Businesses for impact in the spotlight: 4 insights into transforming access to financial services in Nepal ​ ​

An Interview with Amit Agrawal, CEO, Janaki Technology Pvt Ltd.

​How can technology be used to create inclusive financial infrastructure for women in remote communities? The Palladium-run SPRING Accelerator supports entrepreneurs who can bring products and services to adolescent girls. Read an interview with Accelerator participant, Amit Agrawal, CEO of Janaki Technology Pvt. Ltd., about his journey towards increasing financial inclusion for women in Nepal.

Amit Agrawal is a Nepali tech entrepreneur and CEO of Janaki Technology Pvt Ltd, an award-winning software company that operates the digital wallet Khalti.

Amit recently participated in the SPRING Accelerator programme, which helps growth-oriented businesses in East Africa and South Asia develop innovations that transform the lives of adolescent girls through human-centered design (HCD) – a process of gaining a deep understanding of people’s needs in order to develop new solutions. This resulted in Khalti’s recent launch of Smart Chhori – an app that bridges the digital gender divide by turning tens of thousands of young women into financial decision-makers through financial and digital literacy training.

1.Tell us about your vision: why does it matter?

Until last year, it took me one hour just to buy a movie ticket in my country. And a lot of people near Kathmandu take more than half a day to pay electricity bills. No infrastructure or bank can reach the most mountainous parts of Nepal so people still keep their savings under their pillows because the nearest bank is at least an hour’s drive away. Everyone is wasting energy, time and money.

We wanted to change that, and technology is the only way forward. So, we decided to use smart phones to reach every single corner of Nepal and launched Khalti last year. The app revolutionises financial transactions by letting users seamlessly pay for utility bills, mobile phone top-ups or cinema tickets. Within just one year, we subscribed half a million users!

But we still have a long way to go! We want to take Nepal’s payment industry from offline to online. We believe that smartphones and a simple, high-quality, online product can change people’s habits and the way they make financial transactions.

2. What’s the biggest challenge to revolutionising Nepal’s payment industry?

The biggest challenge has been changing people’s habits. They don’t pay their bills in the way they could today – they’re acquainted to their old ways. It takes a lot of effort to persuade them that technology works and is trustworthy given that they can’t see where the money is going. For that reason, technology must be simple to enable a seamless user experience. But it also needs to be secure, resulting in a challenging balancing act between user experience and security standards.

Another massive challenge in Nepal is building an ecosystem for our product. A digital wallet isn’t a standalone product. Any well-working payment system requires easily loading and receiving funds, and most banks and merchants in Nepal don’t have the adequate digital infrastructure in place for real-time payments. Building additional technology and platforms isn’t going to happen overnight.

3. How did joining SPRING transform your business?

SPRING taught us two lessons: First, girls can be a viable consumer market. While 51% of Nepal is female, only 17% of our wallet users are female. If we can’t reach that female customer base, we’ll never achieve our vision of bringing easy access to finance to every household. Our Smart Chhori initiative bridges this gap: younger generations are ‘early adopters’ that can help onboard their parents and older relatives who aren’t comfortable with using technology, and it also empowers girls to become financial decision-makers. 

Second, it’s not about your product, it’s about your end user, the people. You need to figure out where your product fits into the daily lives of your users, how it’s going to make their lives easier even if it means failing with your initial idea. Applying HCD made us understand what our customers want: we dropped our initial Smart Chhori idea of employing girls as sales agents of the wallet because we realised that girls weren’t interested in these jobs but had a huge desire to become financially literate. So instead, our training app now turns these girls into users and influencers.

4. What are the ‘must-dos’ other businesses aiming to change the world through innovation should consider?

First, it’s not about what you want to build or what your product is. Think about what people want, why they need your product: does it solve a massive problem in their life today, not in a year?

Second, you’re not going to function alone in the market. Build an ecosystem, identify other relevant stakeholders and what they need for your product to work. In Khalti’s case, that’s banks and merchants.

Third, Rome wasn’t built in one day. Be serious, committed, dedicated, determined and passionate to build something great and change things. If you really want to achieve your vision, you need to believe in your team and your cause.

The SPRING Accelerator is run by Palladium and funded by the UK government, USAID and the Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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