As a women entrepreneur, I wanted to build a platform, which encourages and empowers other women to fulfil their potential and achieve independence. It is an exciting time for microfinance in India. The rapid development of fintech has pushed MFIs to transform and embrace a new technology-driven business model. MFIs are finally gaining recognition as a legitimate solution to the enormous challenge in our country of delivering professional financial services to the unbanked millions.

When I started Svatantra Microfinance, aged 17, I was primarily motivated by the desire to address the massive income gap in India. I wanted to help in particular woman, but also families in the countryside in general, to improve their economic standing. I knew that having access to affordable and respectable loans could help them build their diverse businesses.

At the time microfinance had a pretty shocking reputation, but in a way that attracted me as well. I had a sense that all kinds of finance have always been tricky in India, and that the same challenge of mainstreaming conventional banking was similar for microfinance.

There was also a straightforward business problem: finding a way to make the loans more affordable. Low income, rural women were often considered risky loan recipients. I spent a lot of time in the country in Maharashtra, in the villages, and I saw first-hand that this was really just an urban stigma against the rural poor. These were great people with very honest intentions. Our perception of risk was really about having a lack of faith.

In the early days, I worked non-stop and it was an incredible struggle. I remember the first individual we signed up, and it seemed like the best thing that ever happened. Today, we have over half a million active clients, Rs 2000+ Crore in loans disbursed, over 3300+ employees at 421 branches in 14 states. Svatantra is one of the fastest growing MFIs in India and has become a force of its own for financial inclusion.

There have been a number of success factors in our story. We have an amazing team, and a great ability to change and adapt to challenges. We have also managed to deliver some of the lowest interest rates in the industry.

But perhaps the most important success factor has been technology. Still today, Svatantra is the only institution that makes 100% cashless disbursements in India. We also make sure that every single customer has their own bank account. Our technology has enhanced the customer experience, business profitability and the product portfolio.

Using an app that we developed called Saathi, we have made sure that all processes can be carried out using a smartphone or a tablet - from identifying potential locations for expansion to processing customer information, and across the loan disbursement and collection cycle. This ensures we have real-time data on remote customers, reduces turnaround times and ultimately reduces our business risk and boosts yields. We can also use the data to analyse customer behaviour and quickly identify new products that can enhance the service offering.

Nevertheless, I am still a big believer in the human touch. It is so important for our clients to feel connected to us. We have to speak their language, understand their needs in detail, and spend time with them. We have to show them that we genuinely care because we want them to be with us not just for one loan cycle, but through the different twists and turn of their lives. Our community of on-the-ground loan officers is hugely important in spreading financial literacy and ensuring that customers get the most of our products.

Svatantra continues to grow. Last year we acquired property loans company Micro Housing Finance Corporation as part of our effort to become a one-stop-shop for our clients and eventually a small financial bank that offers services above and beyond microcredit for the most hard-to-reach Indians in need of financial services.

By 2021, the combined GLP of Svatantra Holdings should touch $1 billion. At the same time, this is not just about capital. Our goal is sustainable economic progress. I hope that Svatantra will play a big part in helping all Indian citizens to benefit from the country’s rising prosperity.

Even as we expand, women will remain our core client base. We have seen that when women work, not only do their lives improve but so do the lives of the families and communities. Greater financial inclusion for women contributes to economic growth, jobs, food security, better health and economic empowerment.

The microfinance industry helps to ensure we are focused on the base as well, vital development will ultimately benefit everyone in society.

For more information you can reach out to us at

Ananya Birla

Founder, Chairperson and Director