Artoo & Ujjivan: The six-year journey and beyond

Around the same time as Artoo celebrated its 6th birthday, our long-term partner and first client Ujjivan started its journey of becoming a Small Finance Bank. The giant step was met with initial phenomenal success, when Ujjivan made its first Initial Public Offering (IPO), which was oversubscribed over 41 times and considered the most successful microfinance IPO in India’s history. At the cusp of our 6th year milestone and Ujjivan’s success we pause to reflect on our relationship with them.

Ujjivan’s IPO. Source: Ujjivan.

The success of Ujjivan is a powerful statement about the value of providing financial services to the economically active poor, and the importance of digitizing such a business model from an early-stage. The underlying Ujjivan ethos has always been an innovative one. And it was this ethos that encouraged a startup like Artoo to build a one of a kind solution for financial inclusion.

In the August of 2014, Ujjivan successfully tested its first pilot with Artoo. Their foray into mobility solutions two years ago also marked the reinvention of the individual lending process, which was one of Ujjivan’s key market differentiators. The ambitious pilot spanned over 2.5 months, and Ujjivan disbursed 700 loans worth Rs.5 crore on Artoo’s platform.

“From a strategic perspective, we definitely need a handheld solution to improve our data quality and productivity. The field users embraced Artoo’s technology as it helped them reduce error rates and TAT (Turn around Time), and improve productivity. The pilot results are encouraging.” (Mr. Samit Ghosh, Ujjivan CEO)

Ujjivan was always a strong visionary in advocating and pursuing digital revolution to improve its field operations and Artoo was the first to convert their vision into reality.

Individual Lending (IL) has been Ujjivan’s turning point and will continue to be a solid base for their future growth. Artoo’s LOS has been playing a key part in digitizing the IL domain, and hence Ujjivan can confidently boast of being digitally advanced in this space despite the emergence of competition.

“Basically we look at the future, growth is going to come mainly from our individual lending to the micro SME sector and also for housing… Irrespectively of competition mounting on the digital front, we are already pretty advanced in digital technology.” (From Mr. Samit Ghosh’s interview on CNBC-TV18)

Today, as Ujjivan ushers into small finance banking operations, it’s decisively integrating its IT infrastructure and implementing core banking solutions by investing more than Rs.300 crore and partnering with several big names in the IT industry over the next five years. On 7th May 2016, the current and future technology partners of Ujjivan were invited to celebrate these new beginnings. This event was special because it showcased Ujjivan’s belief that technology is core to their business and how they identify themselves with innovation. It was a special moment for Artoo as we were invited to share the space with Wipro, Infosys, Cisco, Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, CRMNext, IndusSoft, and CraftSilicon. Veterans in the Banking, Financial services and Insurance (BFSI) domain were a prominent sight in the audience.

“To support the high volume business and to meet security and compliance requirements of different regulatory authorities, strong and secure systems are required at the core. We have selected all proven softwares in Banking Technology after carefully evaluating each system for the specific requirements. We are creating a strong IT backbone for the upcoming Small finance bank.” (Mr. Deepak Ayare, Ujjivan CIO)

These words of Mr. Deepak Ayare, Ujjivan CIO reflect how he envisioned this event to be an evening in the company of all partners to meet and collectively work towards one goal, that is, help Ujjivan lay the foundation of banking-level technology with the no or few hiccups. It was obvious that everyone should see each other as partners rather than competitors.

Sameer is one of speakers at Ujjivan’s IT & Mobility kickstart for its proposed Small Finance Bank. Source: Ujjivan.

Sameer spoke about his relationship with Ujjivan at this event. He first saw Ujjivan as an intern, where Kavita was already an employee for 3 years.

Ujjivan has been a great partner for Artoo, someone who is extremely innovative and ahead of the curve. When no one else believed in technology or smartphones, Ujjivan gave us a chance and was willing to try out something new. We identify ourselves with Ujjivan because they have become leaders from ground up. Their underlying spirit, the energy that drives them, it’s all centered around a sense of responsibility, right from the senior management to the front-line staff. We also envision our future in collaborating with other tech companies who could be our partners and allies in delivering complete digital lending solutions, besides supporting Ujjivan to be a strong technology-driven bank in the future.” (Sameer Segal)

Ujjivan’s IL is now fully digitized, and Ujjivan now captures the entire end-to-end loan process in a single visit, which has been pivotal in reducing operating costs and improving productivity. It is proven that digitization is the only way forward for such businesses and that without digitizing field processes, automation of back end processes is meaningless. When mobility solutions are inclusive to the end-user, it becomes a powerful value driver for a financial institution. Artoo firmly positions itself as an undisputed leader of the digitization development in this sector.

