One word that aptly describes the state of the blue-collar community today in India is ‘lack’. Lack of a job of one’s choice, lack of financial assistance, proper healthcare, growth opportunities, dignity, trust in the system...the list goes on. In a country like India, the number of individuals experiencing this lack in their everyday lives is over 450 million. While the 150 million white-collar workforce in the country gets access to pretty much everything that sums up a good life, 67 percent of the working population has yet to make way in the formal economy with just the right amount of ‘access’.
Pravin Agarwala and Saurabh Tandon saw through this ‘lack’ five years ago, when they decided to start betterplace, India’s most-loved blue-collar brand. They saw the lack not for what it was, but what it could be - an opportunity to make a real difference and empower the underprivileged community of over a billion people.
How betterplace is building for the next billion
The company of over 250 strong-willed, highly passionate and self-driven individuals in different teams are catering to this vision and mining this ‘lack’ into ‘access’ by building for the next billion, and this is how they are doing it.
1) Building for the business
With the world moving towards digital, the only problem that can solve this lack of access is technology. Having a strong product portfolio is key to improving the lives of the blue-collar workers. betterplace intends to reach a large number of people through multiple products across the lifecycle of the segment. According to them, each product is a data point to access another product in the life cycle.
The organisation uses insights from the data they collect to build new products and features for the business. For example, if there are security guards in Orissa looking for jobs in Bengaluru, betterplace understands this problem and helps businesses with just the right tools to reach out, hire and onboard the candidates easily. If candidates get rejected, the platform provides services to attain skills that would help them avail jobs in the future.
One of the biggest data-driven solution approaches they are working on is providing financial services to blue-collar workers who otherwise have no validation in the financial system. It's difficult for them to avail loans or get insured, as there's no credit rating to validate their existence.
"We look at data points coming in from different areas of their life and provide a trust score. These algorithms are designed basis the relationship they have with us. Each time they log in, or upload a document, or join an organisation, they get a score," says Arijit Kumar, VP - Sales and Business Development, betterplace.
In the future, they intend to create betterplace as a standard of trust score in order to provide access to financial products and services.
2) Make direct in-roads to the end users
The team is also building better financial products and creating access to formal sector banking services, as the market currently has products predominantly tailored for the top of the pyramid. The workforce is not digitally savvy, they lack credit history, their skill levels are poor, minimum wage is prevalent in this demographic, and there’s a lack of transparency. "Our goal is to create, through the platform, an ecosystem that connects the different participants of this market - be it the blue-collar individual, an employer looking to hire, companies looking to extend services to them, the government providing schemes - all with the hopes of giving them access to services they were denied – which hopefully improves their overall quality of living," says Saurabh Tandon, Co-founder and COO, betterplace.
There is hardly any concept of saving for these individuals and they have a general distrust in the financial system - they'd rather have cash in their hand than in the bank. Through betterplace's banking account, they can easily pay rent, transfer money to their families, pay for services, and so on.
"Our aim is to provide a simplistic technology platform where companies and partners can confidently give blue-collar workers the credit they deserve," says Yash Kothari, Program Director, betterplace.
Another aspect they take care of is credit, as well as bite-sized insurance products with bite-sized costing. Their app also takes care of employers in terms of timely payments through tie-ups with banks and NBFCs.
In the near future, betterplace also has plans to launch a one-stop-shop for blue-collar workers to get access to job opportunities. Multiple employers who are looking for the right talent, and partners looking to extend their services can get connected with blue-collar workers under a single roof. The objective is to impact 300 people, enable 2,000 placements and 500 credit disbursals every day. "People can walk in and get exposed to various opportunities based on their skill level,” says Arun Tyagi, AVP, Business Development, betterplace.
Saurabh adds, "The perspective is to remove the friction that we see today in the way different market participants go about trying to solve the problem of access. If we have all of it in one place, our hope is that the friction would reduce greatly."
3) Designing the brand that conveys the essence
betterplace has also launched a new brand identity.
"While there’s a lot of talk about improvements and initiatives in the blue-collar segment of the society, anything rarely materialises. We want to break that convention and be the betterplace they can rely on. That’s the core of our brand identity," says Varun Gandhi, Design and Marketing, betterplace.
Although they come from diverse cultures and backgrounds, there's one common language they speak - visual. The symbols and characters in the new identity are colourful and progressive and designed to make things easier for blue-collars, to inform them, create more transparency and to build trust. It imbibes a sense of belongingness and dignity in the work they do.
betterplace's free job app neatly details out everything they need to know when applying for a job - the role, daily earnings, incentives, date of payment, documents to carry, etc. "It’s like a LinkedIn for blue-collar workers with the end-to-end fulfilment angle. But these are complicated problems and cannot be solved by technology alone, you also need highly efficient support systems along the way,” says Varun.
They also have a neo-banking app, doctor-on-call app, training app, attendance app and is now building an all-new one app which makes it easier for blue-collar workers to discover jobs, gain transparency on their earnings, send/receive money, consult a doctor 24/7 and learn new things, all under a single roof.
4) Building systems that can scale
On the technology front, betterplace has been making incremental progress. When they critically analysed their position, they realised this may not scale to the next level. They made a strategic and holistic decision to rewrite their entire stack with the all-new system architecture and microservices approach. It's an approach in which multiple services of betterplace like background verification, sourcing, onboarding, attendance, financial would scale differently.
This approach is designed to work for thousands of large enterprises and millions of blue-collars in the long run. They are using new technology like NEO4J graphs to establish multiple relationships and draw useful insights, AI for smart onboarding, and so on.
"We want to use blockchain to have an identity platform for blue-collars to share information to third-party companies,” says Usman Shaik, Architect, betterplace.
5) Building a culture of empathy
betterplace was founded with a very strong intent – to make a real difference and have a positive impact on the lives of the blue-collar workforce. When the company began, what the founders believed in became the value system, and today it has percolated down to become the behaviour of the organisation.
"We try to continue to nurture this value system and the culture of empathy, impact and respect within the organisation. When you’re founded on such strong values, it translates into positive actions and behaviours which in turn affects the lives of our external as well as internal stakeholders," says Meera Murthy, CHRO, betterplace.
They are trying to strengthen the culture of empathy within the organisation by hiring individuals who are a cultural fit in terms of the values they want to build as an organisation. They've also designed policies and reward programmes to identify and incentivise those who constantly align with organisational values.
To encourage a culture of empathy externally, betterplace has partnered with employers who want to provide blue-collar workers with benefits and access to a better lifestyle. "We’re working with our partners and giving them a platform that helps them provide dignity of labour, certainty of opportunity from a job perspective, access to loans and advances, access to healthcare to workers and their family,” adds Meera.
“What started as a background verification platform in 2015 is now an inclusive platform to build access to different opportunities for the masses, and it's only growing bigger,” concludes Pravin Agarwala, Co-founder and CEO, betterplace.
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