Next phase of digital marketplaces

Internet adoption has seen the evolution of some usual suspects across most geographies and one of the key category is that of Digital Marketplaces. A portal which successfully brings together the supply and demand side forces together.  In India we have seen the growth of such marketplaces for jobs (Naukri, Monster etc) , marriages (Bharatmatrimony), finance (Deal4loans, BimaDeals etc),deals (SnapDeal) and so on.

Its interesting to see how most of these have evolved over the years and in this post I attempt to see where they might be headed in the future.

Phase 1: Information collation + Listings

The early phase for most marketplaces begins with bringing a sufficient number of suppliers and promoting the portal to get consumers (demand side forces). And the key attribute in this phase is that the portal has the most comprehensive listing in that category. Data which is fresh and probably not available anywhere else. So Naukri in its first avatar was just a listing of openings available- a digital version of what people used to browse in magazines and newspapers.

Phase 2: Customization, filtering, meaningful handshakes

In the next phase a marketplace sees the need for tools that would help consumers connect directly to people who are most relevant. This might be done by better profiling, filters, trend based suggestions etc. Idea is that the consumer (& maybe the supplier also) should not waste too much time going through all profiles to get to the one(s) that are most relevant. Job portals have a meaningful profiling section to filter profiles. Marriage portals have gone to the level of checking Manglik/Preferred cuisines of prospective grooms/brides. I was also told about one where if you saw a photo, you could see other profiles with “similar” photos. While the marriage filters might sound too extreme 🙂 but there is a general perception that these tools bring clear value to the users.

When we launched Deal4Loans, we decided to focus in at this level directly. We invested in a warm body process to call our customers and understand what they specifically wanted. We then applied our understanding of the space to match the requirements with loan providers and did a handshake between the loan seeker and the providers.

What next: Managing the need

While most digital marketplaces have grown because they become the go-to-places for getting handshakes. Most of them have become so big, that its still an overwhelming experience for the consumer. Maybe thats why some of the marriage portals have launch a premiere service , where you get a relationship manager to do all the ground work.

The bigger problem is that in most cases, no one is tracking whether the customer’s need got fulfilled or not. Take the example of jobs. We are looking to expand our team in the new start-up. We will come up with ads on Naurki and Monster etc, but no one will help us see this requirement get closed. We will get CVs, we would call and shortlist them etc. But did we find our next team member? Do we have some special requirements?

Look at our loans business. We do the handshakes and we do it better than any one else in the industry. But we are not yet checking if the consumer’s requirement got serviced (incase it was serviceable). I personally feel, the industry will gradually demand this out of most evolved digital marketplaces, and the ones who invest early on will see increased user traction.

Lending after recession

What happens to loan disbursal policies immediately after recession?
– Do the banks tread a careful path & go slow & stricter in lending
– Do they see the improvements in economy a sign for them to also go bullish in lending
– Most importantly how do they cater to the now-able-to-pay but bad-credit-profile segment of the population

Lemme elaborate on the last point, coz I am really curious to see how this pans out. My underlying assumption is that due to the economic slowdown a lot of consumers would have been “forced” to default on their credit repayments. I say forced-to-default, because I want to leave out those ones which had an intention issue rather than repayment capability issue.

If this segment is substantial & the economic uptrend puts them where they can now repay on time, will the banks now consider them as credit worthy? if not, does it mean that the banks will have to remain satisfied with a smaller universe or look at newer segments (e.g. young salaried professionals without a credit track record). For segments that look promising but do not have a proven repayment track, what recourse do the banks have? Can they leverage payment track on non-loan products (there have been talks about a credit bureau that takes utility & LI payments as feeds apart from the pure loan & card products- will this be helpful)

Also do banks look at their existing portfolio and find pockets in the portfolio where the defaults were lowest & growth potential still exists? Most banks have found their Internet sourced portfolio to be of a higher profile (atleast from a risk perspective) & this continues to be a very small percentage of their overall base. Which means, there is a lot of growth opportunities through the direct channels. But are the banking systems & processes geared up to tap into these opportunities in a meaningful way?

There is a lot of change I foresee in the way business is done in retail banking. What do you think?