After experiencing the horrors of applying for a home loan, Rati Shetty decided it was time to simplify things with BankBazaar

After experiencing the horrors of applying for a home loan, Rati Shetty decided it was time to simplify things

Coming from a family of illustrious entrepreneurs, it’s not surprising that Rati Shetty, co-founder of BankBazaar became one. Her grandfather, Chinni Krishnan, had developed the concept of the sachet back in 70’s and ran his own business that manufactured pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. Her uncles C K Ranganathan, who now runs CavinKare, C K Kumaravel and C K Ashok Kumar, and her father C K Rajkumar followed in their father’s footsteps. So when Shetty decided to become an entrepreneur, her family naturally rooted for her. “My family encouraged me every step of the way, and still do,” she says.

Growing up in Chennai, Shetty wanted to gain an international experience after completing her bachelor’s degree in business administration from MOP Vaishnav College for Women. It took a while to convince her family to let her go overseas, but Shetty did and landed a job as a marketing intern in Kraft International in Taipei in 2004. Her company transferred her to Miami a year later, where she was entrusted with taking successful brands from one market to another. Shetty thus gained much experience in food regulations, compliance, marketing and demographic differences in various markets, and learnt how to handle the adaptations smoothly. “It also taught me early on how important it is to have a process in place especially when you are scaling up,” she says.

Marriage to childhood sweetheart Arjun Shetty in 2007 brought her to Seattle, where he was working with Amazon. The genesis of BankBazaar was in the same year, when Shetty and her husband wanted to avail a home loan on one of their visits to India. “It was a horrifying experience. We had to wait endlessly at banks and, even then, there would be no proper response from the bankers. There was too much paperwork. We ended up going back without taking the loan,” she says.

But the incident opened their eyes to the hassle Indian customers are put through while applying for a loan. “After seeing the ease of such transactions in the US, Arjun and I realised that this was a huge pain point back home. Starting a company on our own was only a logical conclusion,” says Shetty. Arjun’s brother, Adhil Shetty, who was also working in the US with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, was equally excited about the idea and decided to join the couple.

The trio launched BankBazaar in 2008 to help people find the best deal on loans across banks and financial services companies. They started with an initial capital of Rs.4.5 million and a team of six members. According to Shetty, the focus was always on building a strong team.

They knew that technology would form the corner-stone of simplifying and streamlining the tedious process of home-loan applications, and were quick to rope in Microsoft veteran Iype Isac who now leads the delivery team in the organisation. “The idea was to simplify the whole process. Even though finance is part of daily lives, it is daunting and complicated for most people,” says Shetty. Starting with loans, BankBazaar now offers a comprehensive range of financial products including credit cards, insurance and mutual funds from over 85 partners including Axis Bank, HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank.

Her five heartbeats: Rati with her husband, Arjun and their kids, and Adhil and his wife Reha during a vacation in Siena

The journey was no cakewalk. But the Shettys were convinced that the future will be paperless, and that it was only a matter of time before financial institutions in India would jump on the bandwagon.

However, convincing banks that were steeped in paperwork and red-tape to grant loans through an online platform was easier said than done. There were serious concerns about online security as well. That said, the banks were beginning to see the increasing power of the Internet and how it could change the way banking is done. “Getting the first partner bank on board was our biggest challenge. Once the banks started seeing value in our offering, they started to come on board one by one,” says Shetty. ING Vysya Bank and American International Group (AIG) were the first partners. But, as luck would have it, the day BankBazaar went live, the global financial crisis hit and AIG went belly up as well.

Post the crisis, things got off to a slow start but that was a blessing in disguise, according to Shetty. “It gave us time to iron out all the wrinkles and build a really robust, scalable tech platform,” she says.

The team didn’t let the initial setback deter them and went to work. Shetty, as the chief product officer, was in charge of driving the customer experience. She used Google AdWords and digital ads to acquire the first set of customers. A strong believer that satisfied customers are the best brand evangelists, Shetty and her team ensure that customers have a frictionless experience across the web and mobile platforms. They offer innovative solutions such as paperless transactions and instant approvals, and an intelligent interface design.

Adhil who is the CEO drives the sales and business development while Shetty’s husband Arjun, as the COO, takes care of the platforms and operations.

So far the company has raised $110 million across four rounds of funding from investors such as Amazon, Experian, Fidelity Growth Partners, Sequoia Capital and Walden International. With over 1,000 employees, BankBazaar clocked a revenue of Rs.1.18 billion in FY18. The same year, BankBazaar saw 250 million visitors out of which 42% were repeat customers. In FY19, the company hopes to see more than 400 million visitors.

Shetty says that, to find the right work-life balance, you don’t have to give up one for other. “You just have to manage your time and people well,” she says. She strongly believes that by infusing freedom in your work and structure into your personal life, you can get a lot of things done. “I have never had to give up one thing for the other, and have always found the time for all the things I’ve wanted to do,” she says.

Her resilient spirit was tested through a particularly challenging time once when she was holidaying in Italy in May 2016 with her family and friends and had an unexpected fall. It led to haemorrhaging, calling for an emergency surgery in Italy. While the emergency was the cause for the surgery, Shetty says this is the best thing that happened to her as it reset her perspective of life and the world. The samples from her Italian surgery would later disclose a tumour. The accidental fall leading to the discovery of an existing tumour which had no manifested symptoms anytime before the fall was an act of, “sheer luck by chance” as Shetty puts it.

After a couple of weeks in Italy where doctors had told her that she had to go back home and get further medical help in India, Shetty returned. Scans and MRIs at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai confirmed the existence of margins of a tumour in her brain even after the Italian surgery. This is because the first surgery was approached as an emergency due to haemorrhage and was not planned as a tumour removal which by itself is a completely different procedure. Shetty underwent a second surgery in August 2016 focused on removal of the tumour margins, had chemotherapy and radiation for two months in Mumbai before returning back to Chennai and resuming work in October 2016.

Shetty says that her tumour made her stronger, she did not miss a day of going to the gym during the radiation/chemo days and felt more grateful for life than ever before. When she restarted work too, after the two month break, it was business as usual with normal work hours and days, without missing a single day of work or a meeting. She continued to live a healthier and fitter lifestyle with a renewed perspective.

All in a day’s work: Rati strikes a pose with her BankBazaar team

Through it all, Shetty says she received so much love from friends and family near and far, and her kids and her husband Arjun have been her main support systems. “I can’t imagine what he went through and I don’t think I could have gotten through it without him,” she says. “The kids gave me strength.”

Shetty says she only looks at failure as an opportunity to set processes right, rather than seeing it as a setback. “My stint in Kraft International taught me that having the right process in place is the only way to scale up without countering a recurring set of problems,” she says.

While the professional dream is to build BankBazaar into a leading marketplace for financial products, and moving it into newer geographies and products, her personal dream is to be grow grape trees and make wine in a vineyard in Sienna. Also, she would like to build a community by teaching children art, says Shetty with her lopsided smile.

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