Future of Work 2020: Technology is the way forward for financial inclusion in Bharat, says the Head of D91 Labs

Speaking at YourStory’s Future of Work event, Dharmesh BA, the Head of D91 Labs, discusses the roadblocks for financial inclusion and how to help the community build better fintech products.

Future of Work 2020: Technology is the way forward for financial inclusion in Bharat, says the Head of D91 Labs

Thursday March 12, 2020,

3 min Read

“If you are someone that has received a phone call from banks to help you avail of a loan, you are part of only about five percent of India’s population that receives such a call,” said Dharmesh BA of D91 Labs at the third edition of YourStory’s Future of Work event.

D91 Labs is an open-source initiative by Setu, the API provider for financial products. The non-profit firm publishes open-source research that helps fintech companies to develop financial services for Bharat, which comprises 95 percent of people who are underbanked or unbanked.  

Dharmesh BA Future of Work

Dharmesh BA, Head of D91 Labs discusses financial inclusion for Bharat at the 3rd edition of YourStory's Future of Work.

According to Dharmesh, who heads the research lab, the number of people who are excluded from this financially walled garden amounts to about half a billion. 

Speaking at the event, he poses the question of why these people are not receiving calls for loans.

“Does this mean that they don’t borrow? They do borrow, but from informal sources which leaves them at the mercy of high-interest rates,” he said. 

Dharmesh then asked the audience, “What causes people to look at these sources when other secure and formal sources are available?” He said that the current product design for fintech products is flawed, resulting in the exclusion of masses from financial inclusion. 

“We are designing products which are EMI in nature, and since we are targeting people who have a regular salary income, all the banks are targeting the same person frequently through different channels. So, we do not have customised products for people outside this bracket,” he added. 

The broken distribution network possesses another roadblock for financial inclusion in Bharat.

“When we talk about this, for me, the cost to establish infrastructure for a village and then give them Rs 100 (small-ticket loans) does not make it viable or feasible when it comes to making profits through that product,” he explained. 

However, he believes that technology provides the advantage to bring millions of financially excluded people into the financially covered bracket. Even though the rate of penetration of loans, mutual funds, and insurance is low, the rapid growth in technology and internet penetration rate is high. Technology can be used as a medium of distribution to generate the cost of taking fintech solutions to Bharat. 

To help enable such solutions, the team at D91 Labs is involved in bringing together research and insights to empower fintech companies to build products that have financial inclusion as an ethos.

They envision doing this through real stories and anecdotes of people. Currently, they are collating stories of millennials, migrant workers, small businesses, and rural women as their financial journey is different from the users of fintech today. 

As of now, they have close to 45 stories across India from small merchants and entrepreneurs, gig economy workers, and more, and hope to present it to the community to build financial products that meet their needs.  

(Edited by Suman Singh)

A big shout out to our Future of Work 2020 Sponsors: Alibaba Cloud, Larksuite, Vodafone Idea Limited, Gojek, Adobe, Udaan, Pocket Aces, Junglee Games, Sharechat, Open, VestaSpace Technology, Maharashtra State Innovation Society, Kristal.AI and GetToWork; and our Knowledge Partner: Ascend Harvard Business Review