Prod Ravindra Pandey, and statistics come tumbling out. He pulls out a sheet of paper and rattles them off. Thirty million registered users; 10 million daily logins; Rs 24,500 crore ($3.3 billion) disbursed; Rs 1,600 crore ($219 million) of investments in mutual funds.

“Is there any startup that does as much?” he asks defiantly. Except Pandey isn’t part of a unicorn-valued startup. Instead, he’s the deputy managing director of strategy and chief digital officer of India’s largest bank—the government-owned State Bank of India (SBI).

For Pandey to be challenging startups—using app metrics no less, the opiate of the startup world—seems an oddity. Banks, especially public sector ones, are everything startups are not—plodding, risk-averse, digital luddites. Over the last three years, though, SBI has been battling to change that perception.

In November 2017, the bank launched YONO (You Only Need One), a super app that swallowed all of SBI’s 50-plus apps. The metrics Pandey shot off were YONO’s, and he is far from done. “Nine million bank accounts opened so far, 350,000 credit cards, 0.59 million life insurance policies, 1.75 million general insurance sold,” Pandey continues.

It would be an understatement to say that SBI believes YONO is the next big thing in banking. Rajnish Kumar, the outgoing chairman of SBI, pegged pegged Bloomberg Quint SBI YONO Has A Valuation Of Over $40 Billion, Chairman Rajnish Kumar Says Read more  YONO’s worth at an eye-popping $40 billion, according to an internal analysis. For context, SBI itself is valued at just $24 billion.

At $40 billion, YONO would find itself among the top five most valuable startups globally. According to a recent CB insights report report Statista The World's Most Valuable Startups Read more , only Chinese internet giant Bytedance, ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing, and Elon Musk’s space transportation company SpaceX would be valued higher. Paytm*, currently India’s most valuable startup, would be $24 billion behind.

That any banking app could be valued like this is questionable. That scepticism only gets dialled up when you factor in that it’s from the stable of a public sector bank.

“It’s impossible,” said one consultant.

“It’s not worth more than $5 billion… at best,” said a valuation expert with a multinational company.

SBI begs to differ. In India, mobile banking is an integral channel to any bank. Mobile-based transactions have grown 3X in the last two years, according to investment research firm Sanford C Bernstein in October 2020. For a bank like SBI, 55% of transactions are via mobile. For private banks, that goes almost as high as 90% of all banking transactions.

YONO goes beyond mobile banking.

AUTHOR

Arundhati Ramanathan

Arundhati is Bengaluru-based. She is interested in how people use money in the digital age and how new economies will take shape based on that interaction. She has spent over 10 years reporting and writing on various subjects. Previous stints were at Mint, Outlook Business and Reuters.

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