Opening branches

This Singaporean startup is making banking services accessible by opening branches in remote locations for just $150

SINGAPORE: An Indian-born banker who was so engrossed in making banking services accessible to the unbanked that he invested all his savings in a start-up that allows banks to open branches in remote locations for only $150.

RAM SharmaSingapore permanent resident and banking industry veteran, having worked with Centurion Bank in India and Bank Albilad in Saudi Arabia, and his friend Ragu Nandanset up a fintech start-ups in 2016.

Singapore-based Bank-Genie develops digital solutions that allow banks to overcome prohibitive costs to set up branches in remote locations and make banking services accessible to unbanked populations, according to the Today tabloid.

The germ of this idea took root in Sharma’s mind during a relatively mundane road trip he undertook in southern India seven years ago.

Sharma and his friend found themselves traveling about 100 km just to find an ATM.

“It struck me, why do ATMs stay here (in this city)? After that, there are villages where there are people living but there are no ATMs. Why should Could this be so?” The Today tabloid quoted the 50-year-old as saying.

Sharma poured in all of her savings and “mortgaged everything else” except the roof over her head to raise over $1 million to fund the business.

Bank-Genie offers solutions that allow a bank to open branches and provide a suite of financial services with just “a tablet and a small Bluetooth printer and the card reader,” Sharma said in a tabloid interview.

“Anything more than that, and it’ll cost you about $150 to start a branch,” he joked.

In 2017, the fintech successfully raised an undisclosed amount in a Series A funding backed by two key institutional investors: SBI Holdings Group, a Japan-based conglomerate that spun off from Softbank, and the bank of Dutch development FMO.

The affordability of Bank-Genie’s solution was such that Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, one of the largest commercial banks in the West African country, was able to open 600 branches in 90 days, including in remote areas – “somewhere in the mountains, somewhere”. in the valleys,” he said.

In less than five years, Bank-Genie has strengthened its presence in Central Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan as well as in Kazakhstan, where Sharma almost got stuck about two years ago when the borders began to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic. .

The startup has acquired more than 30 client banks and financial institutions across Africa and Southeast Asia, with 13 banks in the Philippines alone.

Scaling its solutions took considerable effort, Sharma said, because the product built and installed for one bank cannot be replicated in another.

“Each country has its own requirements. There are legal requirements, there are compliance things that have to be met,” he told the Today tabloid.

“Some countries have regulations like customer data cannot reside outside the country due to privacy etc. So the bank is an animal that has to adapt differently to each country,” Sharma observed. .

The start-up has worked closely from the start with the central bank of each country in which it operates.

Sharma said while the pandemic had sabotaged some of her business’ expansion plans, it also presented opportunities.

The growing need to practice social distancing had helped popularize the start-up Genius The Q solution, which allows bank branches to make appointments, manage crowds and redirect customers to less busy branches if necessary.

Looking ahead, as digital banking and cashless payments continue to proliferate in urban and advanced markets, Sharma believes there is still a lot of work to be done in remote areas.

“Our vision has always been to bring a bank to every door and to democratize financial services so that financial services are accessible to everyone around the world,” he said.

With more than 40 employees globally, the Singapore-based startup posted revenue of $3.1 million for the fiscal year ending March 2022, up from $840,000 in the previous fiscal year. , added Sharma.


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