Sadaf Sayeed: MUTHOOT MICROFIN – India’s Most Trusted CEO 2019

Muthoot Microfin Limited (MML) is one of the leading and fastest growing microfinance institutions in India. We provide micro-loans to women entrepreneurs with a focus on rural regions of India.

Sadaf Sayeed: MUTHOOT MICROFIN – India’s Most Trusted CEO 2019


Muthoot Microfin Limited (MML) is one of the leading and fastest growing microfinance institutions in India. We provide micro-loans to women entrepreneurs with a focus on rural regions of India.

Sadaf Sayeed: MUTHOOT MICROFIN - India's Most Trusted CEO 2019

In conversation with Sadaf Sayeed, CEO, Muthoot Microfin Limited
The Differentiators that set your business apart

Muthoot Microfin Limited (MML) is one of the leading and fastest growing microfinance institutions in India. We provide micro-loans to women entrepreneurs with a focus on rural regions of India.

Presently, we are the fourth largest NBFC-MFI in India in terms of gross loan portfolio, as on March 31, 2019. We have 1.6 million active customers (all of them women entrepreneurs), who are served through 557 branches spread across 17 states and union territories – as on 31st March 2019. The company has 6863 employees as on March 2019.

We believe that our position amongst the leading NBFC-MFIs in the microfinance sector enhances our reputation and credibility with our borrowers, lenders and other stakeholders. We believe that we derive numerous benefits from our leadership position, including our ability to secure capital at competitive costs, recruit and retain skilled employees, retain existing borrowers, add new borrowers, expand into new regions and grow our portfolio of new products which we introduce from time to time.

We have built our distribution platform with an emphasis on under-served rural markets with growth potential, in order to ensure ease of access to village level borrowers and rural households. We believe that our branch and center network in rural markets results in significant competitive advantages, particularly by giving us the capability to offer a variety of financial products in areas where we believe financial services penetration is limited. Our branch and center network also assist us in managing disbursement and collection in an efficient manner and provides local knowledge and know-how, which we believe is critical to the success of our operations.

Muthoot Microfin is a customer focused company passionate about empowering people from the bottom of the pyramid to realize their dreams. MML financial products are aimed at catering to the life-cycle needs of rural households and has established standards and systems that work smoothly and transparently for clients and the company as well. Our brand identity possesses an unwavering commitment to the cause of women empowerment and financial inclusion.


The company continued on its growth path in FY 2018-’19, MML disbursed loans worth 43,540 million, a 50.11 % growth over the previous year’s disbursements of 30,363.01 million. The company’s Asset Under Management rose to 43,540.69 million from 29,202.97 million in the previous financial year, a growth of 49.10 % year on year. Revenue of the company also surged from 5,113.95 million to 7,504.24 million in the financial year, a hike of 46.74%. We also continued to expand our operations by opening 90 new branches during the financial year, taking the overall branch tally to 557 as on March 31, 2019.

What is the big idea of the business that is impacting human lives?

The microfinance operations of the company are designed to promote entrepreneurship among women and inclusive growth. The institution provides financial assistance through micro loans such as income generating loans to women engaged in small businesses.

Our loan ranges from 10,000 to 60,000. Though the amount is small, this has hugely impacted the lives of more than 1.6 million women entrepreneurs and their families.

Our wide range of lending products are aimed at catering to the life-cycle needs of rural households. We provide loans for income generating purposes to women entrepreneurs living in rural areas. Our loan products comprise of (i) group loans for livelihood solutions such as income generating loans and dairy loans, as well as individual loans such as sewing machine loans; (ii) life betterment solutions including emergency loans, mobile phones loans, solar lantern loans, solar fan and education loans; and (iii) health and hygiene loans such as water purifier loans and induction stove loans. We have adopted a joint liability group model which caters exclusively to women in lower income households and is premised on the fact that if such individuals are given access to credit, they will be able to identify new opportunities and supplement and grow their existing income. We believe that the history of the Muthoot Pappachan Group in working with customers in the bottom of the economic pyramid, helps us better address needs of women in rural households and design lending products to cater to their requirements. The institution further supports the women entrepreneurs with skill training programs and financial literacy classes.

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It’s often said that leaders these days must operate in an environment of extreme volatility. Do you agree? How does that affect the way you lead?

After globalization, all world economies are interlinked, any adverse event in any part of the world can have an effect in your economy. A slowdown in China, a war in middle east can affect our business in India. As a leader you have to be prepared to deal with this VUCA environment i.e. (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity). To be successful in this VUCA environment a leader has to be preemptive, adoptive and innovative. This is essential to be ahead of the cure and respond to the rapid changes around us. In today’s environment the only thing that is certain is change, that is why a company should constantly keep innovation and find new ways to cater to its customers.  A company should be able to differentiate its services and find new ways to earn revenue. As a leader we keep looking for new avenues and keep innovation in or current services and from time to time keep assessing where is our customer moving.

