Technology is transforming financial services in countless ways. Staff can analyze data at the push of a button, customers can access accounts anywhere and anytime with a phone or computer, and, perhaps most relevant to Accion’s work, financial service providers are using tech-enabled products and services to reach the underserved populations we champion. And yet, in many cases, these services still have a human voice or face, increasing customer comfort and ensuring the relationships go smoothly.

In our recent paper, “The Tech Touch Balance: How the Best Fintech Startups Integrate Digital and Human Interaction to Accelerate Financial Inclusion,” we showcase several fintech startups in the Accion Venture Lab portfolio that are finding an optimal balance between tech and human interaction, making their offerings accessible, affordable, and attractive to their target customers. Three are located in India: CredRight, SMECorner, and Toffee.

India has been an especially dynamic country for fintech startups in recent years, due to the government’s prioritization of financial inclusion. Initiatives like IndiaStack are making it possible for millions of low-income Indians to open bank accounts and access other financial services for the first time. And Indian fintech entrepreneurs are coming forward with new ideas for products and services that build on this emerging and more inclusive financial infrastructure.

CredRight is bringing fintech innovation to a very traditional financial service, the “chit fund,” India’s version of a “ROSCA” (rotating savings and credit association), in which members pay a fee each month and in turn, each member will receive the entire sum collected once in the rotation. CredRight offers bridge loans so chit fund members can borrow against their payout while they wait their turn in the rotation. Many chit funds have been operating for years, and are built on trusting relationships, so CredRight representatives work closely with the fund organizers, meeting with loan applicants in person before they fill out their online forms. By accessing chit fund member data, CredRight has a wealth of information to use in evaluating creditworthiness. Borrowers appreciate the speed of the approval process.

SMECorner, a lender to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), is an example of a fintech startup that pivoted once it realized its initial business model needed more human interaction. It first planned to be an entirely digital lender, but added brick-and-mortar branches and hired loan officers to complement its online tools in order to better to respond to customer preference. Potential applicants can visit a SMECorner branch to ask questions before filling out online forms, and the physical storefronts help raise brand awareness in a crowded market. But while its staff is available to answer questions about the product and help resolve problems if they occur, the backend process is very much digitally driven, with credit approval systems that incorporate data mining and optical character recognition.

Toffee, on the other hand, is an example of a service marketed primarily to digital natives. It offers “bite-sized” microinsurance policies that are affordable and targeted to the needs of urban young adults, such as accident and theft insurance for bicycle commuters and travel insurance for vacationers. While its users are far more comfortable than their parents’ generation with online applications, Toffee has found effective roles for human touch as well. Most significantly, Toffee partners with retail distributors who sell the policies packaged with relevant products and services — for example, a bike shop clerk might suggest that someone buying a new bike consider a Toffee policy to protect it. Since the target customer usually has had little prior experience with insurance, this system helps raise awareness of its benefits.

For more examples of how fintech startups balance tech and touch as they develop their offerings, and general advice on these issues, read the full paper here.

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