Facebook is launching a new program in India to help small and medium-sized businesses secure loans in the South Asian market as the company makes a further push to expand its presence among merchants.
The social conglomerate said its new program, called Small Business Loans Initiative, addresses some of the biggest pain points small businesses face when securing loans.
The company, which last year announced a $4.3 million grant for small businesses in India, said the new program will allow its lending partners to grant small ticket loans -- ranging between 500,000 Indian rupees ($6,720) to 50,00,000 ($67,200) -- at a predefined interest rate of 17%-20% per annum and won't require the businesses to provide any collateral or joining fee, the firm told TechCrunch.
At the time of launch, the company's pilot lending partner is CDC Group-backed Gurgaon-headquartered Indifi, which will disburse the loan amount within five working days of the borrower completing all documentation formalities after acceptance of the offer by Indifi. The company expects more partners to join the program.
Facebook said it's working at "arm's length" with its lending partners, but those partners will be handling all the risks of loan payments and determining the eligibility criteria. (On Facebook's website, the company says a business must have advertised on the Facebook family of apps for at least 180 days at the time of application as one of the factors for eligibility.)
Facebook, on its part, is making businesses aware of the lending program and has worked to improve the underlying lending framework such as boundaries for interest rate, engagement responsiveness between the lending partner and businesses (there will be an on-call support system within one day of applying) and ticket size of the credit amount.
In a call with reporters on Friday, Facebook India head Ajit Mohan said that small businesses in 200 Indian cities can apply for the loan starting today.
Businesses wholly or partially run by women will additionally be able to secure the loan at a special 0.2% reduction rates per annum.
This is the first time Facebook has launched a program of this kind in any market, the company told TechCrunch.
According to a survey conducted by Facebook in collaboration with OECD and the World Bank last year, almost a third of operational small and medium-sized businesses on Facebook in 2020 said that they expected cash flow to be one of their primary challenges.
The company is not monetizing this program. "We believe it is in our self-interest for there to be a massive growth in the small business ecosystem in India because as a company we are playing this for the long term. We will disproportionately benefit because a lot of these small business activity happens on our apps as they grow," said Mohan at the briefing.
"We are not looking to make money from this program. We don't have any revenue sharing agreement. We are not putting any constraint on how this money is spent," he said. "Frankly, we are also hoping that on the back of a program like this other companies will also create programs so that there is more access to credit in the market. That will be good for us all. There is no transactional objective here."
For Facebook, Friday's announcement is the latest in a series of efforts it has made to tap the South Asian nation's small and medium-sized businesses. The firm, which identifies India as its largest market by users, last year invested $5.7 billion in Indian tech giant Jio Platforms to work on, among other things, digitizing small businesses in the country.
"MSMEs will play a significant role in reviving India’s economic growth and achieving its vision of becoming more self-reliant. Digital transformation will act as a catalyst for India’s development story going forward, and access to finances will be crucial to this transformation," said Amitabh Kant, chief executive of government-backed highly influential think tank NITI Aayog, at a virtual conference Friday.
"In this context, Facebook's Small Business Loans initiative is a big step in the right direction and I’m happy to note that India is the first country where the company is launching such an initiative.”