Fully digitized Individual Lending at Ujjivan

Congratulations to Ujjivan for the new venture, and we’re happy to be a part of their new journey. From a pilot to a complete digital LOS, we have scaled the distance with them. Ujjivan envisions empowering the borrowers as their key strength, which also resonates with our ideologies of bringing technology and its innovations to the people who need it the most.

Behind Every Successful Client, There is Always a Dedicated Loan Officer



Work Out Loud: Samunnati Financial Services

Work Out Loud is a series of posts that showcase our clients and partners’ work in financial inclusion and the impact they are creating on the ground using Artoo’s technology.

Started in November 2014 in Thiruvannamalai, Samunnati is a financial services intermediation company that provides innovative financial products & services to the agriculture value chain players in remote parts of Tamil Nadu. Samunnati has been using Artoo’s Financial CRM technology solution since its inception. We talked to Nitin Chaudhary, Head of Products and Risk Management and Rajeev Kaimal, Head of Business and Partnerships about their work, growth plans, and technology for financial inclusion!

What excites you about the financial services space in India? And why agri value chain financing?

Samunnati started with dairy loans in Tiruvannamalai

Nitin: Samunnati’s core team has over six decades of experience in rural and agriculture financing. We wanted to put our knowledge of rural financing to address some of the challenges in lending to agriculture-based livelihoods. Most financial institutions were lending to either individual households or enterprises. While this was supporting them at one level, we realized that financing the needs within the entire value chain would result in collective and sustainable growth in the long run.

Rajeev: Also, we wanted to set ourselves apart in the lending space. Agriculture value chain financing was different from normal financial services and we wanted to create (financial) tools tailored to rural needs and context. This was exciting!

What financial products do you offer to your customers? Why do you think technology is a key enabler?

Samunnati lends to the agriculture value chain

Rajeev: Samunnati aims to provide a range of innovative financial products & services to value chain actors and rural enterprises, taking into consideration their unique financial and other service requirements. We started with the dairy value chain and partnered with Edelweiss Financial Services to provide low-cost loans to livestock farmers. In addition to providing finance, we wanted to ensure that there is a market linkage for our customers. Thus, we set up our first branch in Tiruvannamalai, which was mid-way between Bangalore and Chennai metropolitan cities.

Nitin: Samunnati is driven by the philosophy that technology can make financial service delivery process in rural areas – simple and paperless. Since our customers primarily had undocumented incomes, we wanted to enable relationship officers (field agents) to identify eligible customers and perform cash flow analysis; and in the process, reduce loan errors and turn around time in loan processing. We believe that investment in technology can reduce customer acquisition costs, resulting in increased outreach. Artoo’s technology solution is helping us achieve this. The cost of not using technology would have been much higher.

It’s Customer Success, Not Support

The assumption, it’d seem, is that a happy customer is a customer who will buy things – apparently this is the mantra at Apple’s Genius Bars across the globe. One must marvel at the genius behind the bars – their processes, the service, and care with which support is handled is heavily curated, and delivered with perfection. And while some may say it’s going overboard – you have to admit that the zealots at AppleCare and Genius Bars have truly mastered customer success.

Imagine is Apple’s premium reseller in India, they also provide care here.

At Artoo, we salute the stalwarts that have managed to provide care with a “human touch.” We often think of those that seemed to have figured it out – Apple, Amazon, Flipkart – and wonder how we too can ensure success for our clients.

But, these guys have been serving the technologically savvy, those that have been on the internet since the dial-up era. How do we deliver technical support and customer service to those that are using technology for the first time – those that may have never used Microsoft Word, let alone enterprise software in an industry that has a history of technology aversion?

This was the challenge we faced at Artoo a couple of months ago. We had always given importance to the “human touch” when building technology to help our partners serve low-income borrowers with financial services. This entailed extensive field visits to understand their ground operations to customize our software and eventually help them disburse USD 3 Million in loans every month.

