a difference and the inner capacity to apply what you learn. We want them to be trailblazers in the ecosystem.

Supported Market/Mindset Shifts

Presently we support 10 market/mindset-shifts. These are:

  1. AI/ML Shift in SaaS – Adapt AI into your SaaS products and business models to create meaningful differentiation and compete on a global level playing field.

  2. Shift to Platform Products – Develop and leverage internal platforms to power a product bouquet. Building enterprise-grade products on a common base at fractional cost allows for a defensible strategy against market shifts or expanding market segments.

  3. Engaging Potential Strategic Partners (PSP) – PSPs are critical for scale and pitching to them is very different from pitching to customers and investors. Additionally, PSPs also offer an opportunity to co-create a growth path to future products & investments.

  4. Flow-based lending – Going after the untapped “largest lending opportunity in the world”.

  5. Bill payments – What credit and corporate cards were to West, bill payments will be to India due to Bharat Bill Pay System (BBPS).

  6. UPI 2.0 – Mass-market payments and new-age collections.

  7. Mutual Fund democratization – Build products and platforms that bring informal savings into the formal sector.

  8. From License Raj to Permissions Artefact for Drones – Platform approach to provisioning airspace from the government.

  9. Microinsurance for Bharat – Build products and platforms that reimagine Agri insurance on the back of India Stack and upcoming Digital Sky drone policy.

  10. Data Empowerment and Protection Architecture (DEPA) – with usage in financial, healthcare and telecom sectors.

This is a fluid list. There will be additions and deletions over time.

Keep in mind that we are trying to replicate for all these market/mindset-shifts what we managed to do for Desk Marketing and Selling (DMS). We focussed on DMS in early 2014 thanks to Mavens like Suresh Sambandam (KissFlow), Girish Mathrubootham (Freshworks), and Krish Subramaniam (Chargebee). Now DMS has gone mainstream and many sources of help are available to the founders.

Seeking Wave#2 Partners

The DMS success has been important for iSPIRT. It has given us the confidence that our BTRC work can meaningfully help startups navigate the market/mindset-shifts. We have also learned that the market/mindset-shift happens in two waves. Wave#1 touches a few early adopters. If one or more of them create winning implementations to become trailblazers, then the rest of the ecosystem jumps in. This is Wave#2. Majority of our startups embrace the market-shift in Wave#2.

iSPIRT’s model is geared to help only Wave#1 players. We falter when it comes to supporting Wave#2 folks. Our volunteer model works best with cutting-edge stuff and small cohorts.

Accelerators and commercial players are better positioned to serve the hundreds of startups embracing the market/mindset-shift in Wave#2. Together, Wave#1 and Wave#2, can produce great outcomes like the thriving AI ecosystem in Toronto.

To ensure that Wave#2 goes well, we have decided to include potential Wave#2 helpers (e.g., Accelerators, VCs, boutique advisory firms and other ecosystem builders) in our Wave#1 work (on a, needless to say, free basis). Some of these BTRC Scale Partners have been identified. If you see yourself as a Wave#2 helper who would like to get involved in our Wave#1 work, please reach out to us.

Best Adopters

As many of you know, iSPIRT isn’t an accelerator (like TLabs), a community (like Headstart), a coworking space (like THub) or a trade body. We are a think-and-do-tank that builds playbooks, societal platforms, policies, and markets. Market players like startups use these public goods to offer best solutions to the market.

If we are missing out on helping you, please let us know by filling out this form. You can also reach out to one of our volunteers here:

Chintan Mehta: AI shift in SaaS, Shift to Platform Products, Engaging PSPs

Praveen Hari: Flow-based lending

Jaishankar AL: Bill payments

Tanuj Bhojwani: Permissions Artefact for Drones

Nikhil Kumar: UPI2.0, MF democratization, Microinsurance for Bharat

Siddharth Shetty: Data Empowerment and Protection Architecture (DEPA)

Meghana Reddyreddy: Wave#2 Partners

We are always looking for high-quality volunteers. In case you’re interested in volunteering, please reach out to one of the existing volunteers or write to us at [email protected]

Leveraging GST data for Flow based Lending

Access to formal credit continues to be one of the largest challenges faced by MSMEs in India due to lack of verifiable data about their business.Digital payments data combined with GST data has the potential to unlock millions of SMEs & bring them into the formal system. India is going through a Cambrian explosion of data usage. It is estimated that the monthly data consumption on every smartphone in India is estimated to grow nearly five times from 3.9 GB in 2017 to 18 GB by 2023 as per a report by Swedish telecom gear maker Ericsson.

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Picture Source: Digital Desh

As businesses and their processes get digitized, it provides us a unique opportunity to re-imagine credit products for MSMEs like never before.

In order to move from traditional Asset-based lending to Data based lending it is important to make the following design considerations:

  • Underwriting based on Data – Assess creditworthiness in real time based on the consented data provided by the user
  • Low-Value – Bringing down the cost of processing a loan using digital platforms like eKYC, eSign & UPI enables one to process sachet sized loans
  • Smaller Tenures – Offer small tenures to reduce risk and thereby build better credit history of a customer
  • Customised Loan Offers – In the old world, loan products were designed to be one size fits all; With data & better underwriting, create a “loan offer on the fly” for a borrower based on his need

Getting started with GST Data Based Lending – Basics

  • Over 8M+ businesses in India will file GST returns
  • Every invoice in the GSTN system is verified by the counterparty
  • GST returns are digitally signed and this data can be accessed through consent of a small business

To access this data, you need the understand the three types of GST APIs:

  • Authentication – Allows a taxpayer to login into his GST account from any application
  • Returns – Allows a taxpayer to file his returns from any application
  • Ledger – Allows a taxpayer to view & share his tax data with any application

You can access the GSTN Sandbox & APIs here: bit.ly/GSTAPIs

If you want more insights, do join the GSTN Discussion Forum here: bit.ly/GSTgroup

The GSTN Tech Ecosystem

Goods and Service Tax Network is a section 8 company set up to provide common and shared IT infrastructure and services to the Central and State Governments, Tax Payers and other stakeholders for the implementation of the Goods & Services Tax (GST).

