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Deepak H. Saluja: We Transform Financial Access by Enabling Faster and Better Credit Decisions

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Tell us about yourself?

I am the Co-Founder and the Group CEO of The Social Loan Company (TSLC). I am a banker turned social entrepreneur with 25+ years of industry experience. I held senior leadership positions across Standard Chartered, Citigroup, JP Morgan, and Credit Suisse globally before embarking on my entrepreneurial journey in 2016.

I co-founded TSLC with Raman Kumar, a seasoned tech entrepreneur. We are a global venture builder on a mission to drive financial inclusion through our credit-led, AI/ML-powered platform and partner ecosystem in emerging and frontier markets.

We exist to solve the deep-rooted problem of financial exclusion. Close to two billion individuals in emerging and frontier markets remain underserved by financial institutions that typically overlook and misjudge them. This limits their ability to access credit fairly and when they need it. Using our proprietary, breakthrough Al/ML-driven tech, we aim to lower the barriers to and democratize credit by bringing about a paradigm shift in the relationship underserved digital natives have with banking and financial services.

We transform financial access by enabling faster and better credit decisions, as well as easier and simpler customer onboarding in a transparent, responsible, and trustworthy manner.

As a passionate advocate for financial inclusion as a universal human right, I am an active member of the global fintech community as a thought leader and mentor.

My commitment to learning and development is untiring, and I am currently pursuing an OPM degree at Harvard Business School.

What do you think is the single biggest misconception people have when it comes to startups?

“Your company’s culture will naturally develop over time and isn’t a startup’s priority.”

This is simply not true.

Company culture is critical to a startup’s stability, longevity, and brand perception, and it is also the path to strategy execution. Building a company culture that inspires internal and external stakeholders is critical to success. This intangible yet measurable quality requires more than defining benefits and perks; it takes an extraordinary amount of time, consistent attention, and belief from the startup leadership team to define and cultivate. In a team setting, culture is ultimately about aligning with a common mission and living out our binding values and principles in a collaborative, force-multiplying framework.

Besides having your brand philosophy, vision, and mission in place, it is up to the startup founder to hire leaders who will bring the brand’s purpose, personality, and culture to life. Without a leadership team that shares your core values and vision, building a culture is not possible.

These principles may seem straightforward and easy to implement, but they aren’t. Remember, most start-ups are on a mission to disrupt the status quo, so our journey is often tenuous, where we fail fast and must learn faster. A cohesive culture keeps people focused, motivated and collaborative, all working towards a common mission and aligned on the same values.

At TSLC, along with my leadership team, we have distilled our company culture into five leadership principles and four core values, collectively our north star. These principles and values frame how we define our business objectives and success and how we attract, hire, retain and evaluate talent.

If you could go back in time to any moment from your journey and give yourself one tip, what would it be?

“Progress is forever pursued, never reached.”

Cultivating a lifelong learner and growth mindset is imperative in business and life. To continuously be curious and open-minded about the world around you sharpens your instincts, widens your horizons, and keeps you flexible to embrace the inevitable challenges that come your way.

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This also allows me to enjoy the journey and not be hyper-focused only on the destination. I embrace daily progress, even when it’s incremental because it’s consistent progress over a period of time that leads to success and mastery.

What makes you stand out as an entrepreneur?

Empathy and a desire to serve people.

When you spend 25+ years in the banking industry, you get a deep understanding of how underserved and unbanked individuals live their daily lives. You get to know their struggles, barriers, hopes, and dreams. Today, close to 1.7 billion individuals lack access to mainstream banking and continuously struggle to be ‘seen’ by a legacy system – especially non-prime, middle-income consumers in emerging and frontier markets.

The current construct of legacy financial systems has a narrow definition of human value based on current financial success. That’s why I left a highly successful banking career to build a tech-for-good company. We are here to redefine the world’s unfair definition of human value, from present success to future potential. This is especially true of the global youth in emerging and frontier markets. They have incredible drive and potential, we see it, and we are here to enable them to reach their fullest potential.

What are some of the best working habits you’ve gained over the past couple of years?

My work ethic has been shaped by old-school values of integrity, modesty, kindness, sincerity, and hard work, for which I am beyond grateful to my parents. They shaped my early views of ethos and doing good for people. That inspired me to be part of the “business-for-good movement,” and that’s when the global journey of The Social Loan Company (TSLC) germinated. We want to spark and influence positive change in this world. I am deeply committed to revolutionizing the flow of money, making it a source of freedom and not fear so that it benefits every person on the planet!

Like most founders, I’m extremely passionate about what I do, obsessive about creating value and creating an environment conducive enough for my teams, consumers, and communities to thrive.

I believe discipline is a great precursor to lifelong success; combined with determination, it makes grand success possible. I hope to keep my daily habits going for as long as possible. I am an early riser, usually up by 5–5:30 AM. I pray, reflect, meditate, go for a run or the gym, read and then start my day. This precious ‘me-time’ sets me up for high productivity levels and positive energy throughout the day. When I can pull off more of my me-time, you will find me at the tennis courts or the golf course!

I truly believe in work-life harmony; therefore, my family, spiritual practices, and friends are imperative to happiness. A harmonious life is a life well lived; success is a by-product of this harmony.

What is the name of your company?

The Social Loan Company.

Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?

With over 25 years of experience in traditional banking, I have cultivated deep insights into the friction of delivery, clunky infrastructure, legacy bottlenecks, and pain points that traditional banking has been synonymous with.

