Fintech & Digital Banking

Nuggets from Building India’s First Agri-Fintech Platform on Blockchain

Abhishek Bhattacharya - Co-founder at Whrrl

Can you tell me a bit about your background and your current role?

Currently a Co-Founder and CPO of Whrrl, I have an extensive background in Blockchain having worked with several blockchain startups like Karachain,, Vayla et. al. In addition, I have been the advisor to several blockchain-based startups and am also a co-author of a book on Blockchain and Cybersecurity published by Asia’s largest IT publisher. I also teach blockchain to the young crowds as an attempt to move them towards a career in blockchain technology.

Can you tell us more about Fintech and its importance today?

Fintech has been a buzzword in the world of finance reimagining the entire banking space, with banks moving to digitization. Until recently financial service sector has been regarded as the industry slowest to grasp innovation while now it’s more focused on technological innovation bringing a fundamental shift by placing the customer at the core of everything. The global market crossed the US $111 Billion mark back in 2019 itself and has continued to grow, which essentially shows how well technology is reaching far-fetched areas of the world, where basic financial services have been a dream, are now seeing that expedited with the use of technology. Countries like India have attracted billions in fresh funding in the fintech sector and has been ranked highest globally in fintech adoption. With a population of more than 1.3 Billion, reaching identity frameworks and direct benefit transfers to more than a billion people have paved the path and is a good case study for the world as well.

While banks have been working in an automated environment, the difference that Fintech brought about is that it helped reimagine the way banking service was delivered, making them paperless, cashless and presence less.

The current pandemic underlines the importance of Fintech facilitating financial inclusion, credit flow and insurance in the emerging markets. The age of pandemic that calls for social distancing and contactless transactions are tapping benefits to the Fintech companies due to their disruptive mindset making themselves the essential pillars for successful economic development.

What’s Gone Wrong with Traditional SMB Banking?

What has primarily gone wrong with traditional SMB banking is simply the failure of banks to – one, understand the specific (and personalized) needs of SMBs; two, the action that they’ve been taking of repurposing the commercial or consumer products and offering them to banks. This not only undermines the needs of the SMBs but also gives a clear indication to them that one single bank can’t fulfil all of their purposes – resulting in leaving out more than an estimated US $2 Trillion globally for banks because of lost opportunities in tailoring their solutions.

Traditionally, there have been multiple reasons for SMBs not being served adequately. Lack of data has been a critical reason. In the past, banks haven’t been able to understand their SMB customers in depth. However, that is changing gradually. With the advent of more and more data available at the fingertips of the bankers, just like they’ve started knowing and understanding their consumers better, they have also started gathering more understanding of the SMB customers. Earlier (and even now), when a single SMB doesn’t have all their accounts with a single bank, the bank is unable to get an in-depth understanding of the customer’s standing, requirements, and could not gauge the prospects where they can be cross-sold or up-sold. However, gradually, with fintech getting mainstream for banks (as well as for SMBs many of which were not even online), the potential for growth in the SMB banking and finance segment is eyeing massive growth.

What is the future of digital banking?

The banking sector has seen a massive shift towards digitization in recent years. Mobile and internet access had reached the most remote corners of the world connecting people and organizations across the world that transformed customer expectations and the way organizations functioned. With the rise of new technologies and heightened customer expectations, the industry had started undergoing digital disruption, pre-pandemic, but now it is no longer a choice but an inevitability to embrace digitization.

Post Covid19, in the next 10 years we will see more changes in the banking sector not just because of the advancing technologies, but due to a confluence of inter-related, structural factors such as demographic, socio-economic, regulatory and environmental changes. Digital banks will have to replace customers’ existing interactions and transactions with the banks using robust, scalable technology platforms focusing on omnichannel customer experience, enabling Modular & Open banking with intelligence-driven approaches.

Technologies like AI, Blockchain and IoT will make banking more personalized allowing customers to choose services personalized for their needs from a range of service providers. Further, the rise of digital currencies will bring greater financial inclusion, with enhanced transparency and better real-time transactions and settlements.

Will banks eventually migrate to a cloud and what hardware they will keep?

Yes, Cloud adoption has reached critical mass. Around 83% of the business workloads are in the cloud and 94% of enterprises already use cloud service. Cloud is not an emerging trend anymore. As security is a major concern today, the cloud constitutes a critical tool for banks to stay competitive in today’s environment by making a move from on-premise solutions to the cloud. Cloud will give banks the means to quickly scale up, improve their agility, drive innovation with cutting edge technology and shift the spending paradigm from CapEx to OpEx.

In the coming years, banks will have to embrace technologies such as Blockchain, Bigdata and AI – not only to provide faster services to their customers but also to safeguard them from ‘potential’ threats by deploying huge workloads of automated transaction risk monitoring processes which can happen much easily when using the cloud. This will not be possible without at-scale computing and storage. It will be very difficult for banks to reimagine mobile banking, payments or lending, and stay in the competition, without an underlying cloud platform.

To add personal experience to the discussion, we are ourselves witnessing even major banks growing very comfortable with the use of cloud – provided that a strong level of security is maintained, as well as that the necessary regulations are obeyed in line with the central bank/authority protocols and guidelines regarding the use of data, processes concerning consumer information storage and data related to the service dispatch to the end-users. The choice of the cloud provider isn’t usually a problem as most of the solutions provide similar levels of security and SLAs. This is a very interesting move to watch as it gradually changes for more and more adoption.

What do you think is the future of the Fintech industry in Asia?

We are at the beginning of a rapid change for the financial sector due to the growing proliferation of smartphones, the introduction of new-age technologies and transparency driven by innovation and financial inclusion. Consumer usage rates of Fintech powered services have doubled within 2 years with Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea having 67% adoption while China leading with 87% penetration.

Talking about India, it has harnessed phenomenal growth in the fintech sector – of 87% adoption rate compared to the global average of 64%. With a market size very soon crossing the US $2.5 Billion, it has already amassed the mammoth US $10 Billion of investments just since 2016. A huge induction of growth in the fintech sector came with India opening certain API platforms over services such as the Aadhaar, UPI, GSTN et. al. under ‘India Stack’, which have given a huge push to the segment. UPI alone has processed over US $69 Billion of transaction volume since its existence just a few years back. On top of it, when we discuss the advent of Blockchain Technology – one that is expected to grow at a CAGR of 37% till 2023 – is paving paths to completely reimagined fintech opportunities – something that would be very interesting to see in the nearest future.

In the coming years, we will witness a drastic change in the Asian financial services landscape, driven by technology, loosening regulations and competition among companies. The market will continue to deregulate leading to the take-off of open banking and virtual banking competition will heat up. In the post-pandemic era, openness to innovation by regulators, growth of API ecosystem, the advent of virtual banking and entrance of new competitors backed by Chinese financial and tech giants will help keep the East on the cutting edge.

Southeast Asia, being the fastest growing regions in the world with 22 million people joining the mobile age every year, provides a massive opportunity for Fintechs to scale up as Covid-19 is accelerating digital adoption of financial services.  On the tech front Blockchain, IoT and Augmented reality will revolutionize the future of Asia’s fintech industry enabling financial service providers to cater to evolving customer expectations of personalization and convenience.

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