In this context, it is important to understand the below two roles of GSTN:

  1. Direct portal for taxpayers – https://services.gst.gov.in/services/login
  2. Expose APIs thru GSPs (GST Suvidha Provider) – http://www.gstn.org/gsp-list/

GST Introduction (1)

GST Suvidha Provider (GSP) – Companies which provide GST API Gateway as a service to application service providers; They are appointed by the GSTN and list of the GSPs can be accessed here:http://www.gstn.org/gsp-list/

ASPs – Companies which provide the user interface for business to file or fetch their returns from the GSTN

Naturally, ASPs are a great fit as distribution partners for lending as they own and control the end user experience of small businesses. Some of the examples are:

Accounting Software Providers

    • They help small business manage their accounting, inventory & even payroll;
    • They have rich data sets about the small business including their GST returns Eg: Tally (Desktop), Zoho/Cleartax/Profitbooks (Cloud-based)

Tax Filing Software Providers

    • These companies help business who use excel/manual billing/custom software to prepare their GST return & file it every month;
    • One of the key stakeholders here is the accountant who essentially is the business advisor for an SMB and tapping into them as an influencer channel is a great opportunity Eg: Cleartax, SahiGST etc.

Supply Chain Automation Companies:

    • Today many FMCGs and Large manufacturing companies are using software to track their sales/inventory in their supply chain; For e.g: Asian Paints, Tata Steel, ITC etc.
    • As these companies enable a large of wholesalers, retailers to use their software problem, there is a great opportunity to extend credit to their entire ecosystem
    • Eg: Moglix, Channel Konnekt, Bizom etc.

Example of a Lender – ASP Partnership

  • Consider a services-based company which provides advertising services to multiple companies
  • Let’s assume they use an accounting software like for example Cleartax or Zoho
  • In the software, the SMB sees a one-click credit button (This is enabled through an integration with the ASP & lender)
  • In a few clicks, the SMB is able to share multiple types of data like – GST, Payroll, Balance Sheet, Bank Statement etc. with the lender
  • With consent, the lender uses this data for underwriting, build a credit score and makes a credit offer to the SMB
  • The SMB provides his bank account details for real-time loan disbursement and based on the type of the business you can complete KYC
  • Take mandate either digitally or physically based on the customer for repayments

There are various other data sources one could use to improve the underwriting like – Smartphone, Payments Data from the Bank, Bill Payments, Electronic Toll Collection & various others. Algorithms can use these data sources along with other other public data sets like – Seasonal demand for a product, Import/Export, GDP, Consumption Patterns to do contextual lending.

We recommend you go through the presentation above to understand these basics & do watch the pre-recorded webinar session below on How to Leverage GST data for Flow-based lending for more details.

At iSPIRT, we are working with multiple stakeholders to create a winning implementation of Flow-Based Lending. Do watch out for future announcements from us for entrepreneurs working in this space or write to us [email protected] to know more.

About the Author

Nikhil Kumar is a full-time fellow with iSPIRT Foundation, a non for profit think-thank and has been focussed on building the developer ecosystem for the India Stack.

Twitter: @nikhilkumarks

The End Doesn’t Justify The Means: A Public Statement

[Given the course of events that have unfurled recently, iSPIRT created IGCC to investigate, and strengthen governance. Sharad Sharma, who has previously apologized and accepted responsibility on Twitter, has reflected further on the topic, and written this post. We are putting it out to ensure that this starts the right discussion inside iSPIRT and outside – Sanjay Jain]

There will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right. It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – Albus Dumbledore

What is IndiaStack

Over the last week, iSPIRT has asked itself fundamental questions on who we are and how we conduct ourselves. As a pro-bono partner in the development of the India Stack, this team has had the privilege of designing systems that have eventually seen adoption by the state in a quest to solve said hard problems. Our work results in technology platforms that have positively impacted the lives of hundreds of millions of Indians. However, technology is merely a tool whose potential for misuse must be checked. This demands accountability both of the tool and its makers.

No system is perfect. And when one embarks on an endeavor to build a public platform that impacts an entire nation of over a billion people, some imperfections are bound to emerge. These imperfections should rightly attract criticism and concern from civil society. It is at this point that a natural conflict develops. Between the individuals that built the system with a great degree of dedication, application, and indeed love, and the individuals that are wary of how the said system can be used against the very people it was meant to benefit.

This conflict when left to fester without a set of rules of engagement is bound to devolve into an uncivil discourse that attacks and hurts people on each side, without actually achieving the objective that both parties hold very dearly. We are blessed and privileged that we can build for and speak for millions of our countrymen. Our privilege stems from our education, our abilities, our stature, our connections, and our life’s work. And for the most part, it must be acknowledged that individuals on both sides of this divide tirelessly endeavor to leverage this privilege to better the lives of those less fortunate among us. We build and speak, for our people. And so it is our responsibility that we conduct ourselves with dignity, grace, and generosity of spirit, while fiercely battling on the right path to that better future.

And on that count, I as one of the builders have stumbled. I condoned uncivil behavior by some anonymous handles over a period of ten days. I have owned up to this transgression. It was investigated internally by the iSPIRT Governing Council: Sudham as a team stands dissolved, and I will no longer be communicating on behalf of iSPIRT externally for 4 months.

I am clear the end cannot, and should not justify the means. But the larger lesson here is that we must develop systems and processes internally, and a framework and principles within which we will operate.

In the process of building, there is a set of factors that influence policy making. And this pie chart is an indicative representation of these factors.

IndiaStack2

Facts on the ground: Half of policy making is the policy itself and the data points in reality that led to it. It comprises of everything from the problems the policy endeavours to address, the people who are victims of these problems, previous attempts to solve them, and the data that can back up this approach. It was traditionally a major chunk of all that was needed to make a policy, particularly in a highly centralized society where a chosen few had the privilege and the power to craft and enforce said policies.

Mainstream media was the other major pillar of policy making. By serving as the primary medium of crafting public perception of millions, a chosen few reporters and their editors had the privilege of being the exclusive custodians of the court of public opinion. If you wanted to get the word out and have the people be on your side, these were the people you’d turn to.

The most significant shift in policy making in decades is the rise of social media. The emergence of platforms where individuals could transform into influencers by consistently generating unfiltered content is shifting the balance of power in the perception game. An ever increasing audience of online content consumers now turn to these platforms for their news and information. So much so that it has become a primary source of news for these early adopters.

A simplistic but useful rubric to describe the nature of discourse on social media is to classify into two categories, namely civil and uncivil. Civil discourse is exactly what is sounds like, a respectful engagement, where all parties concerned conduct themselves with a degree of basic human decency. And while the conversation may be informed, or not, backed by facts or utterly fabricated, the debate never descends below a certain level of decorum. In such discourse, there is always room for one to see the reasoning of the other side. It leaves space for empathy. And empathy is the foundation of collaboration. Both parties in such conversations can at times work together once it’s made clear that their objectives are aligned.

