‘Technology for the Masses’ in Beyond Profit Magazine

April 21, 2011News

Sameer’s piece appeared in Beyond Profit’s e-magazine.

Artoo’s founder talks about how to reduce microfinance interest rates by reducing operating costs not profits.

We often wonder why the world’s most intuitive technology isn’t available to the masses. Why aren’t iPhone like interfaces available to low-income first-time technology users? Why isn’t enterprise software as slick and easy-to-use as Facebook?

Just like how business models aimed at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) have to be truly innovative to achieve any success, technology supporting such businesses needs to be completely re-imagined, too. The innovation need not lie in any single element of technology, but the success will definitely depend on how various elements are strung together. I personally believe that consumer electronics is going to play a big role in determining the success of any solution.

Today, cloud and mobile (touch-based especially) are opening a whole range of opportunities that even two years ago may have been thought of as too futuristic. Artoo hopes to help business tap some of these opportunities, especially in the areas of financial inclusion, healthcare and education.

Artoo Slate takes the entire process of data collection and loan disbursement online. It captures rich data from the field, does away with the back and forth of paper, avoids innumerable delays and drastically reduces expenses. Our framework enables field agents to operate remotely and helps distributed MFIs to centralize their operations. It is an intuitive interface that has been designed keeping in mind the field staff’s limited educational training and exposure to technology.

We have just completed a pilot, funded by Ujjivan Financial Services and the Lok Capital Foundation, with Ujjivan — one of India’s fastest growing MFIs. The Artoo Slate enabled a 35% increase in productivity, reduced the turnaround time for loans to two days, promises both an annual benefit of INR 74.4 crores (US$15.8 million) and a 2.44% reduction in the Operating Expense Ratio (OER).

We have validated, through our pilot, that field agent adoption rates and performance are independent of seniority and the technological savvy of individual field agents. Our solution will allow for easy exchange of data between field staff and backend staff in a way that will reduce time spent on customer query clarification and identification and resolution of errors in customer profile and loan application forms thus enhancing the due-diligence process. It will also serve as platform through which MFIs can train their field staff on-the-go and monitor them on a real time basis to improve their overall service quality.

–Sameer Segal

Published in Beyond Profit

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