Traditionally, when individuals had to avail a loan, they approach such as banks or Non-Banking Financial Institutions (NBFCs). There, they would be required to produce a plethora of official documents for verification post which the loan application would take weeks and, in some cases, months, to be approved and for the loan amount to reach the customer’s account. However, the lower-income segment of the society faces several obstacles even at the application level.
They tend to approach informal sources such as moneylenders as most formal institutions deny them access to credit due to a variety of reasons including their own norms of lending to people who fall under a certain income category. This often results in individuals in the lower-income segment falling into debt traps due to unreasonably high rates of interest charged by informal credit sources. To address this issue, Upwards, a one-stop solution for all credit-wellness needs, particularly for lower-income segments of the society who are unable to avail credit from formal financing institutions, was founded.
Identifying and addressing the issue
At the PAN India level, access to credit continues to remain a challenge. As mentioned earlier, formal financing institutions tend to prefer the crème de la crème of the society, i.e., the upper-middle class and rich segment when it comes to sanctioning loans. However, at least 60% of India falls under the lower-income category, making it challenging to avail loans from banks/NBFCs. At a broader level, a large chunk of India remains unpenetrated when it comes to access to credit.
Today, with rapid digitization, increased internet proliferation, and smartphone usage, there is a vast amount of digital footprint available for every individual. Erstwhile, people were receiving their salaries in cash and most of the population did not have a bank account. Now, with financial inclusion increasing and salaries being remitted to bank accounts, credit histories are recorded systematically, making it simpler for NBFCs to extract the credit history data of an individual to decide creditworthiness.
Founded in 2017, Upwards is addressing the problem of lack of access to credit in a structured manner. Offering quick loans worth up to INR 2.5 lakhs, Upwards sanctions these within 24 hours to salaried individuals across India. An RBI-registered NBFC, the platform has a wider geographical reach with an entirely digital application and approval process.
The Upwards Journey
Abhishek Soni and Nimesh Verma’s magnum opus Upwards was founded to introduce user-friendly ways of inculcating financial wellness and access to credit across the country. Having
realized that there is abundant data available to analyze and assess credit requirements and creditworthiness, Abhishek and Nimesh, both IIT, Delhi graduates, post stints with notable organizations and commencing their own ventures, decided to begin Upwards.
Abhishek, currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Upwards, holds a dual degree comprising of B.Tech and M.Tech in Chemical Engineering and is a CFA Level-2 Candidate specializing in Finance. A seasoned business professional, Abhishek has served in leadership roles at organizations including PwC, The Parthenon Group, and Indifi. He has also commenced and successfully exited his previous social commerce venture.
Nimesh, at present the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Co-Founder of Upwards, holds an integrated M.Tech in Mathematics and Computing. An expert techie, Nimesh has been associated with global organizations such as LinkedIn, Housing.com, and Craftsvilla, besides beginning his own ventures.
Having disbursed loans worth over INR 250 Cr since inception, Upwards caters to a wide range of credit requirements – be it educational, medical, vehicle down payments, shopping, or salary advances. Moreover, the burgeoning platform’s services also extend to salaried individuals from their first day of joining an organization and helps corporates by eliminating the liability from them to extend advances, block working capital, and amend payrolls. With a current team size of nearly 70 professionals in various departments including Credit Collection, Technology, Finance, Operations, and Customer Support, Upwards is headquartered in Mumbai and has a presence in over 50 cities.
However, no venture comes without its share of challenges as they come in various magnitudes every day and are a part and parcel of any entrepreneurial journey. As both Abhishek and Nimesh hailed from non-finance backgrounds, gaining an in-depth understanding of how the lending segment works at an operational level came after extensive research, work, and everyday learnings. Comprehending the nuances of lending and the finance sector as a whole posed a challenge. But possessing digital expertise and the ability to analyze and understand data and constantly iterate based on the learnings came in handy. As time progressed, both the founders began to gain a strong foothold on the domain and innovative solutions followed.
Funding and Futurescape
Commenced as a bootstrapped startup, Upwards closed its seed funding at the idea level and then went on to raise the Series A round in late 2018 backed by marquee investors such as Shunwei Capital, India Quotient, and Mayfield Fund. So far, the platform has raised a total of USD 5 million and plans to raise funds later this year. The company is aiming for a month-on-month growth rate of 20%-30% and looks to grow 3x-5x on a year-on-year basis. Through its
tech-enabled services, Upwards aims to penetrate the underserved population of India and ensure that access to credit is no longer a pipe dream for them.
Source: Business World