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‘Neo-Banks Have A Very Bright Future In India’ Sukeert Shanker, Co-Founder & CEO, Aeldra

Aeldra’s target customers are typically mass affluent and affluent customers who are educated, globally aware and professionally successful.

Tell Us about your business model? How does it work? And journey so far?

Aeldra Financial Inc is a Palo Alto-based pioneering digital neo bank launched in 2019 that is opening up a world of financial opportunities to Indians, and soon citizens of other countries. Aeldra’s mission is to democratize global banking by offering borderless banking to everyone, regardless of their nationality. It offers customers seamless access to banking and investment services with ethical and customer-centric products.

Customers can open an Aeldra FDIC-insured U. S. bank account with a Mastercard Global Debit Card designed for residents outside the U.S. in 10 minutes on their mobile phones using their passport. Aeldra is the only company to offer that capability due to the high regulatory and compliance requirements. The founder, Sukeert Shanker, is an ex-Goldman Sachs banker who launched Marcus, Goldman’s consumer business, worked with leading companies like McKinsey, Ernst & Young and ANZ across Asia and the U.S. over a 21 year career. He has deep relationships and credibility with U.S. regulators and has worked with them to create this business.

Aeldra offers services in partnership with regulated U.S. financial institutions, and has multiple revenue sources including card interchange, interest from banks on deposits, fund incentives, Mastercard incentive and exchange rate conversion. Its philosophy is fair and transparent banking, meaning customers should not have to incur fees to manage their own money. Aeldra does do not charge customers any fees – no account opening fees, minimum balance requirement, transfer or transaction fees, monthly fees, annual fees or mobile banking fees.

Aeldra currently offers its services across the US-India corridor and is expanding to Brazil in December. Aeldra will be in 7 markets across the globe by the end of 2022.

Aeldra is able to offer these services globally and at low cost because of its cutting-edge technology, including machine learning and a cloud-based real-time 24X7 platform.

‘Aeldra’ sounds very interesting, is there a story behind it? 

Aeldra (pronounced ‘Eldra’) means ‘noble’ in old English. The founders did a lot of research on what customers want in a global bank and the top two were Trust and Transparency. The founders felt that the name should be global since the ambitions are global but reflect the values of integrity, trust and customer advocacy that the Company adheres to.

Very literally Aeldra meant, “lives by the Elder Tree”. The Elder Tree is very popular in Europe and has been around for a very long time. The tree has many auspicious connotations in several different European cultures. Living by the Elder Tree is believed to provide protection, and image of the tree signifies being guided by someone of wisdom and authority. A common belief is that the tree symbolizes growth, eternity and legacy. It inspires people to be the best versions of themselves and find fulfilment. Our Private Bank, coming soon, will be launched under the brand Elder Tree by Aeldra Financial, Inc. 

Overall, the founders believe a lot in the power of a brand. Rather than be a “cool” neo-bank like many others, which quickly become jaded and undifferentiated, the Aeldra brand is positioned like a luxury brand that is accessible to all. Aeldra is a cosmopolitan name with gravitas, to communicate to customers a long-term commitment of giving them the high-quality, safe and secure service.

Interestingly, in Harry Potter the Elder Wand was one of three magical objects that made up the fabled Deathly Hallows, along with the Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility.

What services do you provide and who is your targeted audience?

Aeldra is a full-service neo-bank. We are currently offering a U.S. bank account with a Mastercard Debit Card and will soon a trading platform on which investors from India and buy U.S. stocks. This will also have fractional trading, i.e. if Amazon stock price is $3,470, Aeldra customers can buy as little as 1% of a share. In 2022, we will offer robo-advisory, managed investment accounts and alternative assets (Private Equity, Venture Capital, Hedge Funds) to give access to customers who otherwise will not have the option of investing in those. Most importantly, customers can benefit from the assurance and convenience of a U.S. bank account linked with their U.S. brokerage account.

Later this year we are launching a no-FICO credit card and a no-FICO mortgage for our customers, and will also offer insurance.

Our mobile banking App is designed for cross-border banking. It is simple and intuitive and customers do not need an understanding of U.S. banking to make transfers, set alerts, view their balances & transactions, and contact the Aeldra Concierge. Through the App customers can do account-to-account transfers, free real-time peer-to-peer transfers, bill pay and use their virtual debit card.

