Banking for the common man
By Liffy Thomas
The branchless banking initiative of countries like Brazil and Philippines inspired these social entrepreneurs to start a financial service outside conventional banks using information and communication technologies. Cashnxt Technologies is the latest entrepreneurial venture of Anish Achuthan (26) and Rameena Rabeedin (28). Both have either worked or founded a couple of start-ups based in Kerala, making their entrepreneurial journey more interesting.
Ridiculed by classmates and finding no support and encouragement from parents, the friends are out to prove that dreams can be fulfilled even in the least conducive of environments.
Learning from failures
The seeds for the venture (Mobeo Technologies) were sown in 2007, where they christened their low-cost banking terminal as ‘Personal Banking Machines’. These machines enabled customers access ATM and banking services using their finger print and a mobile pin. But after a year of operation they were forced to close down due to unfavourable market conditions, including RBI regulations, viability of PBM hardware distribution, etc.
“We realised our mistakes and took the failure of Mobeo as a learning experience,” says Anish, president and CEO of Cashnxt Technologies, which they re-launched in 2008. “We decided to partner with companies that had already launched similar low-cost banking devices for the rural poor.”
Their new kiosk is a plug ‘n’ play branchless banking network that enables customers in semi-urban and rural markets to undertake most financial transactions. It uses a network of low-cost ATMs (manufactured by Vortex Engineering, Chennai), Smart Teller Machines (developed jointly by interns of IIT-Varanasi and SKIT, Jaipur, which enables a customer perform all transactions done in a regular bank by interacting with a real teller from the bank using two-way audio and video), E-POS terminals, and a mobile and branchless banking gateway to offer services like cash withdrawal, depositing cash, printing cheque books, etc.
“Huge operational cost and poor connectivity are main reasons why banks do not set up ATMs in villages. As service providers our network can be used by any bank or MFIs on a pay-per-use basis without any capital investment or additional infrastructure,” explains Anish, who also founded companies like Ifuturz Wireless and TNGiCube.
Cashnxt has partnered with four banks in Kannur for their pilot project, which will commence from December, and has deployed 10 such kiosks. They are currently looking for funding and partners to take them places. The company is also moving its base to Gurgaon where it hopes will give them more access to Venture Capitalists and like-minded banks.
Anish’s exposure with various companies, which he was associated since his engineering days, helped him pool the initial resource for Cashnxt. “We started in Kochi with a 15-member team, with investments from a group of friends and alumina of our college,” they recall.
Thanks to Venturewoods, where Anish blogs, and LinkedIn he found more like-minded people who were ready to share their expertise with him. Kishore Bobba (former VP of First Bank of Delaware, USA), Pradeep Bhutani (former VP technology of Knowcross Solutions) and Shivani Vig (financial consultant with IBM Global Services) are other core members in his team, which he connected through online platforms.
Their road ahead is challenging, but they agree if they cross these obstacles it will bring smiles to rural bankers.
Company: Cashnxt Technologies
Founders: Anish Achuthan and Rameena Rabeedin
Focus areas: Offering banking service to the banked and unbanked customers in rural and semi-urban markets using low-cost ATMs and STMs
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