On the other hand, there is another side to the conversation on social media. Specifically, the kind that tends to unravel on Twitter. Uncivil discourse is marked by abuse and trolling — where one willfully sows discord and makes inflammatory, extraneous, often untruthful remarks about a topic or an individual with the express purpose of upsetting the target to evoke an emotional response. Such conversations often find themselves unfolding through anonymous handles that can employ such tactics without fear of retribution. Such behavior is malicious and dishonorable, and in the long run saps the soul of the perpetrators themselves, while simultaneously hurting the targets. It is the lowest form of engagement that leaves both parties poorer for it.

Having danced with such tactics myself for ten days in May, I can say with certainty that it is conduct unbecoming of our prior actions and accomplishments. Put it simply, I have learnt my lesson. One that should have been painfully clear to begin with. Such behavior — uncivil comments made while hiding behind anonymity — is loathsome and abhorrent. And I will never engage in or condone such methods ever again.

That brings me to the question, how does one stand up for what one has built, and the cause of inclusion that it aims to serve, while accommodating the concerns of its detractors? To answer this, here is a set of potential principles.

  • True North: If one truly believes their work to be the right thing, it must be showcased in both the intent of how one chooses to engage with critics, and in the stories of impact that showcase how what’s built has actually improved the lives of the people it aims to serve. By making the citizen our north star, and having their best interest guide our actions, we can at the very least be assured of having done the right thing. Regardless of what slings and arrows one takes in the process.
  • Empathy: To truly believe deeply in our hearts that even our harshest critics come from a place of wanting to protect the citizen and to make an effort to understand why they have framed their criticism in that manner
  • Openness: Our policies must be made visible to the community at large through various stages of evolution through discussion papers and roundtables
  • Fervor to educate: A gospel that isn’t sung is never heard. We will work hard to showcase the positive impact of our work and spread the message far and wide.
  • Commitment to civility: No trolling, no anonymity, no abuse. Ever.

Given the course of events that have unfurled recently, I accept the IGCC decisions, and reaffirm my commitment to the iSPIRT mission and values, and to help it emerge as a better organization. This will be my last public post for some time. I look forward to accomplishing our goals (the End) through Means that we can all be proud of.

What the U.S. can learn from India’s move toward a cashless society

Looking from Silicon Valley upon the progress that India has made in building a digital infrastructure, I am in awe.  The U.S. tech industry fancies itself as the global leader in innovation, yet India has leapt far ahead of it.  Silicon Valley’s tech investors hype complex technologies such as Bitcoin and blockchain.  But India, with simple and practical innovations and massive grunt work, has built a digital infrastructure that will soon process billions more transactions than these do.

India is about to skip two generations of financial technologies and build something as monumental as China’s Great Wall and America’s interstate highways.

Though few people in the West know of Aadhar, it has been the largest and most successful I.T. project in the world.  There was widespread skepticism that a billion people could be provided with a verifiable digital identity, yet it has occurred, in a short six years.  Hundreds of millions of people who were doomed to live in the shadows of the informal economy can now participate as equals in the global economy.  Thanks to Jan Dhan Yojana, they also have bank accounts; these already haveRs. 69000 crores in deposits.

The reason investors are pouring billions of dollars into technologies such as Bitcoin is that they provide a secure way of linking a person to and recording a transaction.  But Bitcoin requires massive, wasteful, computing resources to do what is called mining: transactions’ mathematical verification.  And this complex computing infrastructure needs constantly improvement as it hits transaction limits.

The simple design of India’s digital payments infrastructure, Unified Payments Interface (UPI), allows banks to transfer money directly to each other based on an Aadhar number or mobile-phone number plus pin.  Yes, this doesn’t have the anonymity of Bitcoin, but I would argue that anonymity is mainly for money laundering and tax evasion—which need to be eliminated.  There is almost no overhead in UPI, and transactions happen within seconds rather than the 10 minutes that Bitcoin takes.

In the U.S., we pay an indirect tax of 2–3% on consumer transactions because of the use of credit cards.  Companies such as Visa, Mastercard, and American Express don’t even manage the money or provide banking services; all they do is to act as an intermediary between banks.  The merchant has the responsibility of verifying the identity of a customer.  With UPI, India doesn’t need credit cards or middlemen, it can build the next generation of finance.

The instant and non-repudiable proof of identity that Aadhaar’s know your customer technology, e-KYC, provides, gives India a big advantage. Most people in the U.S. have drivers licenses and social security numbers. But these are not verifiable with biometrics or mobile numbers, so complex verification technologies need to be built into every financial system.  Indian entrepreneurs building applications don’t need to worry about all this.

Going beyond money, India Stack provides a digital locker through which to store and share personal data such as addresses, medical records, and employment records.  With this, the government is providing a public service that is the digital equivalent of roads and electricity.  I don’t know of any other country that has anything comparable; India will soon have the digital equivalent of super-highways.

There are all sorts of benefits.  For example, the opening of a mobile-phone account is a lengthy process everywhere, because telecom carriers must verify the user’s identity and credit history.  With India Stack, all it requires is a thumbprint or retina scan and permission to share digital documents.  The typical villager presently has no chance of getting a small-business loan, because he or she does not have a credit history or verifiable credentials.  With India Stack, he or she can share digital copies of bank statements and utility-bill payments, and life-insurance policies and loans can receive instantaneous approval.

Nandan Nilekeni is right when he says that these advances “represent the biggest advance globally in public digital infrastructure since the Internet and GPS”.  In an email to me, he predicted that they will “lead to a leapfrogging on many fronts, including a digital financial platform for a billion people which does not require cards, POS machines or ATMs but will be entirely driven by what is in your hand—your finger and your phone”.

Prime Minister Modi has taken a lot of fire for demonetization.  This is understandable, given the hardships and the disruption to the economy that it created.  But it was a bold move and one that will produce tremendous long-term benefit—because it will accelerate the push to digital currency.  India has the opportunity to enter an age of transparency and be at the forefront of digital technologies.

Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said in Davos that the U.S. should follow Modi’s lead in phasing out currency and moving toward a digital economy, because it would have “benefits that outweigh the cost”.  Speaking of the inequity and corruption that is becoming an issue in the U.S. and all over the world, he said “I believe very strongly that countries like the United States could and should move to a digital currency so that you would have the ability to trace this kind of corruption”.

Yes, India is ahead and America can learn from it.

Guest post by Prof. Vivek Wadhwa, Distinguished Fellow, Carnegie Mellon University Engineering at Silicon Valley. Former entrepreneur. Syndicated columnist for Washington Post.


Disruption of Chit Funds and the Role of the India Stack.

