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Financial services to rural India

Ross Storey | April 27, 2011
Lateral thinking overcomes India’s remote electricity infrastructure and Web connection issues.

Expanding services to the doorstep of customers in rural India, where electricity supply and Internet connectivity are major challenges, demanded innovative and lateral thinking by Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services (Mahindra Finance). Mahindra Finance, based in Mumbai, is part of the US$4.5 billion Mahindra Group, a major tractor and utility vehicle manufacturer. The company has positioned itself between the organised banking sector and local moneylenders, offering widespread rural customers competitive, flexible and speedy lending services and customised packages.

They saw these rural India challenges – and the demand for the speedy opening of new branches - as opportunities to transform their IT into mobile technology mode and expand their business, which already has a network of more than 400 branches covering more than 80 per cent of India’s districts.
The result of their lateral thinking was the US$14.4 million ‘Biz Connect’ project, which combined technology including unified communications, RFID, green IT and biometrics, enabling services to be delivered to remote towns, rural villages and semi-urban cities via officers toting a hand-held GPRS – GSM-based device.

The mobility project was a first for India’s financial services industry, based on affordable and available mobility secured solutions. The companies’ IT team overcame electricity supply issues by implementing mobility-based solutions and enabling the device to be charged for eight hours running time, via channels like hand chargers, bike chargers and car-jeep chargers.Already Biz Connect has connected 474 locations at remote villages and semi urban towns. Data captured in field is immediately updated on Mahindra Finance’s central server. The success of the 11-month project has won Mahindra Finance a CIO Asia magazine award for 2011. Its national head (information systems and technology), Suresh A. Shanmugam, said getting the right information from India’s rural areas was a big risk.

Centralised Monitoring
“Defining the end-user access and user identification passwords from the central systems makes the task easier, manageable and able to be monitored through standard processes and procedures,” Shanmugam said.
Instead of buying any already available product, Mahindra Finance identified a local vendor – Gram Pradhan – to create a newly-designed EPOS (electronic point of service) device to ideally suit rural India’s needs and environment. The multi-media capable mobile EPOS device features a camera to photograph rural customer’s assets, a biometrics thumb impression feature for identity validation, voice recording to cater for different languages, and LCD with stencil so rural customers can sign forms and RFID to trace the location of the officer.

Using the Biz Connect system, which can capture and upload text, audio, video and biometric data from remote locations, Mahindra Finance is now able to provide fully functional branch services at rural customers’ door steps.

The system uses what Mahindra Finance calls a “paperless, green and eco-friendly business model”. It facilitates capturing and uploading of loan processing data from field for immediate approvals and ensures faster processing.

 

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