And it indeed has been a great opportunity and will continue to be so in the coming years. A growing middle class, rising aspirations and an increased propensity to spend by an inherently young population creates heady mix of untapped market opportunity.
The credit cards industry is today coming out of what have truly been testing times. The financial crisis of 2008-2010 remains fresh in our minds. With the tide seeming to have turned finally and with the indicators across almost all key areas looking positive, if not robust, there is fresh optimism in the industry and an almost unanimous positive view that the industry is today placed well for sustained growth.
Learning from the past
Before we look forward to the future, we have to understand the past. As they say, hindsight is always 20-20. The question remains: what went wrong?
The answer lies not just in one reason but a multitude of factors which both issuers and consumers should introspect upon. Credit is, at the end of the day, a powerful tool and a truly flexible option to meet immediate expenses when cash is not at hand.
The credit card, therefore, adroitly addresses medical emergencies, facilitates holidays and travel, or fulfils the aspiration of purchasing that new television or washing machine, with the knowledge that the payment may be done in parts over a period of time, or when that bonuscheque comes in. What will be key is, how both, consumers and card issuers, will treat this extremely powerful tool?
While the global financial crises is ascribed as one reason for the fallout in unsecured lending in India, the impact was also compoundedby the misplaced market growth ambitions of some credit card issuers who wereimmersed in the mantras of market share and market expansion. With access to easy credit card facilities from over-exuberant and ambitious card issuers, customers somehow seemed to have lost the key message: that credit is an important tool, to be used with responsibility and prudence.
The future, however, is bright. Several factors strongly indicate that credit card businesses will grow robustly in the coming years. The first is the emergence of strong credit rating agencies in India. Card issuers now have access to complete information of the applicant prior to issuing a card.
The key will be in seeing how the issuers use this information in taking prudent decisions. All information used in determining the creditworthiness of an applicant ultimately hinges on determining the ability and intention of the applicant to pay back the amount spent or borrowed. The expertise and sophistication of issuers in making such judgments, leveraging bureau data and recalibrating their own policies from time to time, will determine how the industry fares infuture.
Use the powerful tool of credit with wisdom
Customers, too, have now started understanding the importance of using credit wisely. With regulators and banks educating customers about the benefit of a good credit history, it is envisaged that better sense will prevail. Both issuers and customers now have the benefit of hindsight!
Card issuers will have to clearly strategise as to which segments they want to operate in. Most card issuers have moved completely away from the mass market segments as the risk-reward equations have just not borne out.
Their predominant focus has been a move to mass affluent segments and high networth individuals. These segments are traditionally more robust and easier to evaluate. Credit underwriting norms have been tightened across the board. Card issuers also have to become more judicious about growing the market purely for that sake, as inactive cards can savage a portfolio.
It is no wonder that of the 28 million cards which were in the marketplace in 2008, only around 20 million exist today. While there has been a huge de-growth in plastics, there has been no slowing down the overall industry spends which have been growing robustly.
All of which goes to show the wastage by the industry in issuing cards to customers who saw no value in the product. At the end of the day, the consumer is king and will patronise a product or a brand which adds enhanced value to his / her life.Free cards, in many ways, were perceived to be free of value and benefits, and, as a corollary, have been freed of customer patronage!
Customer is king
Card issuers will now have to work extra hard in delivering enhanced value to consumers. Creating and managing sophisticated products, constantly enhancing value and innovating on service delivery, will be key drivers of future growth.
It’s a large market, so exercise care
At this stage, the opportunity looks large with a large untapped market potential. Only about 3% of the total personal consumption expenditure in India is done on plastic cards. With the government keen on moving more payments on to electronic media, the spends on plastic cards will continue to grow significantly.
The sustained growth in organised retail, the booming e- commerce space, the aspirations of one of the youngest populations in the world and the strong, globally savvy emerging middle class… all foretell that it can only be a boom time for the credit cards business in the coming years. The key will be to take measured steps based on prudence and good judgment. Let the good times begin!
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