Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to touch upon a much-anticipated financial inclusion plan in his Independence Day address on Friday. In a small kirana outlet called Manjunatha Stores, in the swarming BTM Layout neighbourhood in Bangalore, one can already hear a bit of its echo.
Pushcart vendors, tailors, domestic help and drivers from the modest surroundings walk into the store to open a savings account and then deposit money, make withdrawals and transfer cash — evidence that India’s banking revolution is silently underway.
More than 30 such outlets have opened in Karnataka, Telangana and West Bengal and new ones are scheduled to open within a month in Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. These are part of the country’s first chain of entirely Aadhaar-enabled, mobile-based, paperless banking facilities.
“I can go to my ‘bank’ even if I finish work after 8 in the night,” says Rajeshwari Sarwade, 29, a self-employed tailor who lives two streets away from the Kiran store. Sarwade, who buys her daily needs like atta, onions and toothpaste there, says she finds the facility convenient both in terms of distance and time. She does not have to take time off during her busy work hours as the store is open from 9 am to 10.15 pm.
No bank can match such a location, timings and personalised service.
The bank-in-a-kirana-store model is bringing financial inclusion nearer to the doors of the underprivileged like Sarwade in a country where about half the 1.3 billion people have no access to banking. The simple low-cost banking solution has its backend based on the Aadhaar platform and is mounted on an Android phone. The solution has been created by Bangalore-based Novopay, a company backed by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla’s Khosla Labs.
India has seen nothing like it before, and the nearest global comparison is with the successful M-pesa, a mobile-based money transfer and microfinance service in Kenya.
“When my field team first approached grocery stores to open Novopay outlets, they laughed and said, ‘that is not possible, you are joking’,” says Gautam Bandyopadhyay, chief operating officer of Novopay. He says now he cannot cope with the demand for the facilities from small retailers countrywide.
Novopay’s outlets will double in number by September and continue to scale up rapidly. They are a godsend for those like Firoj Jahan, who says she is intimidated by the idea of going to a bank. “It is crowded, there are many forms to