How this Delhi startup is enabling rural India to become financially inclusive through its app
According to the 2011 Census, a whopping 72 percent of Indians live in rural areas, which translates to over 74 crores of Indians of the total 1.3 billion. However, disparities in income, consumption, and quality of life between the rural and urban geographies are quite prevalent even today.
More so because, financial illiteracy, lack of employment opportunities, as well as inaccessibility to basic facilities like education and healthcare, has crippled lives in the countryside.
Further, a report by the National Statistical Office (NSO) reveals an increase in rural poverty by around four percentage points between 2011-12 and 2017-18, with the percentage standing at 30.
The founders of Rural Invest.
For this reason, Delhi-based startup Rural Invest is attempting to tackle the urban-rural divide and financial deprivation through a robust digital wealth management solution. Founded by four enthusiastic students in April 2020, the startup has developed a mobile application specifically for people residing in rural areas to invest in mutual funds through systematic investment plans (SIPs).
Started by Naman Tekriwal, Raghav Sharma, Satyam Mehta, and Madhav Sharma, the fintech startup equips people from low-income backgrounds to save for the future, by channelising money in small denominations periodically.
“Over the last few years, we have been observing the inadequacy of financial planning and awareness among rural households. Through some research, we found out that a mere one percent of rural Indians were investing in financial instruments, and only 0.23 percent of them knew about mutual funds. That was when we decided to come up with an effective solution to boost financial inclusion and empower the underprivileged,” says Naman Tekriwal, Co-founder, Rural Invest.
In 2017, all four founders of the startup, were involved in an initiative called High School Investors, where they helped high school students gain knowledge about financial planning and investment options.
When they realised that a large section of Indians, belonging to the rural pockets, was facing a similar problem, and had no familiarity regarding the management of money, they decided to assist them, and thus, started Rural Invest.
Raghav interacting with a customer to obtain feedback on the Rural Invest app.
Bootstrapped since inception, the startup is presently in the process of conducting a beta test of its app, for which it is gathering feedback from its target audience — daily wage workers, maids, and drivers in the neighbourhood.
“First, we taught them about financial investments and its benefits, and later, we assisted them to register on the app to kick-off monthly SIPs as per their financial goals and risk appetite. Many of them found it hard to believe that they could ensure financial stability just by funnelling Rs. 500 every month into mutual funds,” Naman says.
Fifty-three-year-old Sohan Mishra, a Delhi-based driver, who signed up on the app last month, says, “Initially, I took the help of my son to learn how to use the app. But now, I am able to navigate independently. I had transferred Rs 100 through SIPs, and now it has become Rs 120.”
Rural Invest provides a complete wealth management solution for rural residents through its app.
The startup had plans to execute a pilot project across five villages in the state of Haryana. However, the project had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Rural Invest has partnered with Tarakki, a SEBI-registered investment advisor, which is guiding the startup and its product, as well as lending a hand in the areas of app development, and market research.
At present, Naman is pursuing a BBA degree from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, while Raghav is a first-year Environmental Engineering student. On the other hand, Satyam and Madhav are Class 11 and 12 students respectively, with an entrepreneurial bent of mind.
Boosting financial inclusion amongst the rural populace
Rural Invest is a free app which is available both on Android and iOS. Built using a string of algorithms, the financial platform guides people to invest in mutual funds based on their risk appetite, wealth creation goals, and investment outlay.
The feature that stands out the most in the app is that it enables the user to invest in direct plans without any third-party agents like a bank or mutual fund distributor, eliminating the need to pay commission.
One of its feature 'Zyaada,' helps invest money in a liquid fund which can be withdrawn using an ATM-linked debit card. The second feature helps with the long-term liquidity needs, and allows users to invest in an emergency fund either through SIPs or in lump-sum. Rural Invest charges a small commission for the above services.
A screenshot from the app.
“Regular plans charge at least one percent of commission based on the amount invested per month. In the long- term, investors land up losing a considerable sum of money due to this. Most of the rural folk in India are still struggling to earn their livelihood, and many are known to be living with the funds borrowed from moneylenders. So, every rupee matters to them. We did not want to add on to their burden with commissions,” explains Naman.
The Rural Invest app allows individuals to register on the platform through a simple process. All a user has to do is key in the name, email address, and mobile number first. Post that, he/she has to enter the PAN card details for e-KYC verification, and finally, choose from a range of risk-classified mutual funds based on factors like income, age, and risk appetite.
“To make it easy for rural residents to navigate the app, we have made the process of investing as seamless and engaging as online shopping or buying movie tickets. We have already garnered a positive response from several people. So far, Rural Invest has over 400 individuals registered on it, who have, in turn, invested a total amount of Rs 3 lakh,” says Naman.
Madhav talking to a potential customer as part of his research.
“Our long-term plan is to inculcate a habit of saving in the country’s rural population so they can make financially informed goal-oriented decisions. We are also keen on helping them prepare better for unexpected situations like demonetisation or COVID-19, through better education and awareness,” says Naman.