Ashish has 20+ years of experience in setting up and managing diverse businesses across the knowledge, consulting, financial services, and technology domains. Ashish Co-Heads OakNorth India where he built and scaled a high-performing team of over 500 individuals across credit analytics, portfolio monitoring, engineering, data science, and machine learning. As a member of the leadership team, Ashish brings strong judgment, customer obsession, and strategic oversight helping teams achieve OakNorth’s mission of transforming SME lending globally.
Over the past 18 months, the pandemic has tragically taken the lives of millions, forcing governments around the world to enact unprecedented measures to slow its spread. The numerous lockdowns have led to an increase in unemployment, the closure of countless businesses, and triggered the worst global recession in three centuries.
Despite these hardships, we have witnessed communities coming together, and incredible resilience, creativity and kindness. The challenges we have faced and will continue to face have led to a cultural shift across the fintech industry, and a newfound appreciation for several areas which I have outlined below.
Playing your part
The pandemic created an opportunity for fintech businesses to demonstrate their value to both individuals and businesses. Fintechs all over the world participated in government emergency loan schemes, helping to deliver vital capital to the businesses that needed it most. Many banks were initially overwhelmed by the huge surge in demand for loans, leaving small-business owners frustrated by technical difficulties and preferential treatment for larger clients. So, fintechs – with their straightforward processes, cloud-hosted infrastructure, and digitally led propositions – were able to step up to the plate and help. In the US for example, the likes of Square, PayPal, and Stripe played a significant role in the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, helping process applications, service loans, and give potential borrowers the information they need to access funds. Within just two months of the launch of the programme, over $1.7B had been approved through fintech companies.
We extended our software, the ON Credit Intelligence Suite, to develop an end-to-end solution to support US lenders. The process design ensured banks retained complete control of key decision-making and risk-management processes. One of the banks we supported was Customers Bank which through embracing partnership with fintechs such as ourselves, was able to provide over 100,000 loans and become the sixth most active PPP lender in the US.
The pandemic forced fintechs and banks to collaborate and work together, rather than competing with one another, and that’s a huge change from before. Pre-COVID, so much of the narrative around fintech was about how they were planning to “overthrow the banks” and “eat their lunch”, but the last 18 months have really changed that. In fact now, a lot more of the narrative is around celebrating the fintechs that are enabling the incumbents and enabling them to service customers better.
In the last few years, the balance between profit and growth has shifted in favour of growth at all costs – in large part, due to the huge amount of money chasing few great opportunities. Fintech is now one of the most popular sectors for investors globally, attracting $105 billion in 2020 – the third highest year on record despite unprecedented lockdowns and economic closures. Against this backdrop of a seemingly infinite pool of funds, profits have almost become a nice to have, rather than a need to have. However, the pandemic has changed this narrative and is creating a cultural shift where building a sustainable, profitable business has become much more important.
This has largely been driven by an unwillingness to be dependent on VC capital to fuel your runway. Many fintech businesses were either faced with having to furlough staff, put growth plans such as opening new offices and launching new products on hold, make team members redundant, or raise capital at a discounted valuation in order to ensure they were in a good position to weather the challenges the pandemic would bring.
Taking care of each other and our environment
The pandemic gave us all a newfound appreciation for our local communities, our key workers, and the environment. Months of lockdown meant we were unable to leave the locality of our home, and therefore got to know our neighbours and our neighbourhoods better. Seeing families, friends, colleagues and our local communities mourn the losses of loved ones made us all the more determined to work together to beat the virus. Witnessing key workers keeping our vital services going made us all eternally grateful to these courageous individuals. The lack of travel meant the world began to heal with air pollution and noise pollution levels reaching record lows.
As we experienced, India was one of the worst hit countries by the pandemic, so to help those who were impacted, we set up a number of support mechanisms and initiatives, including:
- Helping to deliver oxygen concentrators to those in need
- Funding over 150 oxygen concentrators and cylinders to local governments in Delhi and Uttarakhand
- Helping with the sourcing and distribution of over 84,000 meals for underprivileged families
- Helping with the sourcing and distribution of over 70,000 items of PPE to hospitals and community centres to help keep healthcare and key workers protected at a time when there was a PPE shortage
- Organising vaccination drives for our employees and their families
- Creating a helpline for employees to have doctor consultations and easy access to advice
- Launching a ‘Happy Minds, Happy Lives’ initiative focusing on the importance of mental health
- Launching a 24 hour helpline, led by our People team along with a number of volunteers, to support employees who needed oxygen, hospital beds, medical supplies and food
Thanks to the continued vaccine rollout globally, we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and we hope to be able to beat this invisible enemy soon. I’m proud to be Co-Head of OakNorth India, an institution that has taken its role during this pandemic – and in society more broadly – seriously.