Financial Inclusion: How digital-first platform Nivesh is helping semi-urban India invest

Noida-based Nivesh helps people in India’s lower-tier cities invest by combining the best of both worlds — digital, but with a personalised, human touch. The fintech startup has helped mobilise assets worth over Rs 1,000 crore so far.
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Over the last year, since the COVID-19 pandemic hit India, online investing platforms have seen tremendous growth in users and transactions. But most of that growth has come from urban and metropolitan areas, leaving lower-tier cities to contend with growing their wealth via archaic financial instruments such as fixed and recurring deposits.

Some of the biggest challenges that people in Tier III and lower cities face when investing in instruments such as mutual funds and equities include a lack of trust in digital platforms; not being able to find something that is tailored to their wallets and budgets; and finding the paperwork hard to understand, track, and maintain.

These problems bugged Anurag Garg and Sridhar Srinivasan — both financiers who came from modest means — and they decided to build something that could help people living in non-urban areas, and not having the digital expertise their urban counterparts had, invest.

Their startup, Nivesh, takes a two-pronged approach to navigate the roadblocks that prevented people from investing — they deploy on-field agents who go to people’s homes and help them invest, thereby putting a name and a face to the process of investing and creating trust.

Paperwork hassles and manual recordkeeping issues are eliminated by the digital platform it provides its on-field agents, where they buy, store, and maintain their customers' portfolio, easily retrievable even if the agent changes.

The on-field agents also help recommend investment instruments to customers based on how much they want to invest, what their risk appetite is, and what kinds of returns they would like to see.

“The huge size of the market opportunity; favourable macro developments over the last few years, such as Jan Dhan leading to a massive explosion in bank accounts; ease of doing KYC through Aadhaar; easier payment options; and traditional players' inability to adapt were all the reasons we decided to start Nivesh,” Anurag tells YourStory.

Nivesh's co-founders, Sridhar Srinivasan and Anurag Garg

“Especially for lower-tier cities, we realised that we need to marry technology with the human touch to be able to solve the problem of providing access. For financial products, ‘trust’ is an important factor and we decided to make the partnership with a local distributor an important piece in our strategy,” he adds.

Currently, the startup enables investments in products like mutual funds, P2P loans, corporate fixed deposits, and bonds. It plans to add insurance and digital gold to its offering very soon.

How it works

The onboarding of a customer is completely paperless, and KYC is done digitally using Aadhaar credentials. Once an account is created, the on-field agents suggest funds and instruments according to the amount of money the customer is willing to invest. Transactions are executed on the agent’s portal, and multiple payment options are presented.

The customer gets an e-copy of the bill, the fund details, and their investment document outlining the number of allotments, their net asset value, and other relevant information.

If the asset value starts falling, and the customer wants to restructure, they simply contact their agents who visit them and help them re-balance their portfolios — again offering helpful suggestions.

Anurag says this digital-plus-offline model adds a lot of value to new investors who don’t know where to begin; the human touch they provide is instrumental in retaining customers, even if they start taking their own decisions as they learn more.

The startup currently serves more than 1,000 pincodes across India, and 60 percent of its customers hail from beyond the top 15 metropolitan cities.

“The satisfaction that comes from knowing that we have been able to reach out and make a difference to the underserved segments is immense,” he says.

Revenue model and outlook

Anurag says the startup does not currently charge customers for availing products through the platform, and instead earns commissions from the instrument issuer.

In terms of revenue earned so far, the startup says it is constantly adding money to its kitty, but since it’s still in expansion and scaling mode, investments in the tech infrastructure are significant.

“Ours is a low fixed cost model, which means that the venture should turn highly profitable at scale,” Anurag tells YourStory.

Nivesh.com has raised $2.6 million so far, according to data aggregator website, Crunchbase, across four rounds. Its investors include IAN Fund, Windrose Capital and LetsVenture, among others.

It currently has more than 10,000 customers, and has mobilised assets worth Rs 1,000 crore so far, on the back of four lakh transactions.

Over the next few months, the startup aims to launch insurance, lending, and digital gold investment products — which it expects will pump up volumes further.

“We see our startup becoming a very significant player in the industry in the next four to five years. The business can keep growing consistently for many years to come, and we aim to be a Rs 1,000 crore revenue company within this decade, along with decent profitability,” Anurag says.

Nivesh.com’s competitors include online investment platforms such as Zerodha,Upstox,Paytm Money and Groww which allow digital investing directly. Its direct competitor is NJ India Invest, touted as India’s largest mutual funds distributor with its 35,000-plus advisors.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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