Mom-and-pop stores are pillars of neighborhoods in lower-to-middle income communities. These family-owned retail shops — called warungs in Indonesia, sari-sari stores in the Philippines, or kirana shops in India — serve as the place where people gather, catch up with friends, and purchase daily essentials like food, mobile phone reloads, sachets of shampoo and soap, and even cigarettes by the stick. Often called “the community pantry,” these small shops play a crucial role in meeting the everyday needs of their neighbors.

Despite the important role they play in their communities, these small businesses can rarely access any form of formal financial support. Even as online payments and other digital financial services gain traction, these small businesses have remained largely unchanged, cash-based, lacking formal record-keeping, and therefore left out of the financial system. Without access to financial products, especially the credit needed to purchase inventory, these small merchants are constrained by the cash they have on hand and can’t properly grow their business or meet increasing demand from their customers.

With this in mind, we are excited to announce our investment in Fairbanc. Fairbanc is a tech platform in Indonesia that enables inventory financing for small retail shops with a buy now, pay later product that is integrated in the ordering apps of large FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods) and other retail partners. Fairbanc uses partnerships, technology, and integration with retailers to increase the access to financing for small merchants in Indonesia, 70 percent of which are owned and managed by women.

Here is why we are excited to welcome Fairbanc to the Accion Venture Lab portfolio:

Seamless user experience for small mom-and-pop shops increases adoption and usage

As we have worked with more and more small businesses, we have come to understand the importance of providing these microentrepreneurs with a solution that is as seamless an experience as possible. We are excited by Fairbanc’s approach, as the team has been very thoughtful about their design to make sure their pay-later solution is as frictionless as possible for small mom-and-pop shops. There is no need to download an application, buy a device, or complete complicated loan application forms. As most microentrepreneurs aren’t tech savvy and don’t possess sophisticated devices, Fairbanc’s approach is critical in increasing usage and adoption, creating a more impactful solution for this underserved population.

Closed-loop inventory financing helps businesses grow

For these small shops, cash continues to be king, especially when it comes to procurement. Unable to access credit from formal sources, inventory is typically purchased through cash at hand (sometimes, they resort to informal lenders) which is a major barrier to buying more goods. Through its pay later solution, Fairbanc removes this constraint and allows the mom-and-pop stores to buy more stock, which they can pay for after they have sold to their customers. The increase in inventory leads to growth in sales, which then starts a positive reinforcing loop through an increased credit line and more purchases. In addition, Fairbanc’s provides closed-loop financing, which means that no cash is exchanged. Instead, the credit provided is used only to purchase inventory, ensuring that the financing they receive is always productive and reinvested into their business.

Integration with corporate partners creates efficiency

We have recently seen several successful B2B2C models (or B2B2B in Fairbanc’s case) that acquire end-customers through corporate partnerships. While these initial B2B relationships can have longer sales cycles, they can acquire end customers at scale and efficiently. In Fairbanc’s case, the company works with Unilever, Danone, and other FMCG partners to reach and connect with the small merchants that sell their merchandise. These FMCGs allow access to their merchants because they understand the value proposition – integrating Fairbanc’s the pay-later solution increases inventory purchases of merchants, which in turn leads to top line growth. This win-win collaboration between Fairbanc and their corporate partners allows the company to acquire merchants efficiently and serve the microentrepreneurs in a scalable way. Partnerships are always key when serving the underbanked and underserved, and we can see how Fairbanc has made it a major focus of their business.

Data-driven approach leads to smart lending decisions

The integration with FMCGs also gives Fairbanc access to a wealth of historical data on the merchants. By utilizing AI and machine learning, Fairbanc analyzes the data and determines which merchants would benefit from credit – shops that are seeing increased demand but lack the ability to purchase more inventory to meet it. Fairbanc also relies on data analysis to offer a dynamic credit line that is updated each week based on merchants’ weekly performance. This data-driven approach ensures that the credit provided is utilized well and that those shops that are experiencing increases in sales and demand have the opportunity to continue to grow their business with a larger line.

The pandemic proved how critical this product is for small merchants

Most of Fairbanc’s pilots took place during the pandemic when small merchants desperately needed credit to keep their stores stocked and businesses operating. Across the different pilots of their product, and especially in the rural areas, Fairbanc saw a substantial increase in usage during the pandemic, indicating the additional funding needs of merchants during this time. The additional credit helped merchants keep doors open and even grow their businesses. It is clear from this experience that Fairbanc’s product is highly relevant, especially now as we continue to support small businesses and help entrepreneurs to remain resilient during this challenging time.

Fairbanc marks our fourth investment in Southeast Asia, alongside specialized education lender Pintek in Indonesia and digital B2B SME lender First Circle and earned-wage-access (EWA) platform Advance in the Philippines. We continue to be excited about supporting innovative and impactful founders and startups that bring greater financial inclusion to the region. We believe that Fairbanc’s platform can have a tremendous positive impact, and we are excited to support the team as they reach more small retailers across Indonesia.

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