Disruption of Chit Funds and the Role of the India Stack

Chit Funds are indigenous financial institutions in India. It is a mechanism that combines credit and savings in a single scheme. In a chit fund scheme, a group of individuals come together for a predetermined time period and contribute to a common pool at regular intervals. Every month, up until the end of the tenure of the scheme, the collected pool of money is loaned out internally through a bidding mechanism to the most deserving member. This way, people who are in need of funds and those who want to save are able to meet their requirements. Similar schemes have been known to be popular across the developing world, generally referred to as Rotating Saving and Credit Associations (ROSCA)

An interesting aspect of Chit Funds in India is that the industry is highly regulated and institutionalized. A Chit Fund can be either “registered” or “unregistered”. Registered Chit funds are organized by Chit Fund firms/companies and regulated by the Chit Fund Act. They are in essence impersonal contracts that depend on market forces. Unregistered Chit Funds which exceed Rs. 100 ($2) in chit value are illegal in India, although it is widely known that the unregistered Chit Funds industry is still very popular.

While no official or government estimates of the industry exist, The All India Chit Fund Association estimates that “the size of industry is Rs 35,000 crore, with the unregistered part estimated to be at least 100 times the registered one

Value to the consumer

Prof Mary Kay Gugerty, in her paper, “You Can’t Save Alone: Commitment in Rotating Savings and Credit Associations in Kenya” argues that, “saving requires self-discipline, and ROSCAS provide a collective mechanism for individual self-control in the presence of time-inconsistent preferences and in the absence of alternative commitment technologies”

This conclusion, although based in data from Kenya, is also supported by the data collected in India, which suggests that 72.1% of consumers participate in chit funds(Estimate of Chit Fund Industry size) to save.  While 95% of these consumers have bank accounts(Reason for Chit participation : Table 3-7), they still prefer chit funds as a saving mechanism due to higher perceived returns, paperless documentation(Banking Details : Table 3-4), familiarity and doorstep service.

While the actual rate of returns (for savers) and cost of borrowing are highly variable based on a given fund, on average(Reason for participating in Chit Funds : Table 3-11) 6%-42% per annum(Rate of return calculated based on the cost of borrowing, assuming 5% commision, 10 people, Rs 10,000 chit fund and 1 borrower plus 9 savers. Cost of borrowing from Table 5-4 Outside Options – Interest Rates for Loans,)

Housewives and Small business owners are the two most prominent cohorts within the chit fund users(Figure 3-1  Frequency of Occupation based on Gender). Daily chits are popular with small business owners, presumably because it allows them to manage their daily cash flow and allows control over their interest rate when the need for a loan arises(Section 9, Chit funds and Small Business, Para 3).

The chit funds are also perceived to be liquid, Most consumers bid to get the pot when they had an emergency need or when an lucrative business investment came about(Reason for participating in Chit Funds : Table 3-11).

Finally 96% of chit members overall think that the Chit Funds they participate in are safe and about 85% of these chit members are loyal to fund company they are participating in.

Legal framework for Chit Funds

The Government of India passed the Chit Fund Act in 1982, with implementation of the Act left to the Registrar of Chit Funds in each state. This Act, it is relevant to note, contains many restrictions like a minimum Capital requirement (Section 8), prohibition of transacting business other than Chit Business (Section 12), a ceiling on the aggregate chit amount which is 10 times of the net-owned funds (Section 13), Utilization of funds (Section 14), security to be given for full value of chit (Section 20), a self-contained machinery for settlement of disputes etc and a number of penal provision for various defaults(All India Chit Funds Association submission to parliamentary committee), etc.. Notably there are stringent requirements on written formalities like notice to the customer, minutes of the meeting, record keeping and audit by certified chartered accountant(6(1), 15, 35, 40-Chit Agreement, 22(2)- Intimation to Registrar of deposits, 26(1), 34(1) Withdrawal of foreman 28(1) Removal of defaulting subscribers 33(1) Demand note 38(1) Minutes of the meeting).

The regulatory hurdles that the chit companies face due to the stringent rules proposed by the Government progressively, have been a setback to the growth of the industry. The effect of the increased costs of operations for the registered chit companies has been to push these companies ’underground’. Many companies have, in the recent past, either folded up or shifted their operations entirely to the informal arena becoming an ’unregistered’ chit fund(Chit Funds Boon to Small Enterprise).

Economics of running a Chit Fund

Apart from the capital and compliance requirements highlighted above, the key risk of running a chit fund is default. The default rates in the chit industry hover around a meager 1-2%. This is because the chit members are, in most cases, personally known to the chit managers(Section 5, Defaults How are they handled ? – Chit Funds Boon to Small Enterprises). Also,  Defaulters are sanctioned socially as well as being prevented from any further participation(Page 794, Paragraph 2, Economics of Rotating Saving and Credit Associations).

The key source of revenue for a Chit fund manager is commission which is capped at 5%. Alternatively the chit fund managers take the first installment in full. The chit manager can also generate revenue from float interest charges i.e. by disbursing the loan a month after the money is collected, he can earn the interest on the full amount(Section 7 : Sources of Income to the Chit Manager

Role of the India Stack

With the size and scope of the chit fund industry, as outlined above, it is clear that there is a large addressable market for innovators. What makes this opportunity more lucrative is the presence of India Stack. India Stack is set of technologies (primarily Aadhaar authentication, e-KYC, e-Sign, Digital locker and UPI) that together dramatically reduce the cost of transactions. For example, an analysis on the Mutual funds business indicated that by use of India stack, the  average transaction cost would drop from Rs 50 to Rs 2, making it viable for Mutual funds to go after the small ticket business.

Opportunities for Start Ups

Given the background above, following is the most promising opportunity for startups:

Organize the unregistered chit fund companies

  1. Hypothesis: With the recent crackdown on black money and tax evasion, it will become more difficult to run unregistered chit funds circumventing the law. This will give the unregistered chit funds incentive to become registered and follow the law
  2. Product: An easy platform that allows management of chit funds through mobile phone app/apps and make it compliant with the law
  3. Key Customers :  Unregistered chit funds
  4. Key Stakeholders : State Government, Unregistered Chit Funds, Users of chit funds
  5. Key activities:
    1. Build technology based on India Stack to meet KYC requirements, sign chit agreements using e-sign, transfer money between people using UPI and keep an account.
    2. Strong sales network to bring the chit funds onboard
    3. Product and legal expertise to liaison with the state governments and registered chit funds to build products that meets all requirements
  6. Need for funding:
    1. Initial product could be built with a relatively small investment
    2. Scaling with scale will likely need venture investments (but no access to large capital should be needed)
  7. Revenue generating activity:
    1. Pay per instance or per user from the funds
    2. Lead generation for Chartered Accountants
    3. Aggregate data reports could be sold
    4. Could also build a government facing interface for monitoring
  8. Competitive Advantage:
    1. No real competition at this point
    2. Network effects could become significant advantage
    3. Implicit or explicit endorsement from Government agencies
  9. Key Risks:
    1. Product adoption risk: The success of the idea is hinged on pressure from government creating the need, which drives adoption. In the absence which it will be significantly harder to move people from the familiar. The risk is somewhat contained because of a supreme court order directing government to act on this.
    2. Regulation risk: A parliamentary committee has recommended that the government revise the regulation. This means that government could do away with a number of provisions, making compliance much easier of chit funds thus eliminating the need for such a company. Again this is low likelihood event given the scrutiny on this sector
    3. Reputation risk: The company will have to be careful not to associate with chit funds with malicious intents. Being associated could result in penalties and damage to reputation.

