Digital financing: The way forward for financial inclusion in Asia – E27

Rajath Kumar

, Opinions, Others

The authors Aman Bhargava and Akshay Sharma are Senior Vice President and Manager at Capital Float, respectively. Capital Float specialises in digital lending to MSMEs in India.

In this age of digital disruption where technology has made an impact across a number of service sectors — e.g. transportation (Uber), accommodation (Airbnb), retail (Amazon) etc.– finance is clearly no exception. Post the financial crisis, incumbent large financial institutions have been weathering a storm of increased capital requirements (i.e. reduced ability to lend) and increased regulatory costs whilst dealing with an erosion of public confidence.

Digital lending, a subset of digital finance, has been growing rapidly in several large economies in tandem with lending platforms (e.g. Lending Club in the US, Funding Circle in the UK, and Lufax in China). As terms such as peer to peer (P2P) and marketplace lending have come to dominate headlines, digital lending has begun to revolutionise the traditional lending business through the use of technology in order to reduce costs, underwritten with surrogate data points, and speeded up processes.

Lending — ripe for disruption

Lending itself consists of three key areas:

  • (i) Origination (or customer acquisition)
  • (ii) Underwriting (or credit assessment)
  • (iii) Execution (including documentation, contract and flow of monies)

Conventional lending, especially in emerging economies, is an archaic process that is ripe for disruption in each of the above areas.

Traditionally, customer acquisition occurs via brokers or middlemen, underwriting is heavily collateral-based and execution is a tedious process requiring a lot of paperwork that usually stretches up to six weeks in duration. Furthermore, there is a fear of rejection, which in several cultures prevents a number of creditworthy borrowers from applying.

While the opportunity to disrupt traditional financial services is immense, it is important to understand the key drivers in this field. Like most sectors, it is imperative that governments put in place an ecosystem that can help and enable players to create these disruptions.

The three most important enablers for digital lending are:

1. Telecommunications and connectivity

The telecommunication sector has been pivotal in spurring the digital revolution globally. Creating networks that enable consumers to connect from computers, laptops and mobiles are the most basic requirements to kickstart a digital revolution.

From financial services to retailers, everybody depends on networks to provide a compelling online and mobile experience. Telecom operators must offer an integrated, multi-channel or omni-channel user experience: on the desktop, on mobile devices and in stores. The reach of such networks is essential for digital finance to succeed and penetrate new markets.

2. Technology and data

Technology, as one would expect, is at the heart of the digital revolution. Investments in technology by organisations have only been increasing over time.

Advances in digital technology have allowed services to reach a number of people, who had limited or no access earlier. If these advances have to continue, then increased capital investment in equipment and software is an absolute must. Encouraging companies to invest more in R&D, say, via tax incentives is crucial to penetrating the consumer base.

3. Regulations and policies

Post the financial crisis, increased regulations have forced large banks to reconsider their traditional methods, especially in light of additional balance sheet charges. This has opened up new markets globally.

Regulators in the West, particularly the UK followed by the US, have been proactive in allowing these markets to grow and challenge the traditional players. As the rest of the world cautiously opens up to this new space, digital finance players have thrived under flexible and friendly regulations.

It is imperative to encourage an atmosphere in which innovation in financial services and products offered to consumers is prevalent. While the need to be cautious post the 2008 crisis is justified, regulators should be careful not to stamp out truly innovative and disruptive ideas.

Digital finance — banking for the ‘unbanked’

A recent report by The Guardian, states that almost 500 million people across Southeast Asia still often turn to informal moneylenders to meet their everyday needs. Decisions requiring credit, such as expanding a business, buying a house or paying medical bills, are taken out of the hands of the so-called “unbanked”. Uninsured and with no savings, they are also less resilient to health problems, unemployment or a natural disaster.

Digital finance holds the key for financial inclusion, as nearly 50 per cent of the population in developing countries own mobile phones. The impact of digital lending in emerging economies goes beyond the traditional financial services offered. It also helps create additional jobs and acts as an economic stimulator.

A number of firms in Africa and Asia are using digital finance to tackle development challenges. Technological innovations, like mobile money, have acted as catalysts in providing a variety of financial services. Consumers at the bottom of the pyramid in several countries today are using mobile money to make payments for a wide range of services.

Apart from traditional services — such as credit, savings and financial education — consumers also enjoy access to money-transfer services, micro-loans and insurance.

How can we make this happen?

MSMEs (Micro Small and Medium Enterprises) also stand to gain substantially from digital lending. Apart from access to finances, electronic payment systems allow them to secure a diverse range of financial products and an opportunity to build a financial history. The importance of digital finance in building both credit history and transactional data of individuals and firms for lenders cannot be underestimated.

Close public-private cooperation is a key factor for this type of innovation to be taken to scale and enable people to live a more secured, empowered and included life. If approached wisely, it is possible for emerging economies to leapfrog developed nations in the adoption of these digital channels, and at the same time accelerate financial inclusion.

Article sourced from E27. Read the original article here.