Aeldra’s target customers are typically mass affluent and affluent customers who are educated, globally aware and professionally successful. The personas are very diverse, including Professionals, International Students, Frequent Travelers, Indian Immigrants, HNWI, Family Members of Indians in the U.S., Freelancers, Entrepreneurs & Small Businessmen, and Investors. There is a lot of excitement from customers who are using the account for education overseas, supporting children and family in the U.S., access leading global stocks on U.S. exchanges, buying property in the U.S., hedging against rupee depreciation and travel.

Tell us about your partnership with Mastercard? What is a Global Master debit card and what are its special benefits for cross border citizens? What about your other partners?

Aeldra has a special partnership with Mastercard. The Mastercard CEO, Michael Miebach, the successor to Ajay Banga, mentioned Aeldra as one its two major fintech partnerships in the U.S. on the Q4 2020 Analyst Call.

Ajay Banga had set Mastercard’s mission as increasing access for all based on diversity, equity and inclusion. That aligns very strongly with Aeldra’s founders’ values and their vision for Aeldra.

The Mastercard debit card can be used everywhere Mastercard debit cards are accepted. Indian customers can use it in the U.S. seamless without incurring forex mark-ups or international transaction fees. Aeldra’s global Mastercard Debit Card covers more than 210 countries. The Aeldra Debit Mastercard can be used at all ATMs that accept Mastercard, Cirrus or Maestro worldwide (over 30,000 ATMs in the U.S.).

Aeldra’s customers benefit greatly from Mastercard’s ID Theft Protection and Zero Liability services that protect them from fraud and closely identify and monitor theft. New customers can access their virtual debit cards immediately on opening an Aeldra account. Aeldra has worked with Mastercard to mail the global cards directly to India, which involves a number of security and regulatory requirements. Beginning July 2021, Aeldra and Mastercard have executed a procedure to mail physical cards to customers in India.

Consumers can maintain a U.S. bank account to shop and spend through their Mastercard Global Debit Card and not worry about carrying enough cash. They can save up to 15% in foreign transaction fees and exchange rate mark-ups of an Indian card.

Aeldra also partners with Blue Ridge Bank, N.A. to offer banking services. Blue Ridge is a 135 year old bank in Virginia which is Federally-chartered (i.e. a national bank) and FDIC-insured. It is a conservatively managed bank with focus on risk management and compliance.

What is your take on the growing popularity of Neo banks in India? What about its future in the Indian Landscape?

The fintech revolution is still in its infancy in India, with neo-banks a very important part of it. So far a lot of the innovation and growth has been on the lending side, and for various reasons including the regulatory requirements, neo-banks have not grown as fast as expected. This is completely justified because without a sound regulatory framework, customers can be hurt.

There is however no doubt that neo-banks have a very bright future in India given that millions of Indians do not have access to quality banking. Even for the millions of customers who have accounts with traditional banks, neo-banks can provide a personalized high-quality experience. The Government of India has put the building block with the payments infrastructure in place and is very supporting of the use of technology to improve access and quality of banking. With high smartphone penetration and millions of digital-native consumers, mobile banking and investing is the future. Over the next 20 years we will see neo-banks disrupt traditional banking in the same was as Amazon disrupted traditional retail. I see Aeldra being an integral part of this given the global outlooks, lifestyles and professions that millions of Indians have.

What are the leverages of borderless banking? How safe and hassle-free it is from the usual banking process?

Aeldra provides a world of opportunity to customers to spend, save and invest seamlessly across the globe at their fingertips. With Aeldra, you can open an account and do all the above from the comfort of your home through mobile banking.

The convenience, savings on fees and forex, safety and security, etc. are unmatched by any other bank, fintech or money transfer service. Cross-border banking is structured around a safe, secure, quick and convenient digital framework that allows you to access your bank account with a tap on the screen of your mobile phone, anywhere and anytime. There is no need to spend time visiting a branch.

