We talked to Swaroop Shah on how Validus promotes development for small and medium enterprises, and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Swaroop Shah: Thank you for asking. We’ve adjusted well to the new normal. Back in Vietnam, things are getting back to normal. There have been not much worries around local commuting or travel.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Validus?
Swaroop Shah: Before Validus, I spent over 22 years in global banking in emerging and mature markets like India, Vietnam, and Singapore. My experience covers a spectrum of functions, including consumer lending, sales, credit underwriting, risk management, and credit operations. Before Validus, I headed CitiFinancial Consumer Finance as Collections Head for Personal Loans post, where I was the Chief Risk Officer for Prudential Vietnam Finance. I then moved to Prudential Plc as Director of Audit, Group-wide Internal Audit. As one of the earliest employees, I had the opportunity to head multiple teams across the business and played a crucial role in taking Validus from a fintech startup to Singapore’s largest SME financing platform in just a few years. I’ve been the CEO of Validus Vietnam since early 2020, at the forefront of helping to pivot Validus in Vietnam and drive financial inclusion for the many unbanked or underbanked SMEs.
How does Validus innovate?
Swaroop Shah: We are one of the largest SME lending marketplaces in Asia with a mission to connect accredited investors with the underserved, unbanked, and underbanked SMEs. Part of our strategic differentiation lies in our client acquisition strategy; accredited investors (lenders) can access a new asset class and diversify their portfolio, creating a win-win solution for underserved SMEs seeking growth financing. Since the start of Covid-19, we have seen a slight increase in interest: no. of account sign-ups doubled in the last four weeks – investors seeking market plus yield in this downtown and to decorrelate from market/diversify their portfolio. Even in times of economic uncertainty and downturn, SME lending is a viable asset class – it has performed consistently as it is uncorrelated to markets: 11% average return, 2.7% non-performing loans.
A majority of our portfolio is focused on SMEs with linkages to large corporates via our Corporate Vendor Financing (CVF) program. The risk is lower due to the product’s nature as repayments are direct from large corporates or govt-linked entities. On a group level, as part of our goal to solidify our position as the leading SME financing platform in Southeast Asia, Validus’ Thailand arm Siam Validus is due to launch early next year as a joint venture with one of Thailand’s largest conglomerates, with an ecosystem transaction volume of over US$5 billion annually.
Most recently, our Data team has also developed and implemented an innovative proprietary credit and customer monitoring tool – named the “Credit and Customer Monitoring System (CCAAT),” to proactively identify SMEs’ need for financing and those who require review or attention to enable Credit teams to take action.
We are very happy to share that we’ve emerged Winner of MAS Fintech Awards 2020 (SG Financial Institution).
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Swaroop Shah: We’ve seen an MoM growth in disbursement volume in the last quarter, averaging close to a 45% increase post the lows during Covid peak months of March and April. Validus Vietnam has shown 500% growth in the last four months, with close to zero default rates. This is attributed to Validus’ data analytics and collaborative models.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Swaroop Shah: The onset of Covid-19 meant new health and safety measures, and remote working arrangements are fast becoming the new normal. Our team’s health and safety are of paramount importance as we continue to embrace changes while protecting our teammates, even if it means large-scale work-from-home policies. We’ve always seen technology as a growth enabler. Today that remains especially true – businesses have a chance to test, evaluate, and update business contingency plans, ensuring that the safety of employees and maintaining efficiency, with an eye on improving processes. Since early March, we’ve started work-from-home arrangements with guidelines in place to ensure accountability and productivity. With that being said, there were some new changes that we have implemented such as the shift from the familiar face to face meetings and presentation to video calls which we foresee, that will stay for quite a while. As a cloud-based FinTech, we expect to be fully operational with minimal disruption, even in a full lockdown scenario.
Fintechs have the agility and innovation needed to create and deliver new solutions rapidly; quite a few fintechs are well-positioned to survive the crisis and contribute to the industry and society in meaningful ways once the crisis occurs behind us. If history provides any lessons for this unprecedented crisis, it may be that adversity inspires creativity.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Validus in the future?
Swaroop Shah: Stress and anxiety are part and parcel of the job. It’s up to each individual on how you would deal with it. I keep it very simple and take it as it comes.
The most crucial point for me is staying focused and positive and giving confidence and support to the team to carry on their work. I can see vast potential in the Vietnam market as we go into 2021, and we want to be at the forefront of financial inclusion for the SME who are starved for credit.
We want to be seen as the platform of choice for SME lending one hand and being a meaningful part in helping the economy on the other hand by supporting the SMEs.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Swaroop Shah: I take it as it comes and does not worry too much about competition. We are committed to achieving our goal to bridge the SME financing gap in the region and are focused on executing the strategy we have in place. Our approach to building a robust, firm base to help us achieve that in terms of risk management and controls will go a long way in keeping us ahead of the competition. We keep our ears on the ground and are always listening to the market requirements and stay updated on the next potential opportunities soon and prepare for the same well in advance.
Your final thoughts?
Swaroop Shah: Validus remains committed to its core: SMEs and providing institutional and HNW investors an attractive alternative asset class; focused on sustainable growth and long term impact.
We are continuing to invest heavily in our technology and data analytics capabilities, build strong teams, develop a deep-rooted presence in each of the markets we operate in, and build on our partnership strategy to boost SME lending in crucial supply chains.
Despite the current pandemic, we’re well on track. We are confident that while we still have some way to go before we can make a widespread impact, with each step along the way comes the belief that we are increasingly driving SME financial inclusion in Southeast Asia. Our focus will be to develop strong teams and a deep-rooted presence in each of the markets we operate in, become the online SME lender of choice for the region, and build a new generation lending engine powered by no-code, zero code change requirements.
Our goal is to become the #1 platform of choice for SMEs and investors across the markets we are in, by effectively addressing the SME financing gap and providing investors attractive lending opportunities for diversified, high-yield returns. We aim to continue our growth in the current countries that we’re in and remain steadfast in our goal to address the USD 200 billion underserved SME financing gap.
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