Former CEO of IFMR Holdings, Mukherjee, felt a deep desire to make an impact on the lives of underserved customers. She designed Kaleidofin’s financial products keeping in mind the background, risk profile and behaviours of this customer segment, customizing financial solutions to meet their specific needs.
An army background, where the only constant was change, shaped Sucharita Mukherjee’s personality. It made her adaptable to new environment and willing to experiment and explore. After schooling, she graduated in Economics from Lady Sriram College in New Delhi, which further expanded her horizons. “From the Dalai Lama to journalists and scientists, we had many leaders and visionaries visiting our campus and giving lectures. It was very inspiring and taught us to dream,” says Mukherjee with wide-eyed wonder as she recollects those days.
But it still did not tell her what she wanted to do with her life and she prepared for CAT without expecting to get through. She even joined IRMA in Anand, but two weeks later, moved to IIM Ahmedabad. “It exposed me to a culture of excellence, discipline, structured thinking and problem solving,” she recalls.
At that time, probably only 10 per cent of IIMA students were women and there were several presumptions about what line women were capable of pursuing as a career. Capital markets was certainly not one of them, it was still considered a male bastion. And that’s where Mukherjee made her mark in as she joined Deutsche Bank’s capital markets division. Though she joined in Mumbai, she went to London for training and was part of a cross cultural team. She was entrusted with the responsibility of handling client portfolios independently that not only was a great learning experience but also gave her a sense of achievement.
She then moved to join the credit derivatives team in London and was responsible for structuring credit-derivatives-linked repackaged investments for financial institutions. In a move to gain more experience in the real world of corporates, she then moved to Morgan Stanley to lead the origination and structuring effort in credit derivatives and structured finance for corporates, developing innovative asset-backed financing structures in areas such as intellectual property and health-care receivables.
But despite these successes, there remained a feeling of emptiness as she could not answer important questions like “why she was doing what she was doing”. She got introduced to and sought out people from the development sector, visiting NGOs, documenting their work and helping some make their business plans. This resonated deeply with her and she was unable to view her job in capital markets with the same sense of achievement anymore.
In 2008, she met the founders of IFMR Trust (now known as Dvara Trust) which works in the area of financial inclusion. After participating in one of the first brainstorming sessions that informed the core strategy of IFMR Trust, she moved back to India to join them as a co-founder and create products and solutions based on her experience but that would now make an impact, helping the poor. After founding IFMR Capital, which went on to become the most successful capital markets platform specializing in inclusive finance, she became the group CEO of IFMR Holdings. “I now know how finance can be an empowering tool by providing last mile access. I had hands-on experience delivering financial services in rural remote areas via her experience of transforming the KGFS rural retail financial services business of IFMR,” Mukherjee explains.
Given exciting developments in Indiastack, the success of the Jandhan yojana in ensuring universal bank account ownership, much improved connectivity and near universal mobile phone penetration Mukherjee realized that there is now a way to provide personalized financial solutions at large scale to the informal customer segment. A wider segment of people who remained to benefit from the financial and technology revolution taking place in the country could be reached in innovative ways. This desire drove her to start Kaleidofin, along with her co-founder, Puneet Gupta, who had previously founded IFMR’s tech platform and was most recently the Group CFO.
The venture – Kaleidofin
More than 200 million households in India do not have access to formal savings, insurance and investments. Most financial institutions create standardized products and then try to find customers that fit the product. Mukherjee felt that this approach itself was inappropriate, customers in the informal sector in particular could stand to lose much in this “one size fits all” approach. Therefore, following research on the behaviours of this customer segment, their income and expenditure patterns, the underlying volatility in their real and financial lives, Kaleidofin developed tailored financial solutions using intelligent algorithms to suit customers’ unique goals, goals such as education of their children, extension of their home, pension for the times they will no longer be able to work.
The startup, which has raised US $2.8 million in seed fund from Omidyar Network, leverages the full India stack, reaches out to customers via networks, and integrates product partners seamlessly in to the platform. Features such as eKnowyourcustomer (eKYC), eSignature (eSign) and Electronic National Automated Clearing House (eNACH) mandates are already active on the platform to provide a highly convenient and engaging experience to the customer
Its flagship line of financial solutions, Lakshya, is a curated financial solution for customers whose income and expenses are quite volatile, making regular savings challenging. “Most people want to save for a rainy day or a financial goal but are unable to. So we have designed Lakshyasuch that it combines the power of savings with an instant liquidity facility (secured against customers’ investments) to provide a much needed cushion during short term crisis and further adds a goal protection insurance to safeguard against larger shocks such as death, accident and disability,” she explains.
Udaanis designed for longer term goals and for customers with a relatively more robust financial profile.
Kaleidofin has tied up with grassroot organizations such as Sewa Bank and Sonata to reach out to its target customers. It is currently present in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Bihar and Jaipur in Rajasthan. Its nearly 3000 customers range from shopfloor workers to farmers, tailors and dairy workers. The company hopes to reach out to a million customers in the next three years by strengthening its partnership network with grassroots organisations.
“People want to save but have been cheated by Ponzi schemes. We aim to provide them with the most suitable means of protecting their future and achieving their goals,” says Mukherjee.
More than 200 million households in India do not have access to formal savings, insurance and investments. Many financial institutions create standardized products and then try to find customers that fit the product. “This approach is inappropriate, especially for the people in the informal sector,” says Mukherjee, and has developed tailored financial solutions using continuously learning algorithms to meet customers’ life’s goals.