Ashneer Grover, CEO and Co-founder of Bharat Pe, a leading fintech company that serves offline retailers and businesses, talks to BrandSutra about his exponential growth fuelled by opportunity provided by the COVID-19 pandemic, and his ambition to be the largest fintech lender in the country
In an overcrowded market, what helps Bharat Pe stand apart? What is your brand’s USP?
Bharat Pe stands for all the financial needs of small and local merchants – as the largest offline player for UPI acceptance at a merchant’s. Local shopkeepers earn a margin of merely 15%. We give them commission-free card machines, an all-encompassing QR code, and also supply them with their working capital requirements, which is unheard of in this sector. This is how we stand apart.
You enable thousands of offline merchants to accept digital payments for the first time and also provide them with access to working capital. There must be some really beautiful stories there. Can you share some of your experiences?
Absolutely, there are many. A Bangalore-based condiments shop-owner was finding it difficult to get a loan from traditional banks for a few years. He borrowed from us last year and even this year to get through the pandemic. He told us that he never knew that the process could be this simple and seamless. He even told us that he would come back to us next year again to open a new store. These kinds of stories make us extremely joyous.
With the pandemic severely affecting the traditional way of conducting business, digital has taken centre-stage. What has been the impact or opportunity for Bharat Pe? How many merchants are on your platform?
COVID has been an opportunity. Our annualised transactions have doubled, from USD 2.5 billion to USD 5 billion. Our value of transactions is to the tune of Rs 100 crore per day. From complete lockdown to the festive season on the anvil, shopkeepers faced terrible hardships. They now need to inject money into their businesses. In September alone, we disbursed Rs 80 crore, which is the highest in the history of any fintech lender in this country. Currently, we are clocking 50 lakh merchants on our platform.
With the focus firmly back on Indian brands, how and to what extent is Bharat Pe leveraging the ‘aatmanirbhar' sentiment?
The local Indian shopkeeper is constantly threatened by Amazon and Flipkart. We are an Indian brand, fourth in line after Phone Pe, Google Pay and Paytm. And for an Indian brand to threaten three global brands is a big pride factor. Our 50 lakh loyal merchants also know that they needn’t fear behemoths like Amazon. They are now empowered by Bharat Pe. If this is not the atmanirbharta, I don’t know what is…
The IPL draws attention from most digital-first brands. What is Bharat Pe's marketing strategy for the IPL?
You might call me a contrarian when I say this, but despite on-boarding 11 cricketers earlier this year, and creating an ad with them, we’ve given IPL a pass this year. A shopkeeper watches IPL while managing his store. His attention gets divided. To drive home my product proposition, I need his undivided attention, which I get via advertising in news channels.
Personally, how has the lockdown treated you? What has been your lockdown learning?
My core team and I worked throughout the lockdown. Since lockdown started in April, we requested a few members of the team to come to office. I think I came across as a taskmaster, and we lost good talent because of it. Also, our entire business is hinged on the needs of the local shopkeeper. If we didn’t step up during the pandemic, we wouldn’t have gained their trust. The shopkeepers cannot work from home, right? I strongly believe that had we not pushed ourselves, we wouldn’t have been the fourth largest fintech player in the country.
What is the biggest business challenge you have faced since you set up the company in 2018, and how did you overcome it?
Our biggest business challenge was educating the investors. In 2018, behemoths like Phone Pe, Paytm and Google Pay were already dominating the market. And here I was, wanting to help the small shopkeeper. Hitherto, no start-up had looked at it this way. The local shopkeeper is constantly threatened by the likes of Amazon and Flipkart. Someone had to hand-hold them. We had to share this picture with the investors. Another challenge we faced was acquiring talent, the team who can translate the dream into a reality.
What next from Bharat Pe? What do you look forward to?
Our ambition is to be the largest fintech lender in India. We have created a system for underwriting for shopkeepers, different programmes for lending to them and a simple structure of recollection and repayment.