It is a hot, dry 23 March. Just before lunch.
“This has been a bank for the last eight years,” says Dileep Kumar Mehta, bank manager of Andhra Bank in Kota.
No kendra? “Never.”
Did they conduct camps? “No.”
Is the address correct? “Yes.”
Do you know about them? “Yes, I have heard about them. But they were never here.”
It is a surreal conversation. The address is right, to the T, from the annual report of Vakrangee, but the kendra doesn’t exist.
A few weeks back, The Ken took a short trip to Kota. The city in Rajasthan, known for its Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) coaching classes, hotels that don’t allow unmarried couples to room up, a biggish train station, and, well, not much else. The small city is where Mumbai-based Information Technology (IT) services company, Vakrangee Ltd, has its largest number of kendras or outlets. The company, headed by Dinesh Nandwana, has a business model, which can be best described as a supermarket for financial inclusion services. It has white label ATMs, helps people open and run bank accounts, gives out money to those enrolled in rural employment schemes, enables people to buy insurance, and, in some cases, it helps customers connect to Amazon, which is trying to reach the rural populace of the country.
To offer these services, Vakrangee has outlets, which it calls kendras. It claims it has over 40,000 such kendras in the country. In Kota, it has 146 kendras listed on the website. Of the 146, The Ken visited 20 centres. Of the 20, only four were fully functional. It means they had a working ATM, a tie-up with a public sector bank and offered eMitra services provided by the Rajasthan government—essentially a centre for bill payment and voter registration. Eight other centres had no services except for eMitra.
The rest were never part of Vakrangee. Some had applied to be part of the network, but for one reason or another, they were never operational, and others had never even applied for a franchise.
We reached out to Vakrangee. What gives? “We are in process for appointment of a reputed consultant to carry out business quality analysis of Vakrangee kendras and have scheduled a Board meeting on 31 March 2018. The consultant would physically visit the stores and also analyse the activation of various services at the kendra outlet,” said a Vakrangee spokesperson in an emailed reply.
The company then declared to the exchange that it had appointed the consulting firm Grant Thornton to audit the kendras.