Summer of 2013
The summer that year was unusually hot. When the small team of founder members got together, there was something burning in all of us. All of us had spent long years with some of the finest financial organizations around the world. But we needed something more. We needed something meaningful.
There was a GOI report that talked about Rs 25 lakh crore credit deficit in MSME industry. Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises were 6 crores in number and employed 11 crore people. The micro segment among these was the worst disadvantaged when it came to access to formal credit. It was clear to us that India’s growth will not be complete without the advancement of this sector.
By mid-year, we knew what we wanted to do. Indian monsoons were lashing the plains in North India. Dusty plains suddenly became covered with verdant green shoots. Our dream was slowly taking shape – exhilarating just like the petrichor.
While our business plan was far from complete our vision was clear – to be the most admired among the finance businesses catering to micro businesses in India. Our core values that we continue to abide by followed soon after – Innovation, Trustworthiness, Being the best, Social Good and Customer Commitment.
Thus, Aye was born. Aye, means ‘Yes’ in English and ‘Income’ in Hindi. Apt for what we wanted to do – say yes to the aspirations of micro enterprises by providing them capital. The initial capital for the company came from friends and angel investors.
As we started work, enthusiasm in the team was contagious. We knew we had mountains to move but that did not deter anyone. By end of 2013 we bought an NBFC so that we could start lending. But we had another challenge to surmount. It was not easy to assess the businesses we wanted to lend to. They were neither on credit bureaus nor did have any formal financial documents. Innovation was not an option, but a necessity.
Footprints in the sands of time
In early 2014, we studied three micro enterprise clusters spread across few cities. This was the beginning of our unique cluster-based underwriting model, which even today is the bedrock of what we do. In March 2014, our first loan was given to a manufacturer of ladies shoes, who employed 6 workers and made 200 pairs of shoes every week. In the next six months we disbursed 100 crores through 4 branches in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
How time flies
In 2015 we received funding from Elevation Capital and Accion. That was also the year when we were classified as a systematically important NBFC by Reserve Bank of India. The small team grew to a family of over 1000 people. Soon we had over 1000 cr of assets under management. In 2019 we set up FAME – an initiative for giving back to the communities we serve.
Living the dream
Today we have branches spread across 18 states in India. We work with about 100 clusters across the country. Each one of them have different business models, cash flows and markets. We have lent to over 200,000 customers. We have thousands of employees helping these customers pursue their dreams. Investors backing us are some of the best in the world. We have been on the leaderboard when it comes to customer satisfaction scores (NPS) and employee satisfaction scores (GPTW).
Miles to go
While we look back at our journey with pride, we remain humble and grateful. We know that our journey is far from over. We would like to remain a small company at heart. Eager, ever learning, close to our customers, nimble and relevant. We would like to be known not just for what we achieve, but for how we achieve it too. We will not lose sight of what we set out to be – the most admired micro enterprise lender. Aye to that.