Empowering Agri – Industry Through Tech Innovations

Arvind SonmaleSAFL is the first NBFC in India providing only Agri- loans with a diverse range of financing options for almost every need of agricultural activity. It thrives towards making the farmers’ life ‘SAFAL’ (successful), says Arvind Sonmale, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Sustainable Agro-commercial Finance Ltd. (SAFL), in conversation with Elets News Network (ENN).

The Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) have grown by 43 per cent yearon-year in Quarter 3 of 2017-18, says Microfinance Institutions Network. With this growth what do you think about the future of NBFCs in India?

NBFCs over the years have played a vital role in the development of the economy, be it in financial intermediation in rural and semi-urban areas or financing activities that are engines of growth, such as transport, infrastructure, farm and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). NBFCs’ growth during the last two years has been quite impressive in spite of the challenging environment and developments like demonetisation. In spite of several impediments and lack of sustainable and adequate supportive funding back up, NBFCs have attained much higher growth rate and proven ability to innovate in recent years. The future role of NBFCs is praised to grow and holds high promise.

SAFL is the first private sector NBFC in India providing Agri – loans to the customers. What milestones have you achieved by promoting a unique offering?

SAFL is the first NBFC in India providing only Agri- loans with a wide and diverse range of financing options for almost every need of agricultural activity.SAFL’s launch is a new milestone in the thinly populated space of private sector financing of agriculture. SAFL’s initiative to finance micro-irrigation has not only conserved water, but also increased the crop yield.In its four and half years of business operations, SAFL has extended loans of over Rs 545 crores to more than 40,000 farmers.SAFL successfully introduced interest-free/very low-interest rate loans for the widows of farmers to improve the means of livelihood.SAFL has also, encouraged and supported farmers by financing the construction of farm ponds in line with Maharashtra Government.

As you are working primarily with the rural populace, how do you overcome the digital hindrances?

Our efforts have always been to make the farmers’ life ‘SAFAL’ (successful). A farmer does not have access to basic amenities which makes it difficult for him to achieve productivity. Where there is a lack of basic amenities we can’t expect a digital infrastructure. To overcome the digital hindrances in common we try to use technology wherever, it reduces the time and most of the other work is followed manually. E.g.: Sanction letters in case of two wheeler loans are issued within 30 minutes of time. The applications are scanned or photographed on smartphones which are then processed for sanction with the credit team. This way we use the technology to its best. All our products/ services require minimum documentation and all information is sent quickly over SMS.

What do you think about the level of technology implementation in NBFC domain?

Definitely, due to technology and smartphones, today banking has become so easy and fast anyone can do it in just a matter of few minutes and the transactions are done in an efficient error proof manner and leaving a proper record. So many people are learning to depend on technology, and that’s why every business must leverage the power of technology now, including NBFCs. A study suggests that NBFCs must challenge the status quo in their business and find funds to invest into operating models with the potential to disrupt the industry. With the digital advance of policy initiatives and exponential increase in smartphone/Internet access, NBFCs need to think hard about tweaking their current business models to grow in a hybrid world of ‘digital plus physical’.

What are you plans in terms of pan-India expansion?

SAFL only finances products which results in increased farm productivity and improvement in the economic betterment and lifestyle of the farmers. Hence SAFL operates only in the rural and semi urban geographies of India. Talking about the geographical expansion so far, SAFL has its Head Office in Mumbai, 56 offices in the state of Maharashtra, 8 locations in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh each.

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