‘Enabling livelihoods and elevating lives’. How did you arrive at purpose as a differentiation and how is Equitas delivering on this promise?
Equitas’ business model is quite unique. For the lending side of business, we are dealing with people from the underserved segments like a daily wage worker, a truck driver who wants to become the owner, a micro finance customer who is typically working in a small dosa shop or a kirana store. These people will not get loans from the formal economy. At Equitas, we want to upscale them, we want to bring them to the mainstream and give them a loan which will help them improve their livelihood.
We are their preferred choice because if not for us they will have to go to an NBFC or some kind of money-lender, where they will have to pay a higher interest. Our entire purpose is to ensure people at the bottom of the pyramid are getting upscaled to the next level and they are coming into the formal credit system and they have a track record.
In liability (deposits), we deal with the mass affluent and HNI segments. Our entire focus is to ensure that the middle class are getting the best return on their hard-earned savings. We try to ensure that through Equitas they get a rewarding rate of interest.
The most important proposition that we have for the liability customers, apart from a higher rate of interest, is that they also contribute to a better community as reflected in our brand positioning ‘Beyond Banking’. Every person who deposits with us knows that their money is used to give back to the community.
How has it been received? Has it been a compelling reason for people to open an account with Equitas?
We are growing fairly well both in terms of lending and liability. Our entire communication campaign and our brand positioning has caught up well with the people. A lot of customers are liking it, a lot of consumers are liking the entire model of business. They are earning a rewarding rate of interest with Equitas and they are also contributing in an indirect way to the community. I think the proof of pudding is in business numbers. Our liability business is growing, our asset business is growing.
The ‘Circle of Life’ campaign which features transformative stories – how has it fared?
This is again directly linked to our brand positioning of ‘Beyond Banking.’ One thing Equitas can stand up and vouch for is how many people’s lives we have transformed. People at the bottom of the pyramid are uplifted by getting that most important loan, with which they can have something called progress.
We coined this campaign called ‘Circle of Life’ where we have seven to eight stories and all of them are of real Equitas customers. We have ensured we partner along with them and give them the hope that they can also survive and they can also be successful. Some of our campaigns have gone viral. The response has been very encouraging and people have started appreciating our honest efforts.
This ‘Circle of Life’ campaign is not just for marketing, it is the reality. Anything which has come with authenticity and honesty, it is easy for us to actually shoot it and bring it out. These are the real champions of Equitas and we are so proud to be associated with them. All our films have gotten close to a million views and are well-appreciated by customers and stakeholders, internal and external.
Equitas is a new age bank. Is the marketing approach primarily digital-driven? What is the share of spend by medium?
In the two (Covid) years that we are all at home, a lot of shifts happened. Digital is something we are looking at in a very aggressive way (from a liability perspective) because today consumers have completely changed. Look at Ola, Uber, Amazon – people want everything to happen at their fingertips. The consumers have changed, so as a category banking too has to adapt. Our entire account opening is at their fingertips so people can sit at home and open a bank account online or open an FD online. People have pushed us to shift our entire strategy to digital.
Today we are very strong in terms of digital but we also focus heavily in terms of below-the-line activations. We want to ensure that within a 5 km radius of our branches we do enough activities and create enough visibility so that people in the catchment know about the brand and the product proposition. To create demand, to attract consumers to the brand, we use a mix. This trend will continue. If you want me to put a number to it, I’d say before 2020 it was 40 pc digital but now it is almost equal at 50:50.
IPL is around the corner. You have been associated with Chennai Super Kings since 2018. Is there a reason why the brand hasn’t extended the partnership this year?
Equitas believes cricket is something accepted by at least 70 pc of Indians. We want to be associated with the game and not with any particular team. We have a very good relationship with CSK for six years and this year we thought that maybe we have to relook at our strategy, try to build our brand presence in other markets and other parts of India.
That’s why the conscious decision to try out two teams – we decided to sponsor the Gujarat Titans and RCB. Our campaign is on the lines of ‘Progress with Champions, Progress with Equitas’.
Being with CSK, being with cricket has been beneficial for the brand. We hope and believe this association with RCB and Gujarat Titans will give more mileage for Equitas.
