Monday 5 January 2015

Micro ATM: A Doorstep Banking System

Today, banks have realized that their next huge customer base is not in the urban setting but in the often-neglected rural areas. However, reaching this customer base is not so easy, primarily because the rural areas are not as infrastructure-rich as their urban counterparts. Simple tasks like going to the ATM and withdrawing money make people miss their working hours and, as a result, lose a significant part of their income as well.

To counter this problem, YES Bank has come up with an innovative technology called YES Sahaj micro ATM, worked upon by the team of Ajay C. Desai, Vaibhav Peshney, Sushanta Tripathy, Rupesh Kumar and Amulya Bisht—all working with the Development Banking section of YES Bank.

What is the need for a micro-ATM?

YES Sahaj micro ATM is a doorstep mobile banking solution-cum-mobile ATM device for the under-banked and unbanked population base. As other similar point-of-sale (POS)-based services are also available, what sets the YES Sahaj solution apart? Sushanta, vice-president, YES Bank, explains, “YES Sahaj is a mobile banking facility for the needy customers. As you have mentioned, there are other formats like biometric POS devices which provide similar services and are easily available in the market. What differentiates YES Sahaj in the sector is that its total life-cycle cost is significantly lower than the other products in the market which are very costly due to their high capex and opex costs.”

When asked about what prompted them to think about such a solution, Ajay Desai, president, YES Bank, shares, “YES Sahaj micro ATM was developed as a response to some ‘felt need’ of internal and external stake-holders. The next billion customer base, which is the target segment, can’t leave their business premises for banking transactions. YES Sahaj provides them with the convenience of the ‘doorstep banking’ services both within and beyond the normal banking hours. For customers, it provides the bare necessity of the doorstep banking, saving their wage loss to the tune of Rs 150 to 200 per bank branch visit. Cumulatively, this results in savings of around Rs 30 million to the customers.”

The Technology

The technology behind YES Sahaj is a combination of two very simple devices, viz, a low-power bluetooth printer and a low-cost mobile communication device, that have been interfaced to develop a full-blown ATM. The system consists of a specially programmed mobile handset connected to the central server using GPRS connectivity, and a hand-held thermal printer that automatically prints receipts as and when triggered by the server.

Since the device is targeted at rural areas where lack of adequate infrastructure is a prime issue, the ability to work with low power is of prime importance. A thermal printer is used here because it is much more suitable for portable applications than ink-based printers. 

Thermal printers work by heating a thermochromic paper that makes the heated areas on the paper turn black. Thermochromic paper, as the name suggests, is sensitive to temperature changes and shows the effect by visual blackening of the affected areas. Use of no ink eliminates the risk of spillage and also makes the equipment lighter. Most importantly, thermal printers use far less power than other conventional printers. Bluetooth technology implemented in the printer functions in power saving mode while providing a secure means of communication with the mobile handset.

Working of the system can be described as follows: First, YES Bank Ltd (YBL) shares the customer’s details including his account balance for the day. Following this, the business correspondent agent (BC agent) enters his login request through the mobile device. On successful BC login, the customer is asked to provide his debit card to swipe through the card slot in the Bluetooth printer. A debit card validation request is sent to the UPASS server. Upon successful validation, one-time password (OTP) and withdrawal details are sent to the customer’s registered mobile number. Else, an error message is displayed on the mobile screen.

OTPs are used because these are invulnerable to the drawbacks of static passwords where a hacker can make use of the password to access the account. This is of high significance in a rural setting where the users might not be tech savvy to understand the importance of keeping a password secure.

The OTP generated is shared with the BC agent and entered through the mobile device. Next, the OTP validation request is sent to UPASS backend server. After successful validation, the amount to be withdrawn is entered through the mobile device, and the mapping and validation are done at the UPASS backend server. 

Finally, a transaction receipt command is sent to the mobile device. The receipt is printed through the thermal printer, and the cash as well as transaction receipt are handed over to the customer. The transaction is concluded with a confirmation SMS sent to the customer, and End of Day data is shared by the BC with YES Bank for the customer’s account updation.

Some obstacles

The team faced its share of difficulties while creating such an innovative solution.

Vaibhav Peshney, regional financial inclusion leader, YES Bank, shares some of the challenges, “The major challenge was to develop the system from a normal collection device to a mobile banking product. Customization of the back-end servers and the front-end interface was a major task. Even for some of us who had been working in this sector for a considerable number of years, understanding the exact need of the target customer was again a challenge. In fact, these challenges only pushed us to think frugal and come up with our very own Frugal Innovation for Financial Inclusion (FI4FI) programme; YES Sahaj is one such innovation under this initiative.”

Rupesh Kumar, financial inclusion leader, adds, “For the initial workable collection module, it took only four months time for a basic product as cable collection device to be in place. The credit goes to both the teams for their dedicated efforts. We had to customize the product for banking requirements and standards and then train their back-end team to deal with the banking standards. After that, it has been continuous research and development which has helped in adding new features from time to time.”

Future expansion plans

Financial inclusion is an evolving sector. Customizing the product to the needs of the customers is a learning experience for all the players in this field. Amulya Bisht, associate, cites the example of YES Sahaj micro ATM, “YES Bank itself has gone through many phases of development to come out from a mere field collection device to a withdrawal and deposit platform and now to a complete doorstep micro-ATM-cum-teller. In coming days, many new features, including a more secure transaction mode, along with product customization to address other standard banking products like over- draft facility, will be added to it.”

The standalone services for micro ATM will be charged on a per-transaction basis. This amount will be very small as compared to the wage loss incurred by customers in visiting the banking premises.

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