Guest Post by Kunal Kashyap, IIT KGP graduate, Spent 8 years at Capital One, a US based Fortune 100 Fintech company. Volunteer for iSPIRT.  

A Leapfrog moment for Indian Banking

At iSPIRT, our belief is that banking will change more in the next five years than it has in the last 50 years. For a variety of reasons, the changes happening in India will follow a path that is very different from other countries. Indian Banks therefore have two choices: Create a new playbook to deal with these changes, or stick to the old rulebook and risk being disrupted.

In mid-2015, Nandan Nilekani gave a talk titled, The Whatsapp Moment in Banking that went viral within banking circles. The analogy was derived from the manner in which the sharp growth of Whatsapp had hit the SMS revenues of the global telecom industry. SMS used to account for 10-15 percent of the global telco industry revenues but Whatsapp, a company that had a mere 40 people in 2009 easily eclipsed them with a traffic of 30 billion messages per day. As against this, all the incumbent telcos of the world put together accounted for just 20 million messages per day! Similarly, a growing confluence of technologies would allow new age banks to handle millions of customers at a very low cost, without costly branches and expensive technologies; and with a minimum staff strength.

Responding to this challenge, Mrs. Arundhati Bhattacharya, the Chairman of the State Bank of India, India’s largest bank, brought a team of more than 30 senior leaders from SBI to Bangalore for a half-day session on how banking is being transformed in July 2015. This session became the forerunner for a forum called the FinTech Leapfrog Council (FTLC) that iSPIRT set up to help incumbent banks navigate the disruptive changes facing them.

001For incumbent banks to transform themselves is a truly difficult challenge, but given that these banks cumulatively account for more than 30 percent of the Indian banking sector, their transformation is of national importance. In the first phase of FTLC, four banks — SBI, Bank of Baroda, Axis Bank and IDFC Bank — were invited to join FTLC, and all four of them accepted. FTLC then helped the banks through quarterly workshops that consisted of deep-dives focused on disruptions in areas like alternative lending, payments and analytics; and emerging technologies like the Unified Payment Interface, and the IndiaStack, which enables cashless, presenceless and paperless transactions with a consent layer on top. Some of the industry leaders who spoke at FTLC workshops, which attracts the CEOs and top management of the four banks are:

  • Shamir Karkal, Head of Open APIs at BBVA Bank, Spain, and co-founder of Simple Bank
  • S Ramakrishnan, former Chief Data Officer of Citibank
  • Prof. Saras Sarasvathy of the Darden School of Business
  • Nandan Nilekani
  • Sharad Sharma, co-founder of iSPIRT
  • Sanjay Swamy, Managing Partner of Prime Ventures.

While everyone agrees that what a bank looks like 5-10 years from now would be radically different, no one can predict exactly what the bank of the future will look like. In this situation, banks face one of the most disconcerting forms of change that we call non-linear change. In the FTLC taxonomy, there are three kinds of change:

  1. Incremental change focussed on process improvement — for example, approving a loan in five days as opposed to seven days
  2. Disruptive change which is very painful, but where the end state is well known. Several MNC IT services companies faced this, when they recognized that they had to embrace the Global Delivery Model perfected by Indian services companies. In the last few years, many of these MNCs turned around their business models and reached a point where most of their employees are in India. The change was painful, but they had a sense of where they were and where they need to be.
  3. Non-Linear Change, where the end state is difficult to predict. In the telecom industry, who would have predicted that Whatsapp would carry 30 billion messages a day? In the transport industry, who would have predicted that Uber, a company founded in March 2009, would be valued at $62.5 billion in June 2015?

To navigate the Non Linear Change, iSPIRT helped the FTLC banks embrace Non Predictive Control (NPC), a method researched by Prof. Saras Sarasvathy of the Darden School of Business. While strategic planning helps organizations in situations where the future is predictable, NPC helps banks in situations where the future is unpredictable. For instance, its is clear that a large expansion will take place in non­-collateralized debt to the under­banked, but it is impossible to know what this alternative lending system will exactly look like. Hence, it’s imperative that banks bet on several competing scenarios, monitor progress on all of them, and then retire or double down on each bet. iSPIRT curated a set of startups in Alternative Lending and Payments, and set up several pilots with the FTLC banks, to help them master the NPC methodology.

For Indian banks, another development, unique to our country, is the emergence of the IndiaStack, a powerful set of Open APIs to enable cashless, presence less and paperless transactions with a consent layer that empowers users with control over their data. iSPIRT has been closely involved in the development of the IndiaStack, which rides on top of the JAM trinity consisting of JanDhan bank accounts, Aadhaar biometric identification and Mobilephones.

The Government promoting financial inclusion through Jhan Dhan Yojana, has led to over 263 million new bank accounts being opened. With RBI giving licences to over 20 new banks, including small banks and payment banks, the competitive intensity of the sector is set to increase. Over 1 billion Indian residents now have Aadhaar, an online biometric identity, and smartphones are expected to reach a penetration of 700 million by 2020. One can visualise a future where every adult Indian has an Aadhaar number, a smartphone and a bank account. Already over 367 million Indian residents have an Aadhaar linked bank account and more than 1 billion DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) transactions have happened, whose value is in the billions of dollars. Those banks that leverage the JAM trinity and the India Stack will be able to reach out to a vast new set of customers, at a dramatically lower cost. For example, it is estimated that the cost of complying with the mandatory Know Your Customer (KYC) norms can be brought down from Rs 1,000 to Rs 5, by using the IndiaStack. This alone can enable the process of financial inclusion for millions of Indians.

Industry experts, like Bill Gates, and many others who have been following these developments, feel that India is set to leapfrog the rest of the world in financial inclusion. The FTLC program combines global best practices with a home-grown, world-class architecture for financial inclusion, and helps incumbent Indian banks create a “leapfrog roadmap” for their organizations.

