Empowering the Far-Off : Abhishek Pandit

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Abhishek Pandit, Director (Business Services), AISECT

AISECT seeks to not only provide skill-based education to those living in remote areas, it also helps in finding gainful employment. In conversation with Sunil Kumar of Elets News Network (ENN), Abhishek Pandit, talks about how the organisation has also become a go-to name for the nationalised banks

Please tell us about the solutions/services offered by your organisation?

Our organisation works in a number of areas to uplift the rural and semi urban masses. Through a range of product offerings and strategic innovations, including vocational education, higher education, multimedia solutions for K-12 schools, e-governance, financial inclusion, rural recruitment solutions and Government development projects, AISECT has successfully empowered people in the remotest corners of India. AISECT’s core endeavour since its inception in 1985 has been the empowerment of semi-urban and rural population of the country through ICT and skill based education, training and services. Secondly, providing skills training is not going to empower the masses unless the skilled workforce is also offered gainful employment. Therefore, to assist the placement of the skilled candidates in private and public sector enterprises at the small town, district and block levels, AISECT also caters to the employment needs of the rural population.

Apart from skilling and providing employment opportunities, AISECT also offers B2B, B2C and G2C services like data entry, exam form downloads, selling of insurance policies and collection of premiums, financial inclusion services, selling of telecom and DTH recharge vouchers, railway ticketing, access of land records, payment of taxes, national population register entries, Aadhaar card registration, etc. All these services are provided keeping in mind the requirements of local community.

What are the services you are providing in financial inclusion domain and in which other states?

AISECT is working as a Business Correspondent (BC) for 26 nationalised banks including the State Bank of India and Bank of India. Under its financial inclusion scheme, AISECT is extending services such as savings, loan facilities,  account opening, money deposit/withdrawal, and renewal premium collection. Our partnership with establishments like SBI Life and United India Insurance is also helping in imparting insurance services in the unbanked regions of the country. Earlier we were catering to the underprivileged and unbanked population of those districts of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab where AISECT is acting as a Service Centre Agency for the prestigious Common Service Centre (CSC) Project. Recently, we have extended these services to five more states: Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Bihar. Besides SBI and BOI, the organisation has tied up with Gramin Bank, Indian Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce, Punjab National Bank, Punjab and Sind Bank, all associated banks of SBI, Syndicate Bank, UCO Bank, Union Bank and Vijaya Bank to provide financial inclusion services. AISECT is also working with NPS Lite for Provident Fund services. Additionally, we are also offering PFRDA products, PAN card, insurance services, financial consulting to all these states.

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With the increase in micro – finance and inclusive banking, are you seeing a silent revolution happening in rural India?

We are definitely witnessing a revolution in this sector, as far as unbanked areas are concerned. Ever since financial inclusion was introduced in our list of offerings, AISECT has been earnestly extending hassle-free savings, loan facilities and other banking services at an affordable cost to the under-privileged and unbanked population of Indian villages. Coupled with Aadhar enabled services, the financial inclusion initiatives by the organisation have brought a massive change in the way services and banking work in rural India. With this revolution, insurance companies and other banking and financial service providers are also reaching out to the masses at a very low unit cost of transaction. We have successfully established about 1500 banking kiosks in rural, semi urban and urban areas and have opened more than 30 lakh bank accounts so far which have done transactions worth Rs. 850 crore across the CSC states. In near future, we foresee all the villages to have banking facilities with Kiosk banking or correspondence banking where each of them will be having the facility of interbank transfer.

As you are working as Business Correspondent, how does it help underprivileged and unbanked people where the literacy is also very minimal?

Working as Business Correspondent for 26 nationalised banks, we are bringing the unbanked population into the fold of banking. The best part of working as a Business Correspondent is that the customers need not necessarily be literate. The banking accounts can not only be opened with signatures but also with biometric authentication. All they need to know is why they need to open the account and the advantages of dealing with financial solutions and services. Although financial literacy is not required in this case, we at AISECT are taking a step forward in providing financial literacy programme in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for rural adults especially women as per our partnership with CSC SPV and National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).

Banks are focusing on mobile banking now. How has been the response for mobile banking solutions and kiosks from rural areas?

There has been an encouraging growth of mobile banking in India over the last few years. However, the growth and acceptance of mobile banking as a channel of accessing banking services in semi urban and rural regions has been below expectation. Although mobile banking allows instant availability of banking and financial services using telecommunication devices, it might take some time for the rural and semi-urban population to adapt the culture of mobile banking solutions owing to low levels of user awareness and acceptance. Moreover, as we grow increasingly wireless, there are still many sections in our society especially backward regions that are in a struggle to catch up with it. People belonging to those regions somewhere turn skeptical of using technological advancements for their banking purposes. Meanwhile, when we talk about kiosk banking, it has picked up leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. Since it is a fixed asset and consumer can see it every day, it becomes easily accessible for the consumers to go and avail the services every day.

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“In the near future, we foresee all the villages having banking facilities with kiosk banking or correspondence banking, where each of them will be having the facility of interbank transfers”

Banks have started to spend on IT infrastructure and virtual banks. How will IT help expand the services in rural areas?

Financial inclusion in India has brought in 10 million “previously unbanked” accounts, enabling a range of products to be offered to these customers. With the introduction of the government’s Aadhaar unique identification system, whereby every citizen has a 12-digit biometric identifier, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) hopes to reduce the role of unauthorised moneylenders in villages and spread financial inclusion through the government’s Direct Benefit Transfer anti-poverty programme. This will create opportunities for savings, credit and remittances, and is expected to be a boom for banks operating in the country. Moreover over the last 29 years, AISECT is banking upon ICT penetration in semi-urban and rural India. Some of the popular technology models being deployed by AISECT for banking include internet-based kiosk banking solutions, GPRS enabled micro-ATM devices and customer authentication using smart cards and/or biometric fingerprints and/or by UIDAI.

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