India’s biggest consumer finance company Bajaj Finance wants half its revenues to come from digital channels like online sales and mobile shopping in the next decade, up from 8% currently. In the next nine months, the company plans to roll out several new initiatives to strengthen its presence in the digital medium.
For starters, the group’s flagship company Bajaj Finserv will launch a website that will carry over 100,000 products from its existing pool of vendors, mostly in the consumer durable space. The strategy is two-pronged: it will provide its vendors a strong alternative platform against competition from e-commerce companies like Amazon and Flipkart and secondly, Bajaj will have access to crucial shopping data that will help build its lending engine better.
For the year ended March 2018, Bajaj Finance funded 702,000 purchases in e-commerce platforms compared to 167,000 in the previous year, a growth of 320%. The company expects the incidence of online transactions to increase across the board in all its offerings – from personal loans to buying insurance products on the go.
The move is both interesting and fraught with risks. The twin Bajaj firms have had a blistering rate of growth in revenue and profitability over the last decade. In fact, Bajaj Finance’s stock has performed much better than HDFC Bank, the blue blood of banking stocks. Much of that stock performance was backed by how the companies built their retail customer base unlike other non-banking finance firms in the business.
Despite a low consumer sentiment in the last few months, Bajaj Finance posted a 42% increase in net profits in the last quarter of FY19 and the market capitalisation of the two firms increased 25% in the last two months even as the overall sentiment for the NBFCs is still low after recent crises involving firms like IL&FS and Dewan Housing.
But, competitors are catching up with Bajaj in its game. Banks like HDFC, Axis and ICICI have learnt the game and offer quick loans like Bajaj goes and the banks also have an advantage of lower cost of funds. According to credit bureaus, there are about 60 million customers who have a credit rating of 850 and above, considered the top notch customers for companies that give loans. These A rated customers don’t default and are also big spenders, who form the bulk of Bajaj customers. They are also the easy game for competitors.
So, Bajaj is upping the ante. It is building a new arsenal in the digital space as more and more Indians are shopping online for consumer durables, the biggest focus area for Bajaj’s retail loans. In this game, Bajaj will be the first mover among the NBFCs and banks and by doing so, it will also have access to customer data which it intends to use to further fine tune its lending process.
The risk, however, is that the online space is a whole new territory where Bajaj has little expertise. Fintech major like Paytm have toyed around with the concept before with its Paytm mall, an idea that did not take off as expected.
What’s Bajaj’s gameplan? Read the cover story in the latest edition of Fortune India, which also carries the maiden list of the top wealth creators in the country.