Payments 4G (aka UPI) The Best is Yet to Come!

Last week was a landmark week for all Indians and by sheer coincidence; the country witnessed the launch of two generational shifts. The one that has everyone excited is Jio, a pure, data-only high-speed mobile network.

The other that perhaps will have equal transformational impact is its peer in the world of digital payments, the Unified Payment Interface (UPI). As soon as I had my first experience with UPI, I realized that its impact has barely been appreciated by most, including me.

Why Payments 4G?

Similar to data networks in telecom, which were built on top of the existing voice/SMS infrastructure, most innovations in Payments are layered on Card platform, a solution conceived in the 70’s. Almost all large-scale payment systems today run on the rails of card-based systems, operated globally by Visa, MasterCard, AmericanExpress and adapted in other regions by companies like UnionPay in China and RuPay in India. While innovators like PayPal, Venmo and Paytm in India have attempted to create close-loop systems, some with more success than others, the interface to the external ecosystem was still mostly card-based.

With UPI, the payment rails have been rethought and built from scratch, a de-novo system that was conceived in the year 2015 and implemented within 12 months. From the ground up the system is built with the idea of SmartPhones and Mobile Internet and like all things in Digital India, ZERO Vendor Lock-in.

A few key capabilities in the UPI architecture are fundamental game changers:

1)   Real-time, inter-bank authorization and settlement from one bank account to another: It sure is fascinating to see a live transaction with someone who receives a notification and can do a balance refresh to see their balance updated instantaneously using ANY application!

2)   SMTP for Payments: Just as you can use any email client (e.g. Outlook, Gmail to access any email account), UPI has decoupled the payment instrument (application) and store of funds (bank account). During the first week of its launch, two of my colleagues showed me a demo of transferring money between each other’s accounts with the same bank and neither of them was using that bank’s mobile application.

3)   Support for all types of payments: It can be anything from one-time, recurring, pull, push, pre-authorized, on-us, off-us, etc. The flexibility in the platform that is exposed to the banking ecosystem as an API is immense.

4)   A concept of Virtual Payment Address (a la email) that enables privacy and security and in effect as much of anonymity with auditability and traceability.

India has largely been a cash economy. For digital payments to takeoff, it is important to be able to bring as many of the real attributes of cash as possible, notably in Real-Time, with 100% value and allowing anonymity between payer and payee. Additionally, digital transactions have the benefit of auditability and traceability, both of which are important in the case of dispute resolution.

For once we have a payment system that is built on a whole new rails and I believe its impact will be nothing short of revolutionary. Coupled with the Smart-Phone and Mobile Internet penetration and an aggressive business model, there are five areas that will be impacted significantly.

1.    P2P – P2P is set for lift-off!

a.   Until now P2P payments in India have been largely done in a batch manner using NEFT or RTGS platforms and even with the launch of IMPS (the underlying foundation of UPI), few had used the slightly clunky interface. With virtual addresses, it becomes easy to send money to someone or send a collect request too. This means Social Payments, Bill Splitting, Gifting and other such use cases will come to the fore.

b.   Additionally two fundamental changes are likely to happen

i.    Informal sector merchants will be happy to accept payments into their bank accounts because they are real-time and zero charge – which can be a great way to get them into the system. Of course once they recognize the value of being in the formal sector, they may have to pay a fee – or alternately a bank may leverage the data for services like loans etc. and keep the payment transactions free.

ii.    Everyone automatically becomes an ATM machine , which in essence can be a catalyst for digital transactions. A large part of the population keeps cash because they may not have access to an ATM, but knowing that an ATM is always around the corner will give people the confidence to keep their money digital. One company has built an app to do just this and could be an exciting one to watch.

2.    Acceptance – from Rates to ROI/Impact will drive decisions

In the enterprise and mid-market sectors, the previous generation of payments innovation, notably SmartPhone-based Mobile POS solutions that have enabled businesses like insurance companies, e-commerce companies, utilities, police departments, and several others to enable digital payments – although on the same rails as the card system. These initial forays have proven the improvement in agent efficiency and productivity, often an increase of up to 10%.

With UPI, the stage is set for SmartPhone/POS to go mainstream and for payments to be integrated into business workflows. Businesses will hence make buying decisions not based on Merchant Discount Rates but more by choice of applications, availability of SDK’s, breadth of payment offerings and by trying to quantify ROI and productivity gains. We expect such sales processes to no longer be driven by banks but done more in partnership with Application or Flexible Payment platform providers.

3. Consumers – Win with rich choice of front-end applications

Until now, consumers could only transact with a card issued by their bank (credit/debit/prepaid) or the mobile banking app of their bank. With the 4-party model of UPI, consumers can use any UPI-certified app to transact via their SmartPhone. This is a breakthrough in that consumers will be spoilt for choice and can pick the best app. While the initial restriction is that a bank must develop such apps, there are some examples of banks allowing third parties to build differentiated experiences. Over time it is clear that there will be an abundant supply of apps and consumers can use any app they like. While this might seem like banks are giving up control but in reality banks that develop a partner-ecosystem can benefit the most by getting visibility into transactions with customers who may not even be banking with them. It’s surely a shift from the banks’ perspective but a big opportunity nonetheless.

4. Convergence – Online & Offline

Historically in Card-based systems, there was a lot of importance given to Card Present vs. Card Not Present . However as we move to a “Phone-present” world, there is fundamentally no difference between a face-to-face transaction and a remote transaction. We are already seeing use-cases like Uber where the service is delivered in a face-to-face manner but the payments are processed in an online manner. We expect more and more of this to happen and business wise the system should start treating all payments the same. I expect to see one simple business model for payments in the near-term.

5. New Metrics – Mining the digital exhaust

Business Metrics will change – from Stores to Flows!

The most fundamental thing that will change with UPI is the business metrics. In the past for banks, CASA (Current Account Savings Account) count and balances were always the primary metrics that were tracked, along with Merchant Discount Rates and transaction fees. However in the UPI-enabled world and the four-party architecture, it is clear that the most important isn’t just to be the store of funds, but to be in the flow of the transaction. As such banks will need to start tracking the use of mobile apps by them or partners, use of such apps by existing customers and customers of competitors as well as the use of competing apps by their customers. With switching costs now becoming close to zero, banks that encourage the creation of an ecosystem and giving the maximum choice to their customers are likely to emerge as winners. Mining the digital exhaust will be key for banks to make the most of UPI.

