Annapurna Finance: The Journey Of Becoming Annapurna Finance

Mr. Dibyajyoti Pattanaik, Director,Mr. Gobinda Chandra Pattanaik, Managing Director

Mr. Dibyajyoti Pattanaik, Director

Mr. Gobinda Chandra Pattanaik, Managing Director

The emergence of Annapurna started with a dream of supporting women from rural areas with small credit, to mainstream them in bigger development agenda. In 2005, it started as a program under People’s Forum, an Odisha based social organization, working on critical development targets like women empowerment, mental health, education, and livelihood security issues.

The vision of the founding leader, Mr. Gobinda Chandra Pattanaik for this programme was to offer one of the neediest sections of the society the opportunity to have a sustainable livelihood and ensure improvement in their quality of life.

The programme proved to be a huge success not only in terms of acceptance at grass root level, but also the scalability factor imbibed in it. This called for the creation of Annapurna Microfinance Pvt. Ltd. in 2009, which got registered as an NBFC MFI in 2013 under Reserve Bank of India and with time gradually transformed to Annapurna Finance Pvt. Ltd.

Because of the inception from a development focused organization, Annapurna always valued its social mission at its core. The vision of the organization stayed the same over the years, which is establishment of a self -sustainable and economically empowered rural, tribal, sub-urban and urban society.

For this reason, Annapurna’s initiatives are very much aligned with the globally accepted Sustainable Development Goals, even the products or services offered by the organization contribute towards it. To serve the underbanked and unbanked pockets of the country and provide customized financial services, Annapurna has created an innovative and customer centric robust system. To enhance the capacity and potential of its members, Annapurna continuously conducts research and design its products, policies and processes based on the market information.

The foundation of microfinance lies in people focused approach, which Annapurna has kept alive in its operation, along with the organization’s new interventions in digital space. The organization has developed a sound credit, risk, audit and operational decision-making framework based on the inputs from its Risk Management and Business Intelligence department. The organization’s core principles remain client protection and transparent communication. The organization ensures effective communication to keep the customers updated about the product and pricing details.

The organization has gained several recognitions at national and international level. Starting from Odisha, within two decades of operation, Annapurna has extended its wings in twenty states with its innovative product basket, supporting more than two million rural women and their households to make their vision of entrepreneurship a reality with a funding of one-billion-dollar USD.

Through its MSME product vertical, Annapurna also reached out to thirty thousand entrepreneurs to support their businesses. Other relevant products that shaped the organization’s journey are the water and sanitation loan, which supported the rural household to construct a toilet at their home or to bring a safe water connection for health improvement; Samarth, that offered financial back up to specially abled people, widows and transgenders, Home Improvement Loan, for support the house expansion and renovation aspiration of low income groups etc.

Exceptional Products For Every Need
Being a socially responsible lender, Annapurna keeps the customer at the centre of its processes. It has different mechanisms to collect the unbiased customer inputs to enhance the product offerings. Each product of Annapurna is a result of a very detailed market analysis, that besides assessing the economic potential of the offering, also tries to delineate the gaps of existing providers and pain points of the potential customers.

Annapurna conducts customer satisfaction survey and socio-economic impact assessment of the customers every year to understand the end users’ perspective and to reflect on the fresh needs growing among them. Given the microfinance customers are changing with the unprecedented developments in the macro and micro economic space and digital intervention, the organization tries to keep up with the pace with the help of the outcomes from such research.

Addressing the issue to the changing landscape of customer base, Mr. Dibyajyoti Pattanaik, Director of Annapurna rightly says, “Today, the aspirations of the new generation have transformed a lot. This generation is more interested in improving their standard of living and securing the future of their children. We at AFPL are very sensitive to these changing needs & aspirations of the society. Our focus will remain on improving the skills and meeting the financial needs of our clients”.

From such leadership level standpoint, Annapurna has paved its way through all the challenges and opportunities of the industry and the uncertainty of the times. As per the outcomes from the field, the organization has gradually strengthened its individual product
segment with new offerings like MSME loan, Water and Sanitation Loan, Samarth Loan, Dairy loan, Home Improvement Loan.

Amidst COVID, when the market itself was unstable, Annapurna maintained the same lookout to support its customers to get through the turbulent times. The organization’s move towards digital lending came out as the result of the same. PM SVAnidhi , a great idea from our visionary Prime Minister came into scenario and Annapurna successfully implemented and funded the street vendors to keep their businesses running. Also, this was the time when Annapurna introduced Just in Time loan for its microfinance customers.

