IIM Calcutta alumnus Vinay Bagri started NiYO Solutions with Virender Bisht, a mobile application and payments expert, to introduce better cash flows to the salaried segment.
Armed with over 20 years of banking experience, Vinay previously worked with institutions like Standard Chartered and Kotak Mahindra Bank, and knew banking and technology could work together stronger. Virender had worked with the mobile payments side of MakeMyTrip and was the Chief Technology Officer at Mobikwik. The duo met through a common friend, and after brainstorming on a few ideas, they launched NiYO, a digital banking startup, in 2015.
The NiYO team
While the company doesn’t create banking products, it collaborates with banks to offer a layer over the existing banking infrastructure to enrich the digital banking experience of customers.
Today, the Bengaluru-based fintech startup has four main offerings — NiYOX is next-gen savings account for millennials; NiYO Money is a power-packed suite of wealth products; NiYO Global Card provides banking experience and value for international travellers, and NiYO Bharat Payroll solutions provides modern salary accounts for India’s large blue-collar workforce.
The startup is backed by investors such as Tencent Holdings, Prime Venture Partners, Horizons Ventures, and others. The company claims to be having over two million customers and more than 6,000 corporate clients across business lines.
The initial focus
The startup initially focused on introducing better cash flows to the salaried segment. NiYO works with the employer to carve out the employee’s cost-to-company (CTC). When NiYO started, the co-founders had discovered 22 tax-saving items for individuals in the salaried segment. In October 2015, the company got validation for the employee solutions platform from YES Bank.
“We partner with banks to create our products. Tech-savvy modern banks have their own basic infrastructure and APIs in place. We build our app on top of what the bank has to offer. Through this, we are able to bring our features and UI/UX to the user to create a simpler, smarter, and safer banking experience,” says Vinay.
He adds that when NiYO was founded, they began with prepaid partnership products that were available to employees of corporate clients that we took on. While these products still exist today, the basic idea has evolved into a co-branded credit card, and then further into a co-branded savings account.
“Today, we have over two million customers and more than 6,000 corporate clients across business lines. The recent launch of NiyoX has certainly given a boost to this already promising growth and innovation trajectory.”
In the early days, the startup was an employee benefits company – think fuel cards and meal passes. After demonetisation, NiYO launched salary accounts for blue-collared workers. This is where the volumes are high as most of these people don’t have a handy bank account.
“We have made it a point to build a product that works for each of the major customer segments in India. These products have their own tech and product teams to ensure that we dedicate resources and energy into understanding our users, analysing their behaviour, and producing a product that is specifically catered to their needs,” says Vinay.
Vinay, Viren, and Sanjay Swamy of Prime VP
Focusing on Bharat
According to Vinay, NiYO hosts in-house hackathons on an annual basis (or more often if it can help it) to give its team a chance to think outside of the box. Sometimes, this results in ideas for new products that the team can hash out and explore somewhere down the line. The team also comes up with additional features to enhance the products it already has in place.
“Hackathons and other innovation think-tanks gave rise to a majority of the features that made up NiYO Bharat, our first major product,” says Vinay.
NiYO Bharat is a prepaid salary card for blue-collar workers. The primary innovation the company brought in here was assigning a virtual account number and IFSC code to a card, creating salary accounts at very low costs. This created the much-needed affordability for blue-collar workers, and gave Niyo an opportunity to build digital banking solutions for individuals who may not have had access otherwise.
“The core of NiYO Bharat is the account number and IFSC-linked prepaid salary card that we are able to provide to our customers,” says Vinay.
The product and tech
At NiYO, tech is at the core of the product. So, further tech is brought in as additional features. The company gets ideas for features from a few key places.
Vinay says: “Either we notice something missing in the market that can be solved or made easier with tech, or we hear right from our users. Our service and sales teams regularly engage with our customers and pass their feedback onto our product and tech teams. Any new ideas are added to a product dashboard for further exploration, and then we move it right along to tech for development.”
The framework for the technology comes from the product team after which they invest resources into research to feed more and more inspirational fuel into our teams. For NiYO Bharat, this was when demand outstripped supply back in 2017, and for NiYO Global, the big Eureka moment came when they saw the traction that the product had gained on an IIM campus.
“More recently, with NiYOX, we were left both awestruck and inspired when our waitlist blew up in 2020, and when we had 25,000+ accounts opened in just 25 days after our market launch,” adds Vinay.
This idea arose during NiYO’s early days, and the subsequent innovation yielded everything from the multilingual app itself to the fund transfer, bill payment, and UPI integration that the platform has today. The product has undergone many iterations since then, but the first prototype took about six months to assemble.
Going after a big problem
“If you are solving for a big problem or a problem for a big market, then product-market fit should be immediate. This is our priority while developing anything from an MVP to V99 of a product,” says Vinay.
“Naturally, learning becomes a constant process. The market will continue to evolve and respond in interesting ways, and so we keep our ears on the ground and rapidly innovate with the energy that only a fintech can bring to the table. In fact, we do app releases almost on a weekly basis, much more often than a bank would do,” he adds.
For example, a huge part of the NiYO Bharat mission surrounds financial inclusion, specifically in the digital sense. The team wants to encourage a greater level of tech and financial literacy among blue-collar workers, and reduce their dependence on cash.
Vinay explains they consistently see more of their customer base adopting Niyo’s digital fund transfer, bill payment, and POS payment channels, indicating that the product is proving useful in the way it was intended. The team hopes to see these numbers close to 100 percent and help such individuals increase their savings over time.
The company came up with many such innovations with subsequent products. “In our travel card product, the NiYO Global Card, we were the first fintech to launch a real-time currency converter. Even today, customers can access this through their app at any time, making international transactions much more transparent.
NiYOX has also been revolutionary with the 2-in-1 savings and wealth account offering that we’ve put together. This is great for the tech-savvy millennial – everything is intelligently linked, easy-to-use, and available in a single location,” says Vinay.
There are multiple expense management cards similar to NiYO’s. In the US, there are multiple brands handling the problem of expense management for corporates like Bento dash (for travel expenses) and PEX. Happay, also a Prime Venture Partner portfolio company, specialises in the same.
NiYo, however, has a suite of products. Vinay explains the priority right now is to focus on the growth and innovation within the newly launched NiyoX 2-in-1 savings and wealth account.
“It’s already gained great traction, and we’re excited to take it even further in the months to come. We are also planning to get an AMC licence so that we can build further wealth innovations into the Niyo Money product suite,” adds Vinay.