Even Indians who have moved back to India find it difficult to manage their accounts in U.S. banks. That is because their mobile banking and customer service is not geared towards cross-border banking. Aeldra offers simplicity and high quality of service. Our customer service agents, called Concierge, are familiar with Indian banks, wire processes, LRS, tax, etc. They can actually help customers. U.S. banks or money transfer services cannot. We are investing very heavily in customer servicing which is 24X7 and multi-channel. While digital bank is the core, you cannot do without high quality customer service. Customers do want someone that they can pick up the phone to, email or chat with to help them with getting the most of their cross-border account.

This is quite different from the RMs that Indian banks provide whose main goals is to cross-sell and upsell products. Our Concierge is only there to help.

Soon we are launching dedicated Concierges for our premium clients. The Concierge will be able to anticipate and address the customer’s issues even before they face them!

How does one can channelize your investments abroad?

Transfer of funds from India is through the LRS route, which is fairly well defined in scope and process. Once you transfer the funds to Aeldra you can use the account to invest in financial assets or even real estate in the U.S. We take care of providing the information needed for Indian tax filings under the double taxation treaty with the U.S.

How can students benefit with an Aeldra Account and cross border banking?

The biggest draw for Indian students to open an Aeldra account is that they can be financially independent from Day 1 of their stay in the U.S. They can open a U.S. account even before getting their F-1 student visa by using their passport as document proof, following a simplified application and an automated KYC-check process. They can fund the account and have a functioning debit card in their hand before they board the flight. Currently students can take 3-4 weeks to open a U.S. account, fund it and get a debit card. They have to manage with cash or expensive options like pre-paid cards or Indian cards.

Students who have accounts with Aeldra love the intuitive app that offers uncomplicated and easy functionality and payments. We have designed Aeldra to give students unmatched convenience, high-tech mobile banking experience and 24/7 support in the form of our personalised concierge service without charging them a single dollar in fees. In fact, the costs they save in fees can be as high as 15% on the money they spend since Aeldra has no fees – no account fees, no minimum balance requirement and absolutely no transaction fees!

Among other benefits that Aeldra student customers can avail are:

  • Multi-layered security for information, fraud protection and unauthorized transaction protection
  • In-app 24X7 servicing through calls or secure messaging, from a Concierge who understands India to U.S. cross-border banking, and is empathetic, friendly and solution-oriented
  • Safety of an FDIC-insured bank account up to $250,000 in deposits through Blue Ridge Bank, N.A., a 128-year-old U.S. bank
  • Debit card lock/unlock through the App, to ensure peace of mind when card is not being used
  • No foreign currency mark-up fees
  • AeldraPay real-time free peer-to-peer payments to split bills or rent with friends on- the-go

In fact if students need urgent help for any reason unrelated to the bank account, our Concierges are trained to help in any way that they can.

How do you provide a ‘Zero Fee’ bank account to U.S.-bound Indian students?

When we say we offer a ‘zero fee’ bank account, we mean:

  • No Monthly Fee or Account Maintenance Fee.
  • No Minimum Balance Requirement or Penalty.
  • Free Bank-to-Bank Transfers.
  • Free Wire Transfers.
  • Free AeldraPay, real-time Peer-to-Peer Transfers.

Aeldra earns income from many sources through our partners including interest, interchange, incentives and fees. To be honest, traditional banks also earn income from these sources but their costs of consumer banking are so high that they need to charge customers fees to be profitable. Ours is a scalable, new-age platform and our philosophy is to share the value that we create with our customers. We can earn substantially more income by charging fees and customers will be willing to pay to access our unique cross-border service, but that is not in line with our vision of ethical, inclusive and transparent banking.

What precautions does Aeldra take for the safety of its customers?

FDIC-insurance

Numerous multi-layered technology security features for authentication, transaction monitoring, unauthorized access or transaction, point-of-sale fraud, identity theft and many more threats.

Mastercard’s ID Theft Protection and Zero Liability services that protect them from fraud and closely identify and monitor theft

In App features like locking/unlocking the debit card with one click so that it is activated only when needed.

Customized alerts and notifications to inform the customer of all transactions and changes to the account

Geolocation based tracking and security

What are your future plans?

Aeldra is just getting started. As mentioned, Aeldra is expanding into new countries and new products. Indian customers can look forward to our trading platform with a single account for banking and trading within 60 days. We are also signing a number of partnerships in India that will be announced soon.

Source: Business World

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