As you said, Equitas SFB is the ‘Banking Partner’ for RCB and Gujarat Titans for 2023. Can you tell us more about this partnership and the ‘Progress’ campaign?
From Equitas’ perspective, from sponsoring one IPL team, we have progressed to now sponsoring two teams. Our association with GT is going to be at the back of the helmet – we will continue to be there because it aligns with our core belief that our customers are the champions and we are the bank supporting them from behind. Hence ‘Bank behind champions’ and ‘Progress with champions’.
We have 60-odd branches in Gujarat. We believe this partnership with GT is going to help us strengthen our brand presence in the western market. For the first time after two years, IPL is going to be back to a home-and-away format. People of Gujarat are going to experience matches at the stadium and it is a very exciting proposition for us.
With regards to RCB, though they may not have won the IPL, they are one of the most followed teams and a valued brand. We have a large presence in Karnataka. We hope and believe that this partnership will ensure that the mindspace Equitas gets is enormous. We will be there on the lead trouser.
You have 856 outlets spread across 15 states. How important is physical presence in the category in an age of e-banking?
Consumers today have completely moved towards digital. Today you can sit at home and book a taxi, order things or food. Consumer behaviour has changed.
We are also trying to ensure that savings accounts, FDs and all the procedures to open them are made digital. But the branches are very, very important. From a servicing perspective, if somebody wants to invest a large amount of money or save their hard-earned deposits, they’d rather that the bank have a physical presence. They want relationship managers to visit them. Nobody is going to cut a cheque of Rs.10 or 15 lakh without seeing someone. You may open an account but you will not cut that Rs.10 lakh cheque.
From a banking perspective the physical and digital are going to co-exist. Both are equally important. That’s the reason our entire marketing strategy is always aligned to both. Digital in terms of account opening, but physical is most important in terms of driving values, trust and relationship.
Equitas has established Equitas Development Initiatives Trust (EDIT) for social initiatives. Can you tell us about it?
We have eight English medium schools in Tamil Nadu under Equitas Gurukul. The trust runs the school. We also have multiple tie-ups with hospitals because our consumer segment is from the bottom of the pyramid and these are the people who need hospitals and accommodation. We have a strong CSR network that handles all these initiatives. We also do skill training. Apart from giving them loans, we also want to ensure that their skills are getting improved.
We run Equitas Birds Nest, which is for the upliftment of the people living on pavements. We give them skill training, give them a house and ensure they stand on their own legs and start making a living.
We contribute 5 pc of our profit to the fund. For us, Equitas CSR is not just a tick item, it’s a way of life. Each and every resource starting invests time in these initiatives.
‘Circle of Life’ and ‘Beyond Banking’ have taken inspiration from what we have been doing since the last 14 years. It’s one thing which we are very proud of as an organisation.
Tell us more about Equitas Gurukul.
We have close to 3,000 children studying in Equitas Gurukul. These children are typically from the bottom of the pyramid, from very, very difficult backgrounds. These are English medium schools and some of the results that we have got are phenomenal. Like our MD (PN Vasudevan) says, ‘An educated child cannot be poor.’
Equitas is also working in women empowerment with initiatives such as Equitas Gyan Kendra. How are these helping women earn a better livelihood?
We focus on skill training in areas like bangle making. When their skills are improved, they can also start making some money and their livelihoods can be protected. This again comes in as part of our CSR which is monitored very closely. Through this initiative, many of our women customers have now become entrepreneurs and they have set up their own businesses. And because of this they are also able to repay their loans on time. This is one successful initiative of Equitas we are very proud of.
The market now has a number of banking players striving to enable a hassle-free banking experience. How is Equitas standing out amongst this?
What is unique about Equitas is our entire positioning. When you bank with us, you contribute. Each and every stakeholder that deals with Equitas is getting some benefit. One is in terms of rewarding interest rates. Their money is also being utilised in the right way – their deposit is being used to lend to the deserving segment. We are also giving a part of the profits, ensuring that we give back to the community and the society for their upliftment.
We have a very strong foundation, strong governance. I think we are in the right spot. Every part of the business we are in is currently growing and I think that should continue.
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