It didn’t come easy. We struggled to extend the “human touch” to the 500 first time technology users that are now live on our platform. Here are some of the lessons we learned along the way –

  • Recognize scaling challenges early…and fix them (the right way). Transitioning from mere pilots to nation-wide deployments can break things. This was difficult for us to swallow – not just for the engineering team that literally poured their blood and sweat into the product, but also for the larger team that didn’t quite understand why something that was working a week earlier on our web interface suddenly disappeared. Recognizing scaling challenges for a start-up as a reality is critical. We sat down, assured ourselves this isn’t the end of our world – when the likes of Flipkart could break, so could we.

Then we got to work – while the Geeks re-architected systems that were not built to scale, the Rainmakers hustled to minimize downtime for the users, working closely with clients to build workarounds and manage expectations. We realized that our product had not evolved to the point where client IT teams could effectively manage support. So, we’ve been spending the last couple of months adding a variety of admin tools and controls, so our clients can manage what has become a business critical technology, with ease.

  • Understand user culture. Till deployment, we work closely with client teams that have some knowledge of technology, albeit in the form of traditional legacy software. They communicate in English, and understand that new technology takes time to stabilize within businesses. Post deployment however, the difference between a client and a user is hugely pronounced. In India, where regional behavior and culture play a prominent role in business, language was the most obvious hurdle we had to get past, given our limited internal capabilities. We managed our support resources such that someone would always be available to handle calls from Tamil speaking users who had difficulty understanding other languages such as English and Hindi. Beyond language, we had to also get accustomed to cultural nuances; users in the Delhi NCR area have a casual demeanor about them – so, we’ve adopted a more conversational approach during issue resolution, and users in the South are extremely formal when interacting with us, so we’ve minimized the small talk with them.

We’ve come to celebrate the telecoms in India that have truly localized their products and services to each region. Like Airtel and Vodafone, we too have moved past user behavior to grasp the intangible – user culture when delivering support.

  • Build a sustainable business function. During the initial scaling period last year, Kaushik (@kaushikb9), an awesome engineer on our team spearheaded support – taking calls, resolving bugs, managing feature requests, and working with the larger engineering team to ensure the users were happy. While Kaushik became the loudest voice of the users internally, we immediately realized how much of a group effort it actually took to manage support. We were busy with building new product features and client customizations, and lost  sight into user experience. So, we have decided to take the plunge and make “human touch” a permanent pillar at Artoo.
We gather feedback during field visits

We started to build a function around customer success – we’re taking Apple’s approach to curating each and every support tool, to ensure that our users achieve business results. And, we’re hiring Firefighters that will help us understand our users better. Oh, we’re also tracking all things support; we heard that data is everything…or something like that.

Our product transforms completely when it is in a user’s hands – we expect that our Firefighters will experience this transformation and frontline everything – engage users, resolve issues, receive feedback, and channel that information into new product features. Artoo’s Firefighters are product experts who will promote best practices with users. We’d like to make Customer Success one of Artoo’s core competencies – we’re putting a lot of heart into this, and hope that it makes all the difference for our clients, but especially for our users.

  • Ask for help. Learn. We studied how companies we admire handle support. We asked our peers what they’re doing. We reached out to our partners to help us build custom support tools that will help us manage this function internally. We’re now opening this to the rest of the world. How are you managing your support? With limited people on the team, how do you handle a linguistically and culturally diverse user base? What do you do when you break things?

While we are ways away from what Apple has achieved, we’ve grown up quite a bit in the last few months – we’ve taken that small step for Artoo, and that giant leap towards the FinTech revolution, delivering digital financial services for the masses. As Sameer (@sameersegal) aptly put it, we have always been about “high-tech” here at Artoo, but now we’re delivering on the promise of “high-touch” too.

Akhila Singaraju is a Rainmaker at Artoo, managing Business Development and Operations. Follow her at @akhila1.

Artoo’s technology helps Ujjivan improve efficiency and disburse loans of Rs. 5 Crore in 8 states

Ujjivan & Artoo successfully complete pilot project of handheld field technology in 25 branches across 8 states.

In an ambitious pilot conducted over 2.5 months, Artoo’s mobile and cloud-based solution enabled Ujjivan Financial Services to take its entire lending workflow, of their Individual Lending operations, online. Ujjivan disbursed 700 loans worth Rs. 5 Crore on Artoo’s platform.Anji

Artoo’s handheld technology allows field tasks – such as customer enrollment, collections, monitoring – to be presented to the user as an application on an Android device (mobile or tablet). Backend staff can view and act upon processed field data, real time, through a web interface.

