WHRRL: FACILITATING AGRICULTURAL FINANCE THROUGH BLOCK-CHAIN TECHNOLOGY
The agricultural financial market in India was still underdeveloped, in part because the formal financial sector viewed the rural population in general and agriculture, in particular, to be high-risk. Warehouse receipt financing (WHR Financing) is a financial instrument that provides farmers and traders with access to working capital by allowing them to avail bank loans against their deposited goods at a registered warehouse. However, the process leaves a lot of scope for human error and fraudulent activities. In the past, the WHR finance sector had witnessed cases of duplicate loan applications sanctioned on the same collateral, fake collateral pledged against loan applications, fake receipts circulated in trade deals, etc. These security issues were present globally and were a major source of concern for banks and other players who bore the risk in such transactions. Besides, the transaction processes were manual and characteristically time-consuming, less efficient, non-communicative and non-transparent. In the above context, technological innovations had the potential to create a paradigm shift in the operations of financial markets, with reduced risks and transaction costs. Whrrl’s concept was simple - a block-chain platform that solved the problem of security and inefficiency in the asset-backed lending process, particularly in the Warehouse Receipt Financing segment. Whrrl was designed as a combination of two main components: the block-chain platform at the back-end that connected warehouses and banks; and the mobile app for farmers and traders that connected them with warehouses and banks. On June 5, 2020, the Indian government announced a number of regulatory changes to ease farmers’ woes. With such major changes taking place in the ecosystem, Ashish Anand and his team at Whrrl were left wondering about their next steps. Anand had never intended Whrrl to be limited by geographical or sector-based boundaries; instead, his vision of Whrrl was to be the solution of choice for any asset-backed lending across the globe; in particular South East Asia, for commodities such as agricultural cash crops, metals and crude oil and Africa for agricultural commodities. The key challenge in India was slower market development compared with its South East Asian peers. Further, Indian agricultural warehouse financing yielded lower margins (net interest margins) compared to other types of financing such as agricultural equipment, unsecured MSME loans and other types of supply chain finance. However, the policy changes announced for the agricultural market opened up new opportunities. Whrrl could now capitalize on its existing strengths and become a significant player in agricultural trading, as a trading platform for agricultural produce. However, this move would be resource intensive and would require the team to develop greater expertise in the dynamics of agricultural trading, a deviation from their core competence of building technology solutions for asset-backed lending.