[Product Roadmap] With a presence in 200 cities, how Nivesh is using tech to win tier II and III India

In this week’s Product Roadmap, we feature Nivesh, a digital platform that helps distributors of mutual funds and other financial products leverage technology to deepen penetration in tier II and III cities.
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As someone working in the wealth domain for over a decade, Anurag Garg was often asked one question by family and friends – where should one invest money? His stint in the wealth domain had taught him that money management issues were common, primarily due to poor penetration of financial products across India. 

Anurag found that the Mutual Fund (MF) to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio for India was less than 10 percent. 

“This is the lowest in the world. And the insurance penetration is at three to four percent. There were many reasons for this low penetration. And some of the major hindrances started getting sorted out beginning 2014. E.g. Jan Dhan, Aadhar, Online Payments, etc. We saw these as enablers for a huge explosion in the number of people investing in financial products like mutual funds. Also, various reports also suggest that this number will increase from the current 2 crore to about 10 crore in the next seven to eight years. So we wanted to build for this large opportunity in front of us,” says Anurag.

This led to the birth of Nivesh in 2017 out of Mumbai. The core of the platform is focussed on helping an investor invest in the right product suitable to financial goal. The business model is to partner with individual distributors of financial products, so that they can assist the investor in decision making as well as along the way in a long investment journey, lasting many years. 

Anurag Garg, Founder and CEO, Nivesh

Building a strong base

Nivesh’s platform is built keeping two classes of users in mind — distribution partner and clients. The technology enables a distribution partner to onboard clients, help their clients choose the right options among a pre-curated set of products, complete the transaction lifecycle from order placement to payment and actively track their portfolios across asset classes and products — all without having to visit a CAMS, Karvy, or AMC office. 

“This was a significant productivity boost to our partners who were forced to travel long distances to submit investment forms and deposit cheques. It also facilitates a client to explore and invest on their own, thus reducing servicing effort by the distribution partner,” adds Anurag. 

Given the explosive adoption of smartphones, the focus was on making every workflow available on a smart device as people, especially beyond the top tier cities, tend to be more comfortable with a phone than a desktop or a laptop, the founder says. 

The first version was an Android app with the API (application programming interface) layers built for the app. The web interface came later in the evolution. The idea was to keep things simple for the end user with a clean interface that is not cluttered with a lot of numbers or jargon.

Building in simplicity 

“As we kept adding more features, we retained the simplicity of the interface -- something that has been appreciated by many of our partners and clients. To reach out to the Tier 2 / 3 population, we went for a multi-lingual approach so that we give users the information and comfort in their language.,” says Anurag. 

The team started with a small number of 200 transactions when they launched in April 2017. In November 2021, Nivesh did about 35,000 transactions, which is a 200 percent annualised growth. 

Anurag explains the first version was focussed on enabling the transaction flow and presenting a simple calculated portfolio for clients. It was multilingual-capable from this version itself. For partners, a business dashboard, a mechanism to onboard clients, place transactions on their behalf and ability to view client portfolios were critical for go-live.

Given the early stages of the venture, the team decided to focus on design and architecture and opted to outsource part of the initial development effort to a software vendor. Nivesh’s team finalised the app designs in collaboration with the vendor and oversaw the technical design and architecture as well.

 The Android app and API stack was developed by the vendor. The back office systems for processing transaction feeds and computing portfolios were developed in-house as it was core to the platform’s operations. 

Building in-house 

The team looked at scalability from two angles:

Technical scalability: 

  1. Given the mobile-based approach, the aim was to build an API stack that serves across mobile OS (Android, iPhone etc) as well as the web portal. The architecture the team adopted enabled them to use the same set of components in multiple systems over time.
  2. Key compute-heavy tasks were made database-agnostic to ensure reduced pressure on the database and freeing up its resources for user activity.
  3. Data structures in-transit and at rest were reviewed and optimised for size and relevance

User Experience scalability:

  1. Every feature the team added had to retain the ease-of-use of the interface
  2. Discussion on every text and number they added to the screen was to ensure it clarifies rather than confuses
  3. Every product added has to follow a consistent experience

Consistent user feedback has accelerated Nivesh’s journey. The way partners see the app and the way they present it to their clients during their interactions is different from how the app was conceptualised, was essential for the team. 

Leveraging the feedback loop 

“User feedback has been captured at multiple points -- weekly touchpoints by our support team with the partners and regular conference calls with our partner audience where we seek feedback and suggestions on various aspects of our operations, including technology,” he says.

Until late 2018, the team was acquiring partners through local awareness campaigns and providing them physical material for client acquisition. At that point, they transitioned to the digital medium for their partner acquisition activities. This enabled the team to scale their partner base without having to increase its footprint in multiple states. Nivesh’s partner acquisition strategy paid off during the lockdown and the platform continued to operate without any disruptions. 

For partners, Nivesh built a set of tools to enable them to go digital: 

  • Personalised content by dynamically stamping creative content with their name and contact details. At the click of a button on the app, the partner could share the content across their social networks.
  • Ability to share the link to the app in social media / WhatsApp so that users can directly download the app and self-register and get associated with the partner.