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The story of TSLC Global was born at the intersection of my financial services experiences, instincts, drive, and passion with the tech-entrepreneurship and vision of my founding business partner, Raman Kumar. And it set me on a path to help revolutionize money as a way of doing good at scale. We’re on a mission to make a significant financial inclusion impact in the world and make money a perennial source of independence and joy, not insecurity.

We want to make money accessible to all. To make financial inclusion possible and scalable, we deploy our proprietary, self-adaptive and differentiated cloud-native AI/ML-based decisioning engine on a global scale through our banking and NBFI partners. Our technology and decision-engine assess customer and AI-curated data to disburse a loan within minutes. To do this, our proprietary decisioning engine (SLQ) takes in 100+ macro and 2,500+ micro data points from every user and analyzes over 7.5B combinations of data points daily.

Our SLQ (Social Loan Quotient) leverages customer data sourced from various sources, loan applications, KYC, level-one text message logs, call logs, Meta/App data, spatial data, social media footprint, education, earnings, and career history to assess, within seconds, the creditworthiness of everyday consumers seeking access to affordable credit.

Then our GM (Goodness Measure) assesses the propensity to repay/default at the loan level to accelerate the approval process. Our AI engine ensures we evaluate each applicant based on a holistic set of attributes, as opposed to financial history, to give creditworthy low-to-moderate income working communities – especially those who have so far been denied access to credit – a better chance of accessing much-needed capital.

Where do you see your business in five years?

Our brand in India, CASHe, is a financial super-app with 20M+ customers on our platform and 4M+ active users. We launched our JV partnership in Bangladesh earlier this year, and we already live in sandbox production in the Middle East with our new global brand. The momentum we have generated in a short period is no small feat, and I am humbly confident that we’ll only go and grow from strength to strength.

Our vision is to create a global financial wellness platform that’s embedded in the daily lives of underserved consumers. We will offer hyper-personalized and differentiated products and services powered by AI/ML and big data technology.

Today we are a profitable leading LendTech and are well on our way to becoming a full-stack credit-led neo-banking platform designed to serve 100+ million underserved consumers in 10+ markets in five years (or less!) and help create a financial inclusion impact of up to 10%.

In our first phase of global growth, we’re expanding further into MENA and South Asia, before we embark on a similar journey across Southeast Asia and Latin America.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you in getting there?

Becoming a full-stack digital bank is an ambitious and audacious journey. I think the biggest challenge is always going to be to deliver a business based on fundamentals and not hype. We are a profitable FinTech, and our numbers tell a strong story.

In a world where VCs demand more cost optimization, FinTech stocks are dropping, and startups are firing hundreds of employees, the tide has very clearly shifted. We stand tall given our unique perpetual revenue-generating IP framework, relatively low cash-burn, positive unit and business economics, asset-light and regulation-light global expansion model, and the stability from profitability proving to be supremely beneficial during these tumultuous times!

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Our focus will always be to solve real-life problems and generate positive human impact. That’s what separates the missionaries from the mercenaries – it takes courage, undying resolve, conviction, and consistency.

Talk to us about your biggest success story so far?

When you disrupt the status quo, you face multiple challenges and endless opportunities. When my founding-partner Raman Kumar launched CASHe in India in 2017, we went through a steep learning curve to show the efficacy of our business model, educate our investors on our industry-leading technology and promote financial literacy with end consumers.

By the end of Q1 2022, we crossed $550M in cumulative loan disbursement with over 4M+ active users and 20M+ downloads. We currently disburse ~$1M in loans daily, with a 74% customer retention rate.

In addition, we have 25+ partners, including embedded partnerships with Airtel Payments Bank, Google Pay, and WhatsApp. In June this year, we delivered access to the seamless CASHe experience to tens of millions of users on WhatsApp across India.

We are the first lendtech to offer an instant credit limit on WhatsApp without the need for any documents, app downloads, or filling up tedious application forms.

In early 2022, our JV in Bangladesh – CASHe Alliance – forged a transformative collaboration with Dhaka Bank. In a short period, Dhaka Bank’s eRin app, powered by TSLC’s platform, has achieved a 40% monthly MAU growth providing credit approvals within 4 mins. We have also partnered with progressive companies like SSLCOMMERZ, where we are integrating our credit decisioning engine to enable our partners to offer Buy-Now-Pay-Later (BNPL) to the customers of 100,000+ merchants from the get-go and ultimately scale it to tens of millions of consumers via their turbo-charged merchant-expanding network. 

I am also extremely proud of the awards for innovation the company has won. Most recently, we were awarded LendTech innovator of the Year for MENAT in 2022.

How do clients and customers find you? Are you much of a salesperson for yourself?

As a writer and speaker, I’m very active within the global FinTech community and have recently been using LinkedIn to share my views and engage with other professionals. I’m passionate about our industry and my company and am incredibly proud of the great work my teams do every day and showcase that through my network. I publish blogs and research papers and offer a perspective online and at conferences on the trends and shifts shaping our world.

What one tip would you give to fellow startup founders?

A founder’s work is never done, and traversing from zero to one is only one part of the journey. Every adversity along the way is an opportunity to improve, build, and deliver better.

And finally, what do you hope the future brings both you personally and your business?

For me personally, I want to leave a multi-generational legacy that my family, peers, partners, community, and society at large can be proud of. And from the standpoint of business, I hope that our business simplifies, improves, and transforms the financial lives of millions globally.

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