Named one of India’s most trusted CEOs and winner of the Most Transformational Leader and Change Agent at the Annual India Leadership Conclave and Indian Affairs Business Leadership Awards, Umesh Govind Revankar has embraced the possibilities of digital technology to steer his company into dominating its niche.
Under his leadership, Shriram Transport Finance Corporation (STFC) has become India’s leader in commercial vehicle financing. Second-hand cars, trucks and tractors are its particular speciality, though it also offers financing for new vehicles. Umesh says the decision to focus on used vehicles has become a point of difference for the company. “That type of funding is the most challenging, much harder than for new vehicles,” he explains.
STFC has advanced valuation tools for vehicles, a vital step for success in this industry. “With new vehicles, you know the evaluation given by the manufacturer. In the used vehicle segment, you have to make an evaluation of the condition of the vehicle and also a rough estimation of its capacity as an asset. Then, you have to look at the business contract or the intended business of the customer before you lend the money. It is a time-intensive endeavour.”
Umesh is a graduate of Harvard’s advanced management program and he also has an MBA from Mangalore University. He has been with STFC for more than three decades and been CEO since 2016. He says that he has remained with the company for so many years because it offered him both training and a high degree of autonomy. “That kind of model was something that encouraged me to stay on. I got the time, support and encouragement to throw my hat into the ring in STFC. It suited me and they found I was able to satisfy them.”
Having a comprehensive understanding of its customer base has been crucial to the company’s rapid growth, which has seen it expand to more than 1,100 branches and 900 rural centres. “We need to connect with the customer all the time and make them as secure as possible,” Umesh explains. “The cashflows of the customers are not even, so unless you meet them as frequently as possible, the collection can become a challenge. This is why we need more manpower. We currently have 23,000 people and out of that, 15,000 are connected to customers all the time.”
Selecting new areas for branches is an in-depth process, Umesh explains. “We need to identify the likelihood of reaching a particular scale, that is very important. Once we identify an area, we will open a rural centre and then that can become a branch over time.”
Umesh is also aiming to move more of the business into the digital sphere and recently entered into a partnership with online marketplace CarTrade, which Umesh says will significantly increase STFC’s digital expertise and open up new market segments. “The more you make your business digital, the more efficient you become,” he reasons. “You’ll be able to do business across mobile platforms without having to meet the customer as frequently. The technology push should eventually improve our operational efficiency.”
“The more you make your business digital, the more efficient you become.”
Umesh says STFC also invests more in building relationships with its customers and collection departments, instead of just writing out loans as other finance companies do. Competitors often employ a model where the finance and collection teams are separate silos. In contrast, these two functions are combined at STFC, making it a better experience for those taking out loans.
STFC has a preference for bringing locals into new branches and Umesh has found that people are able to forge connections with customers more quickly when they have an affinity with the region. “Our expansion plan is totally dependent on how many more good people we can add,” he says.
The award for being one of India’s most trusted business leaders is an accolade that Umesh credits to good old-fashioned hard work. His success is a template that others in the company can follow. “We want to recruit hardworking people and build them up,” he explains. “If there is a person who not only does well for themselves but also for the team, we put them on a fast track. Once a person is on that track, they then become a manager like me.”