While exciting, it’s still early days in India. UPI has barely gone live in the past one-week, and already we’re seeing some dramatic impact it is having on the system. The next few months and years promise to be truly exciting for the Indian consumer, retail or corporate, as well as the banking sector which stands to gain a great deal from this innovative approach to payments. Indeed the real-time architecture of UPI will truly make it the envy of many a payment regulator and industry expert around the world.

Watch this space, the best is yet to come – but one thing is for sure – UPI will usher in a disruptive step-function in the growth of digital payments in India. There is no precedent from developed economies – India is blazing a new trail and writing the new chapter in the world of Real-Time Payments!

PS: All images are courtesy iSPIRT

Guest Post by Sanjay Swamy, Entrepreneur & Early-Stage VC! IndiaStack Evangelist. Reblogged from here

Instant, Automated, Remote: An Introduction to Digital Credit

There is today in many countries a proliferation of new digital credit services. These have been especially prominent in mobile money markets in sub Saharan Africa. The poster child has been M-Shwari out of Kenya; though there are a burgeoning array of new varied services in many places. The signals of deep interest from India are strong and India Stack may well position this market for an exciting ride.

At CGAP we have come to use the term “Digital Credit” to describe this new kind of service; though there may well be other terms. We hold that digital credit has three attributes that distinguish it from conventional credit:

  1. instant – decisions and transactions happen fast from application to disbursement to collections
  2. automated – while lending decisions are carefully calibrated each individual decision happens within a decision tree framework along a set of (evolving) algorithms, and
  3. remote – the services are delivered without relying on in-person interactions.

As we have examined nearly a dozen digital credit deployments in the past year, we saw many exciting innovations but also many early stumbles. To help new entrants get up the learning curve faster we developed, delivered and tested a set of training materials. These materials have been refined thorugh more than half a dozen deliveries with a wide array of banks, fintech firms, analytics firms and mobile money operators. We have put these materials together into An Introduction to Digital Credit. .

The introductory course is available for wide public dissemination and use. We built it around five main sections:

  1. An introductory session describes what digital credit is and distinguishes between two key models. One is new products – like M-Shwari – that are direct to individuals. As contrasted with new digital credit services that are delivered via a merchant or value chain aggregator. These two approaches entail quite different risks and business models.
  2. A second sections covers credit scoring and uses of new alternative data, such as mobile phone call records, are often part of the new innovation in digital credit. There is an introductory session for those new to credit scoring that describes how scoring is developed, how to tell if scorecards work, and an introduction to various kinds of data for scorecard building.
  3. A third section covers some of the product and service design considerations. This includes product details such as tenor, loan size, and initial pricing. There is in particular some very early research on consumer protection concepts pioneered by CGAP – a particularly important issue where given how fast digital credit can be delivered.
  4. A fourth section covers some of the financial considerations. While digital credit can be extremely low on branch and staff costs, often requiring no physical infrastructure to reach clients, it still incurs other costs. This section details a basic financial model for how digital credit business models can be built and highlights some of the unique financial dynamics.
  5. The final section is on partnerships. This is often the biggest source of failure is around partnership and blockage to experimentation. This concluding section on partnership highlights critical roles and provides a basic tool for how interested parties can consider and build out potential partnerships.

Whether you are already operating a digital credit service or planning to do one, the course aims to provide a structured high level view based on real deployments. It is a starting place to benefit from others that have tested and tried the idea.

At CGAP, we are excited about the potential of digital credit to expand access and also realistic about what more we need to do to make lending responsible amid the speed new technology. India’s fast moving changes in digital finance will provide a new array of opportunities and we can’t wait to watch and learn from what happens next.

Guest post by Gregory Chen, Regional Lead for Asia at CGAP, a resource center on financial inclusion housed at the World Bank.

India’s reverse Brexit: Passing the GST Bill will create millions of formal sector jobs

Imagine a warehouse of more than one crore square feet in Central India – around five times the size of the largest football stadium in the world. It would have an eight lane highway that is connected to all four corners of the country on one side. It would have one of India’s largest railway container terminals for handling enormous goods trains on another side. It would have an all-cargo airport terminal operated by a partner on another side. And on the fourth side would be a cluster of manufacturers supplying the warehouse in real time based on big data analytics of national demand and inventory for their products.

This warehouse is not even on the radar today but can become a reality with the GST Bill. Passing the GST Bill – India’s reverse Brexit moment that will end state-by-state rules and create a national market for goods to be supplied from anywhere to anywhere – will create millions of formal jobs.

Currently, supply chains for e-commerce companies are not optimised but distorted by regulatory cholesterol that prevents us from offering customers the lowest cost or fastest delivery. We are unable to supply goods worth more than Rs 5,000 to UP because our customers have to go to a tax office and complete paperwork. We are unable to keep goods from our 90,000 suppliers in our warehouses across Karnataka due to double taxation. We often face confiscation of goods and cash in Kerala because of their approach to tax domicile, which conflicts with supplying states.

With GST, all of this will be history.

A seamless national supply chain that is agnostic to supply or demand destination is urgent, important and overdue for three reasons. First, it is India’s development trajectory to reduce poverty. Second, it will improve enterprise productivity. Finally, it is about empowering consumers and producers.

Let’s look at each of them in more detail.

We need to evolve very differently from China as we do not have the same global manufacturing and trade opportunity China had in 1978. Plus, democracy imposed some very desirable but real fixed costs on infrastructure building and growth. Harvard professor Ricardo Hausmann suggests that the best predictor of sustained prosperity is “economic complexity” and India’s economically complex economy is a great opening balance for building on domestic consumption growth to reduce poverty. Essentially, instead of the traditional formula of large manufacturing, exports and large enterprises, i think India’s destiny lies in services, domestic consumption and small and medium enterprises.

The second point of enterprise productivity is important because poverty can be eliminated by improving productivity. We are thinking hard about individual productivity like skills and education, but we must recognise that India’s problem is not jobs but wages. Our official unemployment rate of 4.2% is not fudged. Everybody who wants a job has one, just not at the wages they want. India’s enterprise stack is largely informal, unproductive and built on self-exploitation. Of our 63 million enterprises 12 million don’t have an office, 12 million work from home, only 8.5 million pay taxes, only 1.5 million pay social security, and most tragically, only 18,000 have a paid-up capital of more than Rs 10 crore.

Drying this swamp is key. The US economy is nine times our size but only has 22 million enterprises. Ninety per cent of India works informally (this is the same number as 1991 and means that 100% of net jobs in the last 20 years have been created in informal enterprises). Many factors go into enterprise productivity but the main one is market access: connecting with buyers.

