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SKS Microfinance's passbook to cash
Mumbai: Vikram Akula-founded SKS Microfinance, which lends to the unbanked poor, seems to have come up with a solution for corporates looking to reach the untapped millions in rural India.

The company has given its old black-and-white passbook a colourful facelift, using glossy paper, at once reaching out to its depositors and opening up a new revenue stream — through advertisements.

Mamta Bharadwaj, head of marketing and communications at SKS Microfinance, told DNA Money, “The passbooks have already been rolled out in Andhra Pradesh and we are likely to roll them out in Karnataka and Orissa within the next 10 days.”

The company will gradually introduce the new passbook in all the 15 states it operates in, she said.

“The look of the passbook is something that excites the members we reach out to. It is like telling them that we give importance to even this part of the society,” said Bharadwaj.

But, why are the corporates excited?

Well, for the advertisement possibilities it opens up. So far, those advertising in rural areas have had few choices beyond wall paintings. Since there is no way one would actually travel to the far-flung areas to verify the number of walls painted, it is largely the painter’s word that they have to go by. That makes the impact of the ad-spend doubly difficult to map.

But, now they have a choice, at least in some parts of the country.

According to Bharadwaj, companies can advertise on the two inside pages and the back page. They can also hog the signboards of kirana stores that are a part of the microfinance company’s network.

In return, they get access to the regular meetings of the members of the company - an essential part of the microfinance model where a loan is given to a group to ensure there are no defaults. “Sampling exercises for surveys too would be possible with these groups,” Bharadwaj added.

“We are in the initial round of talks with TVS, ITC Foods, Kevin Care,” said Bharadwaj. Among others, Bharti Airtel, ICICI Lombard, Bajaj Allianz and Wipro Consumer Care are also learnt to be queuing up to advertise in these passbooks, which would soon be a prized possession of the 2.2-million-odd clients of SKS Microfinance.
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