An opportunity in adversity- The genesis of a new-age housing finance company in India

At the peak of COVID-19, when news of gloom and doom dominated headlines, a veteran banker, and a seasoned chartered accountant with more than four decades of experience between them, saw a silver lining in times of a pandemic.

At a time when the whole of Indian financial sector was combatting a credit crisis, Agrim Housing Finance Company, a new-age housing finance company came into being. Their vision was to fulfil the home ownership dream of the credit underserved, lower urban middle class, who typically find it difficult to prove their creditworthiness to traditional lenders for the nature of their profession.

Stemming from a Sanskrit word अग्रिम (Agrim) means first, best and excellent.  The name represents the core mantra of the company to deliver excellence through innovative affordable housing loan solutions and services to the credit underserved segment, thus empowering them and instilling in them the pride of owning their own home!

A conducive environment

Having laboured relentlessly for at least a year to perfect a housing finance model for this target segment, co- founders of Agrim, Malcolm Athaide and Devesh Sharma decided to focus on the opportunity that the adversities of pandemic had provided to reach out to the informal, self-employed, middle-class customers with an annual household income of Rs 3-6 lakhs.

The impact of COVID-19 was visible in the housing finance segment. There was a significant improvement in affordability for home buyer due to correction in property prices and lower interest rate resulting in reduced EMI burden.

Several other conducive factors such as large millennial customer base who had increased access to affordable smartphone and data packs, facilitation of digital infrastructure through Aadhar, UPI, digital signatures and the likes had improved the scope for new and innovative technology solutions. Further, with the COVID-led lockdown having put the middle class on survival mode, housing demand was its peak (at 9 million per year) keeping safety and security norms in mind.

Overcoming all obstacles

With a wealth of experience in various segments of banking ranging from mortgages to digital transformation and fraud control, Athaide and Sharma remained confident that there was no better time to pursue their mission of providing a seamless, secure, and fully digital borrowing experience for Indian lower middle-class families.

Propelling them was their guiding principle of making a social impact by aligning with the Government’s stated objective of providing Housing for All by 2022.Thus, despite myriad disruptions, Agrim Housing Finance was born in July 2020.

A unique user experience

Agrim expects to differentiate itself from its peers by providing an exceptional digital experience with 10-minute pre-approval and 2-day final approval as compared to existing semi-digital process that takes a significantly longer time.

The Agrim mobile app is the key enabler which allows a customer to file a digital application through a few swift moves. He then takes a product journey through a simple set of questions and uploads know-your-customer (KYC) details and other requisite documents digitally.

Digital credit assessment is carried out using proprietary risk scorecards, machine learning tools for superior credit assessment, onboarding and monitoring provides Agrim both cost efficiency and operational excellence over its competitors in the long run.

The road ahead

Agrim remains focussed on the informal, self-employed lower middle-income segment. segment. Focusing on this segment, AGRIM has created over 25 profiles of their target segment based on necessity and sustainable business.

With affordable housing being a relatively safer asset class being touted as the vehicle of recovery and development for the Indian economy at present, the Agrim management is confident that the latent demand for housing finance is huge.

Over time, as the economy improves and these households get more digitally savvy, Agrim harbours ambitions of servicing their target segment with not only with home finance solutions but a range of financial services to enhance their livelihood through their life cycle.

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