AFPL gives the right exposure to each of its employees so even when he or she decides to move on from AFPL, he or she is a well-learned, and experienced professional of the industry who can find success in any organization

The objective of the product was to introduce the customers to experience digital finance and provide them a quick financial assistance to manage any uncertain emergency. A recent addition of big-ticket size solar rooftop product shows the organization’s intention to become an environmentally accountable institute beside meeting its social responsibility goals.

To make the customers use the credit in most efficient way, it brought in several credit plus activities in the frame. The financial, entrepreneurial, and digital literacy training programme aims at enabling the customers understand household economy well and utilize existing financial products and services, that can benefit them the most.

With the Water and Sanitation loan, the organization also runs awareness camps at micro level to help the society achieve better sanitation practices and safe water usage. The organization follows the motto that along with credit and skill building support to the marginalized, creating a conducive environment for a better quality of life leads towards achieving its core vision of poverty alleviation, income generation and women empowerment.

A Culture Of Sharing & Caring
Being a people centric organization, Annapurna supports not only its customers but also its human resources. The closed-knit culture of the organization and the flat structure of it encourages open communication among different levels and offers an opportunity of being mentored by the industry experts.

Annapurna’s human resources policies are sensitive towards employee needs, it is also very progressive in nature as they are one of the first accommodated gender needs among the industry. A very young management team in play, makes the organization open to new ideas and advanced initiatives, be it the digital transformation, usage of advanced data analytics or introducing gender responsibility and sustainability goals. The acceptance of a newcomer in the organization creates the feeling of accountability among the human resources.

Annapurna Director very aptly summarizes the development focused priorities set by the organization for its employees in a few lines, “We have a very strong capacity-building programme, which is working with each segment of our staff. We have an individual learning directory for every employee who joins Annapurna. We help them crave their career path over the next few years in this industry, making them credible professionals of the industry.”

Annapurna’s caring culture is beyond the well thought compensation and benefit packages and regulatory mandates like parental leave or financial provisions available to the employees. During COVID, the organization put its employees before the business targets and took all kinds of safeguard programs to reduce the vulnerability.

The organization along with offering work from home facility, also started tracking the health condition of every employee posted all over the country, supporting the affected with 24X7 emergency healthcare facilities and virtual medical consultations, greeting the recovered with a welcoming nutritional kit so that they can regain good health and offering centralized vaccination drives.

The organization introduced new initiatives like Saathi Swashth Yojana to provide COVID Insurance cover and financial support to the COVID affected employees; Saathi Suraksha Yojana for taking care of the families of deceased employees and Saathi Sampark Yatra, for standing with the field team during pandemic to uplift morale and give them the opportunity to communicate freely with the management. These industry wide best practices helped the employees in developing trust with the organization.

Annapurna widens its caring attitude to the community as well with its corporate social responsibility activities. Under this, the organization tries to address critical shortcomings like healthcare, disaster recovery, child and women development etc.

Over the years it has introduced programmes like mobile medical unit to provide free and specialized health consultation at the doorstep of rural Odisha. It also supports a childcare institute, to ensure the holistic development of the children. Organization’s school development programme benefited around 40 government schools through programmes like plantation drive, installation of water filter and play equipment.

Last year, the organization initiated a new project to support the livelihood of the handicraft and handloom artisans of the artforms suffering from the intervention of technology. During COVID, the organization ran mass level mask and sanitizer distribution and awareness generation campaigns to support the rural dwellers, sanitation, and healthcare workers.

To bridge the digital gap in education sector, organization started an academic television programme covering the topics like Science, Mathematics, Social Sciences to help the students from rural Odisha. Recently, Annapurna has produced a twelve episode talk show covering women entrepreneurs from rural areas, to promote its women empowerment goal and share these success stories with the world.

Preparing For The Digital World
COVID along with creating obstacles in the regular microfinance operation as it is a high touch model, has also opened a lot of new opportunities. It has acted as a catalyst to introduce digitalization in the industry and being a progressive and visionary institute, Annapurna is ahead of the flow. The introduction of the Just in Time loan was one of the initiatives and the organization also plans a paradigm shift in its products and processes in coming days.

Annapurna has brought in a digital customer engagement platform to enhance the digital touch. Also, the organization has developed digital financial programme for the customers to help them adopt digital practices for financial needs of the household. The benefit Annapurna is expecting from such initiatives are hyper customization in product designing and increased efficiency to achieve operational excellence. The organization is working now diligently towards introducing an end-to-end digital product line.