The field solution is holistic, covering every aspect of the lending workflow – generating credit bureau (HighMark, Equifax, and CIBIL) reports in real-time in the field, taking images of KYC documents using Artoo’s advanced image processing functionality, inbuilt credit underwriting rules and approval workflows and role-based analytics on the device and web.

This functionality allowed Ujjivan to complete the entire loan processing in a single visit, eliminated data errors and reduced the average loan processing time by 27%. As a result, loans officers were able to process many more applications in a month, disbursing on an average 165% more loans than before, in some cases, as high as 400%.

Mr. Samit Ghosh, Managing Director & CEO of Ujjivan stated, “From a strategic perspective, we definitely need a handheld solution to improve our data quality and productivity. The field users embraced Artoo’s technology as it helped them reduce error rates and TAT (Turn Around Times), and improve productivity. The pilot results are encouraging.”

The pilot primarily aimed to evaluate Artoo’s ability to work across geographies with fluctuating levels of Internet connectivity and across users with varying levels of education, technology literacy & language abilities. Twenty-five branches were selected across eight states – Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Delhi NCR, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal and Jharkhand, to test usage of mobile applications in well connected, as well as, remote areas. Users were selected based on years of experience at Ujjivan, language abilities and affinity to technology, providing a mix of capabilities amongst loan officers.

IndiaMapArtoo conducted a 2-day training for all users and found that once users processed 5-10 loans on Artoo’s platform, they were comfortable using the software. There was no noted difference in performance between users, with each user taking an average of 40 minutes to process a complete application on Artoo – this is less than half of their average paper processing time.

Sameer Segal, Founder & CEO, of Artoo stated, “We wish to bring the digital revolution to financial institutions, like Ujjivan, enabling them to reach more end customers, offer tailored financial products and thereby create a much larger impact. We have recently forayed into the SME lending and affordable housing segments and see this entire sector leapfrog Banks in field technology. To cater to this trend we have expanded our solution to include modules in lead generation & credit underwriting, allowing companies to manage the entire customer lifecycle on our platform.”

About Ujjivan Financial Services

Ujjivan Financial Services is the 6th largest microfinance institution in India, headquartered in Bangalore with operations pan India.  Ujjivan provides loans to marginalized women in urban and semi-urban areas and follows both a joint liability model as well as an individual lending model.

About Artoo

Artoo provides intuitive and affordable mobile and cloud-based technology to financial institutions allowing them to manage all interactions with the end-customer on a single platform.

Creating a Killer User Experience for the MFI Field Agents

Vishy Kuruganti wrote about Artoo on his blog TechSangam. Read the whole piece below here or on TechSangam.

Artoo’s name, inspired from the Star Wars anthology, is meant to signify that their solution would be an able companion to MFIs (similar to astromech droid R2D2). Sameer spent the summer of 2008 doing an internship at Bangalore-based Ujjivan (a leading urban/semi-urban focused MFI). He had picked Ujjivan because the internship scope was open-ended and it also gave him exposure on the business side. Eschewing the natural tendency to start coding something, Sameer participated in several focus groups with customers and field agents. Eventually, this led to two defining aha moments:

  • BOP customers perceive MFIs to be the window to outside world: Per RBI regulations, MFIs can only deal with loans and insurance. But the BOP customers don’t know that!
  • MFI workflows terribly inefficient: Paper-based workflows used by MFI field agents and branch offices meant a lot of data entry errors, delays in opening accounts, and collecting loans. One egregious pain point that caught Sameer’s attention was that it took a whopping 15 days for a customer to pre-close his account. Pre-closure is an important milestone for MFI customers because, once completed, it qualified them for a higher loan amount.

The first aha moment wasn’t immediately actionable but the second one was. Sameer quickly created a simple prototype (using off-the-shelf software) that allowed field agents to SMS the customer ID back to a central Ujjivan service which would send back complete details of the customer. The prototype was a rousing success and gave the kind of satisfaction any intern would crave as he headed back to finish his final year of engineering.


fieldagents_vishyField agents, who provide last-mile support for virtually all aspects of an MFI’s operations, represent 70-80% of an MFI’s workforce. The key takeaway from Sameer’s internship experience was that there was tremendous scope to improve the efficiency of MFI’s operations. Thus was born the idea of Artoo Slate, an Android-based software framework that takes the entire process of data collection and loan disbursement online. It captures rich data from the field, does away with the back and forth of paper, and thus avoids innumerable delays. It is an intuitive interface that has been designed keeping in mind the field staff’s limited educational training and exposure to technology.