“For example, on the partner dashboard, along with the business, we also started displaying the brokerage earned so far with a drill-down capability to see month-wise income earned through Nivesh,” adds Anurag. 

He says many partners liked the feature. However, some partners gave the feedback that they usually open the app and walk the client through their portfolios, investment options etc. With the brokerage number being displayed upfront on their business dashboard, they now found it uncomfortable to show the app to their clients. 

“This was a key Eureka moment for us to seek proactive feedback on users BEFORE we roll out features to a wider audience. We started a practice of a beta rollout to a select few partners / clients and get their feedback before doing a full-scale rollout,” says Anurag. 

He explains another key eureka moment was build their own CRM (customer resource management) solution that can be customised to fit a situation rather than an off-the-shelf option. 

Apart from this, the team also realised that their client base is typically less savvy and / or less patient with complex workflows, which meant that while the client could potentially complete a task on his/her own, workflows were designed for completion by the partner with key inputs from the client. 

For example, Nivesh’s eKYC implementation provided for the partner to complete most of the process and just handover the final video recording and verification process to the client, thus providing for a simple experience for the client.

“Our typical user is 30+, married with kids, managing his / her profession or business, and with decent earning and wealth. However, most of the savings are either in real estate or in low yielding bank deposits. Since we are serving a large underserved market, our attention on ensuring simplicity of the interface, while adding useful features, has remained steady through the years,” says Anurag. 

In the recent past, some of the larger partners have expressed interest in a web interface that has advanced features for savvy clients. This is an area the team has kept in focus, in terms of developing advanced reporting features while ensuring the platform remains simple enough for the lay person.

“In terms of evolution, we are adding more intelligence in the platform to help partners and customers in the entire investment process. For example, we are adding an investment planner which will help them to select the right investment amount and schemes for their financial goals,” adds Anurag. 

Another focus is on helping partners or customers self-serve, this works as the volumes grow. The team enabled an e-commerce like experience for order tracking toward this as well as WhatsApp based notifications.

Focussing on the MVP 

Key factors for a successful system are the data structures and data model used, the API stack and the user interface.

The API stack was important especially when the team rolled out the web and iOS applications. Keeping the APIs in sync across the three platforms (Android, Web, and iOS) was a challenge as priorities and development cycles differed for each. 

“Speed of rollout being important, it became critical for us to maintain versions of APIs being used in each application. This helped identify gaps and redundancies and also decommission APIs that are not used anywhere,” says Anurag. 

The initial version had some modules running in the database layer for speed and development. 

As it scaled usage and volumes, the team realised that some of these modules are not necessarily dependent on the database and could be pulled out. 

For example, a module to send emails was pulled out into a separate application that would regularly poll a queue and send out email communication to relevant stakeholders. Subsequently, with this learning, the team built other modules outside the database layer e.g. portfolio return computations. This enabled the platform to scale much better than if the team had built or kept the module within the database layer itself.

“Second aspect was in terms of data retrieval. For initial usage, we dynamically would pull out data, compute and present to the user on the app. Over time, as volumes grew, these code flows became more frequently used and increased pressure on the system. This prompted us to precompute and store some of the key data elements and serve them through that precomputed store rather than execute dynamic queries,” says Anurag. 

He adds their approach since then has been to precompute some of the often-used datasets and dynamically rebuild as data gets stale. This also helped them to build data structures for analytical outputs around partner profiling based on their activity.

The next challenge was in terms of ensuring the interface remained clean while we added more features and investment products to the platform. How to keep things easily accessible was a central point in every feature discussion.

“We had been sending out key communication to our users on email and SMS. With the predominance of WhatsApp among our current / potential user base, we felt that our users were quite comfortable in their usage of Whatsapp and so we moved to Whatsapp for sending out critical updates on orders, SIPs and product information as well,” says Anurag. 

Pandemic and next steps 

As lockdown kicked-in in March 2020, the team realised the importance of being able to liquidate one’s holdings without visiting an office. At that point, the platform introduced a feature to enable any client to redeem or switch their mutual fund holdings right from their app, even if the holdings were held outside Nivesh... without leaving their homes.

“We took a cue from the order tracking and delivery features of courier services and implemented a full-blown order tracking system that tracks every order through various stages (customised to the nature of the order e.g. buy, sell, switch etc). This gives full visibility of the order to the partner or the client, including any reason for execution failures,” says Anurag. 

Currently, Nivesh is working on a WhatsApp Bot, so that the team can take advantage of the user’s comfort in using WhatsApp to serve some of the common use cases -- from order tracking to order placement to portfolio reviews etc.

“A product framework that will enable us to easily integrate multiple products while maintaining a configurable workflow. This will speed up the availability of products on our platform. Investment planner to enable a client to look at various life goals and come up with a scheme-level to facilitate that investment. A future goal would be to recommend other products like Corporate Fixed Deposits, Bonds, etc based on the risk profile of the client,” adds Anurag. 

He says apart from this dynamic portfolio reviews integrated into the app to ensure the user is constantly alerted on any changes required on their portfolios. Seamless user authentication and onboarding across various trusted devices without the need for remembering usernames and passwords. Integrating new-age payment mechanisms like UPI / Wallets to enable easy transaction flow for such products.

Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti

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