Initial public offerings (IPOs) are widely viewed as markers of commercial success. However, in the financial inclusion industry, IPOs are sometimes viewed with suspicion, if not alarm. This paper examines the 2016 IPOs of two Indian microlenders – Equitas Holdings and Ujjivan Financial Services – and how “hardwiring” their missions into their operations and corporate culture helped drive their success. The experience of these two companies suggests how a responsible financial services company can position itself to go public while maintaining its social mission.
Founded in 2007 to provide the underserved and disenfranchised people in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu with reasonably and transparently priced microcredit, Equitas diversified after the microfinance crisis in 2010 into affordable housing, small and medium enterprise (SME) and vehicle loans. At the time of its April 2016 IPO, traditional microlending made up slightly more than half of the total portfolio, with over half of assets under management in Tamil Nadu.
In September 2015, Equitas was one of ten companies to receive in-principle approval from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for the Small Finance Bank (SFB) license. In order to become an SFB, regulations require that Equitas bring foreign ownership, which comprised 93 per cent of equity before the IPO, below 49 per cent. This requirement was one of the key factors behind the IPO. Once Equitas transitions to a SFB, it will be able to accept deposits, starting with its client base of approximately 3 million.
Ujjivan Financial Services
Founded in 2005, Ujjivan Financial Services’ vision was to make financial services available to the urban working poor in India. At the time, most Indian microfinance was focused on the rural population. Started as a four-person team in a Bangalore garage, at the time of its IPO in April 2016, the company had 8,000 employees, three million borrowers, disbursed loans worth Rs.15,600 crore (approx. USD 2.6 billion), and had operations in every Indian state. Like Equitas, Ujjivan received approval to become a SFB and therefore also needed to reduce foreign shareholding. As of September 2016, Ujjivan was on its way to becoming a SFB with diversified product lines.
Grassroots Capital Management PBC and The Financial Inclusion Equity Council (FIEC), with support from the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion.