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Ujjivan Small Finance Bank open to acquisition and partnerships to grow business

Kolkata: Ujjivan Small Finance Bank is open to exploring the M&A route if a complementary business were in the market for sale, chief executive Nitin Chugh said.“We keep getting proposals and conceptually, we would be interested in a complementary business rather than what we do ourselves,” he told ET.With intense financial stress following the outbreak of Covid-19, several micro lenders with tiny portfolio sizes are exploring takeovers for survival, people familiar with the matter said.Ujjivan is looking to foray into the gold loan business and other personal loan segments. Acquiring a non-bank lender operating in these spaces would help expand service lines and revenue streams.Organic growth remains a challenge, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.In parallel, Ujjivan is in talks with a few fintech firms to grow loan assets as it is facing hurdles in loan growth. It has seen loan disbursement falling 84% to Rs 474 crore in the June quarter, compared with Rs 2,959 crore in the year-ago period. The bank’s branch expansion plans have also taken a backseat.About 78% of Ujjivan’s gross loan of Rs 14,366 crore are micro banking loans including group loans, individual loans and agri loans."We are in the advanced stage of discussions with half a dozen fintech firms for partnerships. To start with, we would like to lend to them to help them to grow. Later on, we may use their franchise to lend directly to their customers," Chugh said.A pilot project may begin in the next three months.Ujjivan had plans to add 50 new branches to its tally of 475 and begin banking operations in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. It has now halved the plan target, budgeting for a somewhat normal situation."As branch expansion is now being slowed, we are exploring partnerships with fintech firms," Chugh said.Ujjivan’s tie-up with Airtel Payments Bank for repayment collections proved to be a success, with one-third of its total repayment collection happening using the payments bank’s network. The ratio was merely 12% at the end of June. Collection through digital channels was at 37% at the end of July.This trend has encouraged the bank to explore partnerships with fintech companies and provided confidence about its scalability, the CEO said.