Every startup wants to build a great user experience but why is that enterprise software is never as intuitive as Facebook? Sameer believes that an intuitive user experience is every bit as important as the right business model and he’s put his money where his mouth is. In his seven-person team (of which three are summer interns from his alma mater), he has two user experience folks – a designer and a usability engineer. (Early stage startups almost never hire usability engineers.) I saw an impressive demo on a Google Nexus One device which included several UI tweaks to make the data collection process very efficient. This YouTube video walks you through most of the data collection UI:


Artoo ran its first pilot with Ujjivan Financial Services (co-funded by Ujjivan and Lok Capital Foundation) in Dec 2010 which yielded some impressive results. The end-to-end data collection process was reduced from 3+ days to less than one hour. The collections processing time at Ujjivan’s branches previously used to take an hour – the Artoo pilot reduced it to less than 5 minutes. Overall, the Artoo workflow enabled a 35% increase in productivity, reduced the turnaround time for loans to two days and a projected 2.4% reduction in the Operating Expense Ratio (OER). The other big learning was that field agent adoption rates and performance were independent of seniority and technological savvy.


Artoo is focused on building a killer user experience for MFIs to efficiently acquire customers and manage collections. Recognizing that MFIs would differ in their processes and geographic focus areas (urban vs. rural), Artoo’s Slate framework has been designed to be customizable. With a successful Ujjivan pilot under his belt, Sameer is targeting the licensing of Artoo Slate to seven MFI’s this year. Besides Ujjivan, other urban/semi-urban focused Indian MFIs would likely include Janalakshmi, Equitas, Swadhaar, and Arohan. Since their platform (Android) and framework (Artoo Slate) are portable, Artoo is also pursuing some opportunities in Latin America and Africa.

Artoo’s subscription fee model is based on deployed volume of field agents per month. Subscription fee is expected to range between 600 INR and 1500 INR. Artoo hosts the solution with 99% SLA. One of Artoo’s early decisions was to partner with core banking solution and system integration partners. This is a smart move for two reasons: no need to worry about the myriad ERP solutions that MFIs have deployed and, more importantly, system integrators become a second sales channel to evangelize Artoo’s offerings. The incremental investment that MFIs would have to make is Android devices. According to Artoo’s calculations (for a 8000 INR Android device), the investment on devices would be fully recovered within 4 months.


While owning the MFI field agent user experience is clearly Artoo’s beachhead, their ambitions extend well beyond that. Sameer believes that the Slate framework can also serve as a platform through which MFIs can train their field staff on-the-go (e.g. basic English skills, computer skills, updates on new products and offerings) and monitor them on a real time basis to improve their overall service quality. Against the backdrop of a competitive MFI landscape with 30% attrition rates among field agents, these additional e-Learning modules could serve as retention tools for forward-thinking MFIs.

Additional/companion modules could be commissioned by individual MFIs or Artoo might create them and license them to participating MFIs on an opt-in basis. It’s this latter model that’s rife with interesting possibilities. Enter Indus Chadha – Artoo co-founder and liberal arts graduate from Columbia University. Indus, who also happens to be Sameer’s high school sweetheart and fiance, joins Artoo full-time in September and will focus on creating relevant offerings in the Education and Health verticals.


Artoo has bootstrapped its way so far thanks largely to funding from Sameer’s and Indus’s families. Closing a deal with one of their target MFIs would certainly get the revenue flowing but like any ambitious startup, Artoo wants to run a lot faster. They’ve kicked off a fundraising round (to raise approximately $750,000) either from angels or VCs. Our next Artoo post might either be to announce their Series A or their first partnership with an MFI. What do you want to bet on?

Published on TechSangam

Ujjivan Pilot Results

We are excited to share with you the results from our pilot with Ujjivan :
  • Field agent productivity up by 35%
  • Loan turn-around-time down by 80%
  • Save US $15 million annually

“We are very pleased with the quality of work and excellent commitment shown by your team.” – Samit Ghosh, Founder & MD, Ujjivan

Ujjivan is the 3rd largest Microfinance Institution in India.

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About the author:

Sameer Segal | CEO & Founder