‘Credit demand has started returning as people get back to their livelihoods. Disbursement is even stronger in January. Demand is coming from across sectors’
The micro-finance sector is showing signs of improvement barring some lagging areas and customer sets. However, there is demand for credit, said Nitin Chugh, Managing Director and CEO, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank. In an interview with BusinessLine, he also spoke on the new products the bank is working on and discussed the third quarter results. Excerpts:
How is the micro-finance sector doing now?
In general things have improved, which is coming up in the collection efficiency of 94 per cent to 95 per cent. We had reported in our second quarter results that we have problems in Maharashtra, Punjab, and West Bengal, and haven’t come back to the pre-Covid level. In Assam, while things were improving, we have had a setback in January due to the loan waiver announcement by political parties, and (that) has resulted in 9 per cent drop in collection efficiency (during the month).
Even in customer segments, there is some divergence. Customers with general stores, and dairy were able to come back rather quickly. Those in small-scale manufacturing are taking longer to come back. Customers like housemaids, drivers, restaurant staff and mall workers were impacted for a much longer time.
How has the restructuring process been?
You can’t expect or even plan for such things. The moratorium got over on August 31, 2020. September was the first month when customers started making payments. We had a collection efficiency of 83 per cent for payments, which improved to 88 per cent in October. But there are customers who are finding it difficult to pay after the moratorium got over. The whole estimation process started from October; we started talking to customers and did a full detailed survey. We spent December holding individual conversations and completing the whole process.
How is credit demand? You have reported strong disbursement in the third quarter.
Credit demand has started to come back as people started going back to their livelihoods.
Disbursement is even stronger in January. Demand is from all across. We did our highest ever in January in the affordable housing business. In MSME also, we did our ever highest in January. In micro-banking, we are back to pre-Covid level and exactly what we were in January 2020. In fact, in December 2020, we did even better than December 2019 in micro-finance. Likewise in vehicle finance. In the fourth quarter, we are looking at growing the business now but doing it methodically with the appetite for risk that we have.
You are working on gold loans…?
We are still learning the business. We are in pilot stage right now. We started in October with five branches, all of them in Bangalore. The first two months were not very remarkable as we were trying to do this more through word of mouth. We will launch it at scale in the next fiscal year. It is an unmet demand of our customers.
Any other new areas of lending?
In vehicle finance, we are testing MMCV (micro and mini commercial vehicle) loans. We are likely to make an entry into that segment. We were also evaluating the used car segments but with the Budget announcements on voluntary scrapping policy, we need to do some rethink on that. The segment of customers we deal with, they usually buy five- to seven-year-old vehicles and they buy them for a long period of time.
We are also looking to introduce credit cards in the next financial year. We have a substantially large base of retail, non-micro-finance customers. We have a large base with close to a million customers and the demand for these products is coming from them. We will also look at any other relevant product. Also, maybe lockers in a few of our branches.
Are you worried about stress on your books?
Now, we are not. We have taken all provisions upfront in the third quarter. Stress is emerging right now, the NPAs are at a standstill. We already had a cover on our books of 4.1 per cent to 4.2 per cent in the last quarter. It wasn’t that we were not adequately covered, we had taken provisions in the last three quarters also. We took the decision to upfront everything. Let us not live with any uncertainty and not worry about future credit loss, so that we can focus on growth.