Rethinking career choices paid off: How this CA co-founded a gold loan fintech backed by The Manipal Group
Building a career is a lifelong journey. Even I experimented with various roles and industries for 6 long years before finding my niche in business management, eventually establishing SahiBandhu.
- Hi, I am Anuj Arora, a Chartered Accountant turned co-founder of SahiBandhu - on its way to becoming India's largest Gold Loan aggregator Platform.
- For the first 6 years of my career, I dabbled in various roles and industries…only to realize that business management interests me.
- Post my MBA I joined the corporate strategy team of The Manipal Group.
- It was here that along with my co-workers (now co-founders) we came up with Sahibandhu.
Back story: Discovering my career path
I qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 2011 but frankly, I didn’t have much clarity regarding what I should do next.
I kept asking myself, “Should I build my own business, (I wish I had at that time), or should I just do a 9-5 job?”
Moving ahead, I started out as a Consultant in the tech industry. It exposed me to different Industries, different departments, and their functions in the organization.
I also served a stint as a Business Analyst at the Carlsberg Asia team.
Preparing business intelligence (BI) reports for some of their offices across the globe, was one of my many responsibilities.
6 years and 4 companies later I knew it was time to pause and rethink my career progression.
“What do I want to do?”
This introspection made it clear to me that I was keen on Business Management (not a typical finance role), and was passionate about the financial service industry.
The topic of financial independence has always been very close to my heart.
I took a career break and went to IIM Bangalore, to get my Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) degree.
An MBA did not bring a lot of change, but yes I got the confidence.
If you are in a similar situation, do not fret… your career is a lifelong journey that takes time to unfold.
Looking at my career through a new lens…
In 2019, I joined The Manipal Group, as part of their Business Strategy team.
Why Manipal Group? It’s because I wanted to see what it’s like working in Financial Inclusion Services Business.
And from there it all happened.
I met Rajesh Shet, Vijay Malhotra, and Virendra Yaduvanshi here, who are now my co-founders. While working closely in the organization’s Financial Inclusion Services Business, Rajesh and I realized that there is a lack of financial inclusion and financial independence in our country.
I wanted to make an impact and change the scenario.
At the Financial Inclusion Services Business, we were helping them grow new lines of business.
The four of us, working closely and brainstorming on how we can scale those businesses.
“What is their future?”
Just then one of the team members mentioned the idea of a gold loan business.
Idea for SahiBandhu - finding a niche in gold loan
According to the World Gold Council, the Gold loan market is projected to grow at an annual rate of 15.7% reaching Rs 6 lakh crores in financial year 2024.
Plus the unorganized gold loan market size in India is twice that of the organized market today.
This encouraged us.
All of us said in unison, “Okay, let's explore.”
We started our research, spent time on the ground with customers, and stakeholders, and gathered data.
This is what we found out -
India has many NBFCs, and banks leading the gold loan industry, most of them have been here for decades. But there is a gap in the market.
First of all, most of the NBFCs have high Gold Loan Interest Rates, some even charge 20-25%.
Secondly, when you walk into a Bank, for a loan, the procedures are complex and take time more often than not.
These factors keep people from considering the option, which could help them lead a better life.
After weighing the pros and cons of this decision we took a leap of faith and conceptualized SahiBandhu.
It aims to do precisely what the name suggests, to be that " Trusted Friend" to our customers to help them achieve financial independence.
Entrepreneurial leap one step at a time
SahiBandhu was initially a part of The Manipal group in the incubation period from 2019.
First, we made the entire business plan and went to the Chairman's office.
They financed our venture, but the responsibility to build it from the ground up was completely onto us.
After building the platform, we did a small pilot test.
A lot of feedback came in and we kept on improving.
No matter what we did, we wanted to keep things simple.
Because of that, we simplified our product and documentation procedure so that customers could get a loan in a matter of half an hour.
SahiBandhu became a separate entity in 2022.
Today we have 400 enthusiastic members on the front end and 70 members in our office, providing back-end support.
We have partnered with major private-sector Banks in India.
Although right now, we're running a very tight ship, but we believe that there is a long and fulfilling journey before us.
Challenges in the way
Building a venture and not expecting challenges is unrealistic.
In fact, the biggest challenge which persists even to this day is people’s skepticism regarding gold loans.
In India, taking a gold loan has always been taboo, especially for people from rural areas. Many people still don’t know how various gold loan schemes work.
Most gold assets are inherited from senior family members, because of which they become emotionally attached to them.
They assume that if they pledge the gold, it will not come back in the same shape and form. This is not true.
Little do they know that the gold that is sitting idle in their locker could open doors to many opportunities.
And that’s where SahiBandhu comes in. Our officers reach out to the customers, and educate them, on how they can use it for different purposes.
Beyond the numbers: are CAs taking business decisions?
People tend to think that if you have a finance background, you are only thinking about crunching numbers and creating balance sheets.
I don't really think so.
Understanding the numbers and finances are an integral part of business, and finance professionals are already well versed in those. But that’s not enough.
I believe finance professionals, especially CA's, are best suited to take business decisions. But they have to start focusing on the business process, how a business works, leadership skills, people skill, etc.
On the other, I have noticed that business professionals take a while to understand the numbers which give CAs a leg up.
Startup is not a get-rich-quick scheme
If you are trying to embark on this journey of entrepreneurship, the first step is having adequate support, and I am not talking about capital.
You are about to spend countless hours on your startup.
And it's not possible unless you have support from your family. I suggest you discuss this with them even before taking the leap.
That’s why before going all in I had asked them, “I want to start my entrepreneurial journey which is going to consume a lot of my time. Are you all comfortable with that?”
They said, “If you want to do it, then we are all going to be here for you.”
The second step is deciding “What is the problem that I am trying to solve?”
“Is there a demand for that product in the market?”
Let’s say you are creating a high-tech tool, but there is no demand for it yet.
The third step is identifying your competition.
You have found a problem in the market, and you want to create a solution. Then you look around and there are 200 other guys that have already solved it.
Which is why you must ask yourself this question, “ What is so unique about this idea?”
Once you have these three things in place, you can start building something on the grounds of these.
Working in a startup has been a fulfilling journey. I don’t think about whether I would have earned a lot more if I had been in an MNC.
Having said that, there is no harm in saying “I want a stable corporate job.”
Maybe you have hobbies that you want to pursue alongside your daily work, maybe you want to spend more time with your friends and family. There is a life outside your job, always remember that.