As a young chartered accountant, Badri Narayanan had a keen interest in financial analysis, but he didn’t pursue it for several years because of a lack of confidence in the field. Even though he had studied financial analysis to clear his CA examinations, his knowledge of the field was largely theoretical. What he needed — and sorely lacked — was practical, implementable knowledge where he could test his understanding using real-world data.
Eventually, Badri mastered financial analysis on the job in a career spanning nearly two decades, at two of the ‘big five’ accounting firms — Arthur Andersen and EY.
Entrepreneurship came knocking when, one day, he undertook the task of recruiting a few interns for the firm. The job posting received over 200 applications from chartered accountants, MBA graduates, and students of various financial disciplines. With such a large pool of applicants, the hiring team Badri was part of decided to administer a small test project using Microsoft Excel, focusing on cash flow analysis.
The project was developed around the firm’s own investment algorithms, and put to practical test the applicants’ theoretical knowledge of the subject matter. Only less than 5 percent of the lot were able to pass the test.
That gave Badri an idea – if real cases and data can be used to make hiring decisions, they could also be used to impart practical experience. That way, students would not only be able to implement the theory they learn during their finance courses, but also gain important skills that could help them become more employable.
An example of the various courses EquityLevers offers to students (Image credit: EquityLevers)
So, he decided to create a financial learning platform that combined textbook learning with practical, live, real-world simulations, and along with his wife and co-founder, Prabha Badri Narayanan, set up EquityLevers in 2019.
Prabha, a database specialist, built the platform’s algorithm, while Badri, along with teammates, domain experts and educators, built its educational components.
Learn by doing
EquityLevers’ online education platform positions itself as the third learning interface for students studying finance – following textbooks and videos or lectures. Its primary aim is to get students to solve real-world problems using live data.
“Real-life problems are more holistic and require concepts from multiple subjects. Also, practitioner skills are mostly learned through observation. EquityLevers wants to address the need for practice in finance aspirants,” Badri tells YourStory.
The Mumbai-based startup currently offers three products:
- For instructors: This product is mainly used by teachers at institutions to solidify their pupils’ understanding of financial concepts. The tests are similar to Harvard Business Review cases, except they are focused on Indian markets. Academic institutions such as ISB and IIMs have already started using the product.
“We realised that an instructor’s time is costly and they can’t keep reviewing multiple attempts. Also, an instructor-led process cannot be implemented at scale. This approach enables instructors to remotely curate and assign multiple projects. Reviewing is automated through embedded adaptive evaluation, which reduces the need for instructors to spend a lot of time,” Badri says.
An example of the courses EquityLevers offers on its platform. (Image credit: EquityLevers)
- For learners: Launched in April 2021, it is an online finance textbook that contains practical problems that students can use to practice for examinations, or even when applying for jobs. The product is also designed for employees in the financial sector to upskill or hone their already acquired skills. Learners can either subscribe to the entire module, or select specific courses.
- Finance lab: Launched in August 2021, this product helps beginners, market investors and even non-finance professionals to understand financial analysis and the world of investing. The product contains several games and videos to help learners master concepts such as investment analysis and finance terminals, among others.
The startup already has around 20,000 users on its platform, with 25 colleges signed up for EquityLevers’ finance courses. It is currently exploring partnerships with corporates.
Its main competitors include MarketsMojo, Coursera, among others. EquityLevers says it stands out from the rest because of its focus on case studies and practical practice modules., Screener, ,
Revenue and business model
The startup mostly earns its revenue through sales and subscriptions of its products. It says its fee structure for the product used by instructors and academic institutions is on par with most financial literacy products in the industry. It charges leading institutions between Rs 1,500 and Rs 4,000 per user, per annum.
The product is marketed by the National Educational Alliance for Technology (NEAT) cell of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Around 25 percent of the startup’s total revenue from this product goes to government bodies that support India’s economically weaker sections.
For its direct learner product, it charges Rs 400-plus per course, at the end of which students receive a formal certificate. The entire finance course costs Rs 9,000.
Its recently-launched ‘Finance Lab’ product will work on a membership model, the startup says.
In the last financial year, EquityLevers recorded a loss on the back of Rs 35 lakh in revenue. With courses and subscription renewals set to happen this year, it expects to turn a profit.
So far, the company has raised funding from friends and family, and remains bootstrapped. It hopes to raise institutional funding this year.
Looking at the future
Having received government approvals to sell its learning courses to academic institutions, Badri says he expects to enrol around 30 full-price paying institutions by the end of the academic year. The startup is also set to launch a skilling product for corporates.
“We also want to offer skilling projects for most industry skills in the finance area, such as due diligence, fraud detection, data analytics, bankruptcy, real estate etc. Our aim is to make it easy for users to upskill and not depend on a real job to learn these concepts,” Badri says.
In a country like India, where literacy levels are close to 80 percent but financial literacy levels are merely at 27 percent, according to a survey by the National Centre for Financial Education, solutions like EquityLevers’ have the potential to not only train finance students, but also help beginners understand, learn and put to practical use their knowledge of financial concepts.
Various government bodies such as the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), and the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA), have set up a National Centre for Financial Education to help educate Indians about concepts such as investing, the importance of diversification, interest rates compounding, and the time value of money, among others.
The market for smart education and learning is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15.2 percent, and hit $423.2 billion by 2025, globally, a report by Grand View Research said — which bodes well for an online education platform such as EquityLevers.