A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all. What has been your core strategies of retaining customers?

Our strategy is to cater to the lifecycle need of a rural household to drive customer retention. We believe that our large customer base provides significant opportunities from increased cross-selling and up-selling of products and services. As part of our growth strategy, we intend to leverage our large customer base, branch network and experienced employee-base to offer additional financing products to existing customers who have a positive track record of loan repayment. We have commenced the offering of additional financing products such as loans to purchase bicycles and home appliances.

3 Business Strategies of yours that were winners?

Focus on rural area: Being a microfinance institution our focus is on financial inclusion . We bridge the gap between a customer who has no access to finance and formal financial institution like banks and NBFCs. The biggest challenge for banks is to operate in rural areas, which is where we play a role and provide financial services to deep rural geographies. We have identified rural as our niche; the demand supply gap is also huge in rural area and since 70% of the India population lives in rural areas it is a huge market. In urban areas for same customers several financial institutions are competing, by focusing on rural we have avoided unnecessary competitive pressures and have come across as a proffered choice of lender for rural customers 

Sustainable growth: We have always believed in building solid foundation of whatever we do. In our microfinance business the market is huge, there is ample opportunity to grow and build a large portfolio. However, we have always believed, that there is no rush of achieving a size, sustainable growth is much better than rapid irrational growth. Growing sustainably in a calibrated manner gives you opportunity to correct if something is not going as per plan. This has yielded rich dividend and we are now one of the largest microfinance institutions in the country with much superior quality of asset.

Quality over quantity: We have always focused on quality of work rather than quantity. A size and scale can be achieved if you have good process and policy in place. Hence it is important to focus on quality of process, quality of service delivery.

Your strategies to ensure that you stay in touch with employees and customers in line with the company’s goals?

We have a large employee base of 6833 staffs as on March 31, 2019. We organize ‘Employee Communication Meets’ in every quarter, across all the operating areas in the country where I interact directly with all the employees of that region. Communication meet is platform where employees from the bottom level get a chance to interact with the management. This has been a highly impactful strategy through which I got brilliant ideas and feedback from my field level colleagues which otherwise wouldn’t be possible. At the meets, I have this chance of directly imparting the field staff with company goals and prospects.

As far as connecting with customers is concerned, occasionally I visit client center meetings and our branches to interact with customers to take feedback of our services directly from clients and discover new ways of improving our product and services. This also has been much insightful in designing our products.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever heard? How do you create trust with the employees and the overall management?

Best Advice that I have ever heard is from one of the leading bankers in India Mr Uday Kotak founder and CMD of Kotak Mahindra Bank. In one of his conversation he said, “In financial services If something appears too good to be true, often it is”.  Hence do not be tempted for it. He said there is no short cuts to success and an entrepreneur should be ready for ups and down, it is a cycle and it will pass. A new idea will emerge from every crisis one should stick to the fundamentals.

I have totally believed in this and I believe best way to build trust among employee, management and all stake holder is to be completely transparent and fair in your dealing. do not over promise and stick to fundamentals of your business.

What has surprised you about being an entrepreneur?

The biggest surprise being an entrepreneur is to experience that often that you thought was a herculean task before starting your business has become so easy to achieve. In fact, it is now just a milestone and you are looking at much bigger goals and outcomes to achieve.


What strategies do you use in terms of planning your personal career progression?

My strategy is very simple I keep setting small goals for myself progressively, and I work every day on achieving these goals. These smaller goals keep guiding me towards my ultimate goal.  The ultimate larger goals are always in my mind. The ultimate larger goals should be aspirational and should inspire you to work hard.

Your Favourite Book, Automobile, Cuisine and Quote of all time? How do you maintain work-personal life balance?

I am reading these days Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance; it is quite inspiring and captivating. I like the way how Elon musk is looking towards future.

I like fast cars is general, my favorite automobile would be Range Rover Vogue at this point of time. It is luxurious at the same time robust and strong for off roading.

Cuisine: I like Indian Mughlai and continental food in general.

My favorite quote is from Holy Books Quran and Bible i.e. “This too shall pass”. this quote guides me in good times and bad times.

It is important to make work life balance, especially when we are handling high pressure jobs.  On weekends and on holidays I try and spend maximum time with my family, my two daughters. We take holidays together every year and play sports together. I also play tennis quite regularly to detox myself.

What do you think?

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