From DATA to Access: India’s Path to Financial Inclusion


Deepak Sharma, President and Chief Digital Officer of Kotak Mahindra Bank, recently delivered a thought-provoking address on the topic of financial inclusion in the digital age at Elets 8th BFSI Leadership Summit took place on 23rd August 2023 in Mumbai. Sharma questioned the very premise of the topic, offering compelling data points and insights into how India is faring in terms of digital adoption and what are the challenges lying ahead.

Rethinking Financial Inclusion

Sharma began by stating the term “financial inclusion” in the context of the digital age. He mentioned that in today’s digital landscape, the focus has shifted from inclusion to exclusion. With over 400 million internet users in rural India, accounting for 52% of the country’s population, Sharma emphasized that rural India is not lagging behind in digital adoption.

He mentioned, “when it comes to financial services, we’re lagging. Initially, the challenge was the need for physical branches, but that’s no longer the case. The rise of microfinance and banking correspondents has bridged the last-mile gap. Yet, financial services haven’t fully embraced the digital infrastructure we’ve built.”

Data and Affordability

He highlighted three key data points:

  • India has the cheapest data pricing in the world.
  • Data consumption in India is among the highest globally
  • On average, there is a consumption of over 20 GB of data per user in India.

According to him, these factors have eliminated the barriers of access and affordability, especially in rural areas.

The Challenge of Financial Services

Despite the digital foundation, he noted that financial inclusion has not kept pace. He attributed this to the initial need for physical branches and distribution networks. However, he acknowledged that the advent of banking correspondents and microfinance institutions has improved last-mile access to financial services.

Kotak Mahindra Bank’s Digital Journey

He shared the success story of Kotak Mahindra Bank’s digital banking initiative, 811. Launched six years ago, the bank has acquired close to 30 million digital customers, a five-fold increase from its 8 million customer base in 2016. Interestingly, many of these customers come from areas where the bank has no physical presence.

Customer Expectations and Challenges

He pointed out that customers, especially from rural areas, are ready for a fully digital experience. However, challenges like KYC and financial literacy remain. He also emphasized the need for protecting customers from falling to scams.

Regulatory Changes and Innovations

He praised the recent regulatory guidelines on data privacy and micro-insurance products. He also mentioned innovative products like the Kisan Credit Card, which leverages digitized land records to provide credit to farmers.

Future Outlook

When asked about the future, Sharma identified four key themes:

  • India Stack: A public infrastructure stack that continues to evolve.
  • MSME Growth: A significant engine for economic growth in India.
  • Technology-Led Transformation: Massive investments in upgrading technology across financial institutions.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): A major push in areas like credit risk, fraud prediction, and customer service.


Deepak Sharma concluded by stating that the potential for financial inclusion in the digital age is enormous. He urged stakeholders to seize this opportunity, emphasizing that it’s not just a matter of charity but a viable business model. As India continues to make strides in digital adoption, the challenge lies in ensuring that financial services keep pace, thereby truly achieving financial inclusion for all.

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