The founders of BankBazaar, Adhil Shetty, Arjun Shetty and Rati Shetty suggest we have lunch at Krishna Villasam, an upmarket vegetarian restaurant next door to their office in Chennai. They assure me that they love the food served there, and are not making any concessions for my vegetarian tastes. The restaurant specialises in Reddiar cuisine from Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, with a strong influence of Kerala. We meet around 12:30 as the place gets very crowded after 1 PM and we cannot hear each other.
BankBazaar was launched almost ten years ago by three young people who grew up in Chennai, went to the US to study and work, but who always knew they wanted to come back. Adhil and Arjun are brothers and engineers, and Rati who is married to Arjun worked for Kraft both in the US and Taiwan. The company they set up is today India’s largest online market place for a large number of financial products. It has attracted investors like Walden International, Fidelity Growth Partners, Mousse Partners, Sequoia Capital and Amazon among its backers, with a $60 million
Series C round in 2015 being the most recent investment. After we are shown to our table, Adhil demonstrates on his smart phone, how the website helps a customer who wants to invest in mutual fund make the choice from various options in a matter of minutes. “Do you know how much paper work you have to go through if you do it through conventional ways,” he asks.
We get ourselves banana flower vadas and Arjun tells me that when he and Rati on a trip back home were trying to invest in a flat they found the experience harrowing. “We had to go from bank to bank, look for guarantors, and everything was so complicated. Things were really backward and fuzzy then. I knew that future was in enabling the customer to have an instant experience. Rati and I were convinced that there will be a paperless future. We talked Adhil into coming back as well to set up BankBazaar.”
As it happened Adhil returned to India ahead of Arjun and Rati and started talking to people. “Initially there was a lot of scepticism. Family and some friends believed in us and we raised our initial funding of `45 lakh. I started building up a strong team. Our CTO had worked with Microsoft for ten years, and he had no hesitation in joining us. Hiring good people is the most important thing in this business. Our people are our biggest expense. The conversation that I have with our potential employees is on par with what I have with our investors.”
We decide not to order thalis but ask for couple of masala dosas and vegetable oothappams which are served with flavoursome sambar, varieties of chutnies. What is special about the menu are the coconut and garlic podies (powders) which come with these dishes. Rati insists we also add on
BankBazaar was launched in 2008 with a six member team with an office in Chennai and two partner banks. “Learning from our personal experience we started identifying the needs of loan seekers and finding the right online solutions to help them find the best offers. I look at product experience from desktops, tablets, mobiles and different apps. We constantly work on how fast we can deliver with less friction. Finance is so complicated although it is part of our daily life. We continue to remain transparent, neutral and 100% compliant,” says Rati. “Security is a major issue and we are constantly audited by multiple sources,” adds Arjun.
All this is important as people continue to have a mind block about a process where the human element is not involved,” says Arjun. Arjun who has a Masters from Georgia Tech had worked on the Amazon.com Visa Card programme. He had developed an online account acquisition strategy that made the program into one of the world’s largest co-branded credit card programs. “We were building the foundation, relationships, and signing on partners in those early days of BankBazaar. It was not easy, “ says Arjun.
Since then BankBazaar has come a long way. It employs 1,050 people and has five offices. Chennai is the headquarters and there are offices in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi, and Singapore. Adhil, the CEO who looks after business development and administration works out of Mumbai. Adhil got his masters from Columbia university, lived in New York City and managed Deloitte Touche Tomahatsu’s US East alliances with the world’s leading Information Management Company before he returned to India. The first international office was set up in Singapore last year.
As we are deciding on desert the founders tell me that they are big fans of Aadhaar. “So much waste has been eliminated because of Aadhaar. Aadhaar eKYC is a paperless Know Your Customer (KYC) process, wherein the identity and address of the customer are verified electronically through Aadhaar Authentication. It can be used as an alternative to the current KYC process which is done on the basis of physical photocopies of the original documents (ID proof and Address proof). “It is really a path breaker,” they say.
“With paperless economy being the flavour of the season and the introduction of Aadhaar eKYC, isn’t BankBazaar in the right place at the right time?” I ask. “Our mission has been constant. We said paperless in 2008 and we are saying it now.” says Arjun. He says that more devices in the market and external developments slowly made their growth possible.
We decide to check out ada pradhaman,a Kerala sweet. I want to know when they will break even. “We already have positive unit economics. Now we are seeing month on month of positive EBITA. and by 2018 we will be profitable,”says Adhil. “We have never sold anything at a loss. You cannot physically see the assets such as the credit rule engine we have built up. When you build a product there are high upfront costs. As we scale up, we are covering our fixed costs as well, explains Arjun.
As we are rushing through our filter coffee I ask them how they have managed to division up responsibilities. Is it working? “ As it turned out our skills are broadly complementary. Adhil, the CEO, looks after sales and business development, Arjun takes care of platforms and systems and I products and customers. We went after our strengths, smiles, Rati.
All this backed by funding from Amazon, Sequoia, Walden, Fidelity and Mousse Partners. Personal finance marketplace BankBazaar, which is backed by Amazon, has launched new features on its Android app to help users view a real-time snapshot of their aggregated balance across multiple savings accounts and transaction history of individual bank accounts. Most people use more than one bank account, which makes it difficult to keep track of transactions and balances. BankBazaar.com solves this problem by displaying consolidated information in one single simple interface.