Financial Inclusion: How fintech startup Nayaseva is helping rural India pay its bills
When Hyderabad-based Bharat Gutta’s grandmother, who resides in a small village in Andhra Pradesh, fell sick just before the lockdown in 2020, he had to step in and take care of her. An aspiring entrepreneur, Bharat had been in the early stages of designing a financial solution that could make it easier for people in rural areas to bank easily — he wanted to set up kiosk stations at regular intervals in small towns and villages where people could come and pay their bills online.
He kept working on the idea while he was nursing his grandmother, until the day arrived when he had to pay her bills. It was during one of the lockdowns, and Bharat realised the only way he could settle her bills was by walking up to a biller operating centre, or an e-Seva station, which was a little risky in the midst of a pandemic.
That piqued his interest, and he set out to understand how people in rural areas paid their bills. He quickly found out that even before the pandemic, not a lot of people in rural areas bothered using self-service kiosks to settle their bills, mostly because they didn’t understand the interface or didn’t know what options to select. Residents of his grandmother’s generation also found it difficult to walk up to these biller operating centres, given that they weren’t always located nearby.
That gave Bharat an idea — a doorstep bill payment service that could not only help people settle their dues on time, but also help create an income stream for people in the villages who didn’t have any, or wanted a second source.
“When we spoke to billers, we realised that last-mile customers were always left out when it came to settling their bills or paying their bills in a convenient way. In urban areas, it’s easy — you click a few buttons on an app and it’s done. But there was a huge gap when it came to a similar infrastructure in rural India,” Bharat tells YourStory.
He pitched the idea of a doorstep payment system to his co-founders, Akash Chode, and Vineet Dontamsetty, who immediately got on board, and set up Nayaseva Services.
What it does
is a fintech company that keeps financial inclusion at the centre of its mission and vision. It enables online payments for utilities such as electricity, gas, water, broadband, and 13 other services in rural areas, by providing a doorstep service via agents.
Anyone can sign up with Nayaseva to become an agent and start collecting payments in their area from residents’ doorsteps. They use the startup’s proprietary application — NPay — that’s integrated with Bharat Bill Pay, to help people pay their bills, either via online or offline transactions. Offline transactions include cash payments, and is an important option the company provides since the penetration of online financial services such as debit cards and UPI is still quite low in lower-tier areas.
“Our agents are trained to help people with their bill payments. A nominal, RBI-governed charge of Rs 5 to Rs 25 is tacked on the bills, which goes into the agent’s pocket and they’re therefore able to earn a decent living doing just this,” Bharat says.
The bill payments are enabled by Bharat Bill Pay, and the Android OS-based point-of-sales machines (PoS) that the agents use are provided by MSwipe.
A big challenge the startup — or any fintech company hoping to enable online payments, for that matter — face in rural areas is a severe lack of reliable connectivity. Nayaseva gets around this by using logs developed by state governments that indicate the best cellular and internet services available in a particular area.
“Also, we heavily depend on our local agents to tell us which SIM services work in their area of coverage. They’re really essential cogs in the machine in multiple ways for us,” Bharat adds.
To date, Nayaseva has processed over 10,000 transactions, worth around Rs 80 lakh, across 30 PoS terminals that it rolled out as part of its pilot. More than nearly 5,000 families, across three villages, have already become repeat customers, and Nayaseva hopes to serve nearly 20 villages by the end of July.
By the end of the year, it hopes to expand its presence to 60-plus villages, and target over 2.5 lakh customers.
Apart from the doorstep service, Nayaseva has also created a WhatsApp bot that can help people settle bills in their local language. The WhatsApp bot allows people to pay for all the services offered by Bharat Bill Pay.
“A lot of people in rural areas don’t feel comfortable using apps such as PhonePe or Paytm because of the language barrier. Then there’s also the hassle of understanding the interface, especially every time it’s updated. What everyone widely uses and is comfortable with is WhatsApp — so we decided to tap that to bring personal payment services,” Bharat says.
Nayaseva, which is currently present in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, earns its revenue on the rental of its PoS device, CCF fee, NPCI fee, and from billers who list their companies. It plans to launch insurance buying and premiums payment by 2022 to enable more financial inclusion in rural areas.
The startup is in the process of expanding to other states in India too but wants to go about the process “systematically and one by one”. The company is self-funded — the three investors have put up Rs 11 lakh cumulatively.