Protium is the pre-eminent engineering-led, risk-focused lender in India that empowers small and medium businesses as well as consumers to make quick and convenient purchase decisions. Their tech philosophy is centered around devising exclusive and inclusive financial services to diligently serve all ambitious individuals, institutions, and small to medium-scale enterprises.
We spoke to Padmanabhan Balasubramanian, Partner at Protium, who oversees Protium’s engineering efforts to discuss Protium’s tech philosophy and upcoming tech innovations in the finance world.
Q1. How is tech integrated into the phygital ecosystems for fintech companies?
The lending industry has become increasingly digital, not just for consumers in tier 1 cities, but also for consumers situated in more geographically remote areas. All aspects of loan application and data gathering from customers have become digital-only processes. In lending, however, a 100% digital-only approach is a false choice for lenders who are focused explicitly on MSMEs or cities that are beyond Tier 1 at this point in time. Activities, like property valuation, business inspection, and loan servicing, require physical proximity and periodic interactions with customers, which is why we have a strong offline presence to supplement our digital processes. Our technology also allows our customers to hop on and off seamlessly in our lending stack between the digital and physical worlds. As such, we can source customers, leverage APIs to make credit decisions, physically assess property, and service loans digitally.
Q2. What tech efforts have you implemented at Protium?
Our technology efforts are focused around providing a best-in-class customer experience, enhancing the productivity of our sales, credit, and operation teams, as well as that of our risk management capabilities. In places where the ecosystem has better ‘out of the box’ solutions, like APIs or accounting systems, we integrate to vendor systems and focus on building components that will differentiate our business performance.
We have strategically focused on solving the core problems in lending, like the ability to operate infinite customer journeys by products or customer segments without increasing system complexity. For example, customers applying for an Rs. 2 lakh business loan vs customers applying for an Rs. 25 lakh business loan need differentiated customer journeys. The same would apply for a consumer applying for a personal loan in tier 1 vs tier 3 city. System complexity increases with configurations and customizations, resulting in random and unforeseen failures in that system that leave it exposed. We have minimized these complexities and possibilities of failures, also known as software entropy, via our design choices throughout the platform. As such, the strength and stability of the platform are closer to that of a company like Google, which remains consistent as the platform grows.
Q3. Is this proprietary tech? When and how was it developed?
Yes, it is. Our proprietary technology relies on a few open-source components that align with our engineering philosophy. We’ve progressively built out this technology to support an extensive portfolio of products, and types of risk over the past two years.
There are two key factors that make our platform best-in-class – first, this is one of the few platforms that cater to a wide range of customers, from digital-only consumers for personal loans all the way up to SME lenders to whom we disburse secured loans worth crores. Secondly, our proprietary tech revolves around our data and APIs. Most of our APIs should be internal or external facing, not because they are forced by design but because of a conscious choice that was made for the platform.
Q4. What is your view of tech advancements in the fintech sector?
The ability to exchange customer information with contextual and time-bound consent is a huge area of innovation. For example, giving consent for a certain party to use your data for a specific purpose and for a specific time period only, which is automated and embedded into the relevant platform, ensuring end-to-end data protection while maximizing usage of data received with each customer interaction. Consent-driven architecture is already in place and solves problems around privacy, security, as well as data accessibility. It is in the adoption of this architecture that we see room for improvement.
We also believe that we will see developments in the standard protocols for lending, similar to the way we have standard protocols for payment, which will allow the origination and transfer of assets (co-lending) to be less driven by ad hoc API integrations and more by universal, industry-standard solutions.
Having capabilities to localize services and provide content (be it text or voice) in the native language of the customer will help increase consumer protection and reduce offline operating costs since customers would then be onboarded via digital adoption.
Q5. At Protium, what investments have you committed to tech?
We have made significant investments in our engineering teams over the past two-three years. One of these investments is physical in nature, which is the choice to have one of our corporate offices in Bangalore, which allows us to take advantage of the vast tech talent in the city and benefit from Bangalore’s start-up ecosystem. We have also made Investments in terms of how we have chosen to embed engineering into all of our business activities across branches and offices, be it operations, risk, sales, etc. We have put in great effort to reduce the gap between those solving our tech problems and those who are facing them, both physically and in terms of philosophy, which is why we’re actively focusing on building out our tech strength across our other corporate offices too.
Q6. Can you tell us about your tech team? How large is it and if you are looking to hire?
We run on a pod structure. Each project in the development cycle is assigned to a PM and 4-6 engineers who manage development and deployment. We are highly biased to hire directly from campuses as this has given us the best results in terms of hiring those who share our values and philosophy. As mentioned above, we are definitely looking to strengthen our tech team in our Mumbai corporate office and are always ready to welcome the right talent to contribute to the engineering efforts at Protium.