The final point is about consumer and producer empowerment. The majority of India’s 600-million-strong transacting consumers do not have access to quality products at affordable rates. Similarly, lakhs of producers are denied market access. Because of geographical constraints and artificial restrictions placed by the current tax regime, quality products are expensive and affordable products suffer from poor quality.

Here technology can come to the rescue post-GST. The ‘India stack’ framework for transactions (paperless, presenceless and cashless) is being first applied magnificently to finance but has huge implications for production and consumption once GST is passed. An unintended consequence of implementing the India stack across supply chains will be big data analytics for government that will not only improve compliance but greatly expand formal economic activity and create a virtuous cycle for credit, employment and wage rises.

One of the most remarkable books about India is The Integration of Indian States by V P Menon. It describes wonderfully how the 562 maharajas that administered more than 40% of India’s land and 25% of our population in 1947 were brought into the Indian state by 1951 in a project led by Sardar Patel, which secured the political unity of India. Passing GST will have similar impact on our economic unity. It will be a gift to first-generation entrepreneurs who don’t have connections or money but just the courage of their hearts, the sweat of their brow and the strength of their back.

Coming soon after Brexit – the UK’s economically baffling decision to leave the European Union – passing GST would also signal to the world that India’s economic ambitions have new rocket fuel. India’s regulatory cholesterol has been hostile to small entrepreneurs. GST rights that wrong and makes a new appointment with India’s missed tryst with destiny. This is one that she must keep.

Guest Post by Sachin Bansal, Co-founder & Executive Chairman of Flipkart

Bill Gates meets with iSPIRT

Bill Gates met with members of iSPIRT in Bangalore in December to learn about the organization and its volunteers’ efforts to solve India’s hardest problems through the use of technology.  Nandan Nilekani played host to the event and also present in the room were Sharad Sharma (iSPIRT co-founder), Nachiket More (former Board member of RBI, now senior advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)), and various senior members of BMGF.

Bill-Gates1There were three broad themes that were covered — finance, healthcare and education — each of which forms an important part of the Gates Foundation’s work in philanthropy. Product demos included the IndiaStack, a suite of technology services currently being developed around identity, payments and personal data management for all Indian citizens; three of the leading startups in the healthcare space — Practo, Logistimo, and Swasthya Slate; and EkStep, an education-focused nonprofit that focuses on facilitated learning.

Shashank presenting to BillBill Gates observed that India is producing cutting-edge work and there are few countries which can boast of a digital infrastructure as sophisticated as we are producing here. With such positive encouragement from one of the most accomplished individuals in the world, the vision of transforming India at large through application of technology has received a new impetus.

the panel with BillGuest Post by Saurabh Panjwani, iSPIRT

India Stack takes the Digital India campaign to a whole new level

India is the third largest smartphone and mobile internet user market in the world with over 200 million internet users in 2013. The figures are expected to touch a staggering 500 million users by 2017, including 314 million mobile internet users according to a report by IAMAI and KPMG. Clearly, mobile phones are the ‘computing device of choice’ for the country. To keep up the momentum, the Government of India is keen on developing the digital infrastructure of the country under the Digital India program.

Digital India is a revolutionary program that will empower the masses and leapfrog India into the next generation of government services. Fortunately, the lower level of investment in earlier generation technology means India has skipped the legacy era and waited for the right technology to arrive at its doorstep. To kick-start and empower the Digital India program in a very democratized form and involve the great innovation talent of the nation, the Government of India has launched an open API policy. An open API, often referred to as a public API, is a publicly available Application Programming Interface (API) that provides programmers with programmatic access to a propriety software application. This set of open API is known as the India Stack and these would enable the ease in integration of mobile applications with the data securely stored and provided by the government to authenticated Apps.

India Stack is a complete set of API for developers and includes the Aadhaar for Authentication (Aadhaar already covers over 940 million people and will quickly cover the population of the entire nation), e-KYC documents (safe deposit locker for issue, storage and use of documents), e-Sign (digital signature acceptable under the laws), unified payment interface (for financial transactions) and privacy-protected data sharing within the stack of API. Together, the India Stack enables Apps that could open up many opportunities in financial services, healthcare and education sectors of the Indian economy. What this essentially means is that developers and tech startups can now build software and create businesses around the readily available infrastructure offered through India Stack, thus opening a huge potential to tap into the booming smartphone market in the country. Since the consumer market in India is very large, such startups could also hope for institutional funding and gain from the early mover advantage.

Through the digitized elements like e-KYC, e-Sign, digitized Aadhaar information and digital locker, the entire ecosystem has now become a presence less, paperless and cashless based system. A Digital Locker enables users to have all their legal documents in a digitized format that is stored online and can be accessed from any part of the country. The e-Sign makes it simple for people to sign deals, contracts and legal documents through their phones and the Unified Payment Interface lets people make payments with ease through their smartphones from anywhere.

India Stack makes a user base of over a billion people readily available through its API. This means that startups and tech companies can build over this to be able to integrate various functions for their businesses or for larger enterprises. Every bank or telecom operator scans through tons of paperwork every day to be able to verify customers and generate KYC documents. Now imagine the impact if this entire process could be digitized by building an application which would integrate India Stack and the user base of over a billion Indians!

With the technology, documentation and sample code available, entrepreneurs and startups can get started with innovating, prototyping as well as building India Stack enabled applications. The commercial applications are endless with multiple opportunities, as the large user base opened up by India Stack is nascent, solution-hungry and largely untouched by technology. Now even a local vegetable trader can take an intra-day loan almost instantly through his mobile phone and pay it back the very same or next day without even physically visiting the bank or wasting any time (time is money when earnings are proportional to time spent)! With their e-KYC documents and digital signatures, a loan can be processed almost instantly and the money transferred through the Unified Payment Interface. Long queues at banks, telecom offices and all other government and non-governmental processes should be the thing of the past, through proper integration of India Stack.

The nation is looking for “a transition from technology-poor to innovation-rich society” and entrepreneurs have a good role to play. The problems (read opportunities) in financial services, healthcare and education are all so large that only the right technology can cost-effectively solve them. Solving these scale problems would mean great business sense too.

iSPIRT, the non-profit software product industry think tank powered by industry veterans, has been actively involved in the development of India Stack and is helping entrepreneurs make the best use of business opportunities provided by India Stack, while building their startups. iSPIRT believes that India Stack creates a whole new generation of business opportunities around the mobile phone and early movers would have tremendous market advantages.

On a recent visit to India, Bill Gates commented on India Stack saying, “India is on the cusp of leapfrogging!” And it truly is; considering it is the only country in the world offering such an open and secure API, India is certainly looking at taking the Digital India campaign to a whole new level.

The future is here and now is the time to act.