By Anusha Ashwin
It is the age of millennials. Age-old practices like filling up forms, even tax return forms, is passé. So, any product that is less labor-intensive and is convenient sells best among millennials. Foraying and exploiting this niche space of giving convenient digital products and solutions to millennials is the startup — Zeta.
Zeta, part of serial entrepreneur Bhavin Turakhia’s Directi Group, is a fintech startup that deals with digitized employee benefits, rewards, and digital payments. Zeta started its journey by launching a cloud-based smart benefits suite called Optima. The Optima range includes smart benefits such as meal vouchers, fuel & travel card, communications card, medical reimbursements, gadget card, gift card and LTA card. Bhavin Turakhia and Ramki Gaddipati are the co-founders of Zeta.
Voice&Data interacted with Ramki Gaddipati, the Chief Technical Officer of Zeta, to know more about the company. “It is estimated that of the 4 crore salaried employees in India, of which millennials constitute over half the population, only about 10 lakh avail these benefits. To a millennial who is used to getting instant results without putting in too much effort, it’s almost as if losing money to taxes is worth not having to save bills and fill up claim forms every month,” opens up Gaddipati.
Bhavin Turakhia and Ramki Gaddipati worked together for about seven years before they started Zeta. From September 2014, the duo spent almost 7-8 months discussing many ideas on how they can bring about a substantial change and create a great impact in the digital payment industry in India. In the process, they stumbled upon regulatory provisions that made a difference to the way people transacted in India.
“Turakhia had expertise on developing India’s first payment gateway in the country and has ever since been very passionate about electronic payments. We dug deeper into the regulation and various laws enabling electronic transactions in the country. We realized that the industry is far behind the advancements that regulators have envisaged. We also learnt that to make the big leap, we have to approach the problem from the roots and that the solution to digitizing payments for a common man requires a fundamentally different approach with strong technology foundations. We brainstormed quite a bit and iterated on several models. What’s distilled is Zeta!” explains Gaddipati on how they scratched the surface.
As the idea took shape, the duo was joined by Gaddipati’s former colleagues and a few of those working at different teams in Directi also chose to join their new venture. On April 1, 2015, Zeta started operations with a team strength of nine. Turakhia and Gaddipati together invested $4 million into the company to get the operations rolling.
Democratizing India’s banking
Gaddipati loves to do business in India. His objective with Zeta is to democratize India’s banking. “To me digitization means far more than taking services offered by formal banks to masses. That’s essential, but not sufficient. It is unlikely that major banks of the country will evolve to address all the needs of the middle class within a short period of time. There are many unrecognized, unorganized bankers that address those needs. More often than not, they are closer to the people with needs and are in a better position to serve them. I believe, all of the banking technology should be accessible to these unrecognized bankers as much as it is available to the multi-billion dollar banks. Digitizing till that last mile can transform lives. It creates markets and provides access to otherwise inaccessible goods and services and to people deprived of them,” opines Gaddipati.
Rolling millennial-friendly digital suite
Zeta identified the pain points experienced by employees while availing employee benefits and developed a suite of digital solutions that allow them to take full advantage of tax saving employee benefits. Zeta offers Digital solutions — Meal Voucher, Medical Reimbursement, Gift Card, Gadget Card, Fuel & Travel Card, Books & Periodicals Card and Communication Card — all of which put together help employees increase their take-home salary by Rs 80,000 without any increase in annual CTC.
With Zeta Corporate Benefits suite, Gaddipati aims to bridge banking networks and private enterprises. The core idea is to empower organizations to issue various types of accounts and make them accessible through numerous payment and banking networks. Until now, these benefits have been plagued with the hassles of paperwork, manual calculations and tracking of bills, which Zeta aims to completely remove from the equation.
Gaddipati says that these accounts are very different from the traditional savings or current accounts offered by banks. These accounts understand taxation rules, company policies and allow only eligible transactions across all payment networks. By integrating such transaction system into the company’s information systems, Zeta makes it convenient to save upto Rs 80,000 per employee per year. Gaddipati’s analysis say that over 27 million tax paying salaried employees could immensely benefit from this system with an aggregate saving potential exceeding several thousand crores.
Zeta integrates users’ spending to their company’s HR systems. This way all spends that could be tax exempted will be recorded instantaneously in Zeta’s App, without complicated paperwork and procedures, while adhering to the complex Income Tax rules and company policies.
Explaining in detail, Gaddipati, says, “Millennials particularly wouldn’t have availed several perquisites and benefits administered by their companies because of the cumbersome processes. For example, I never claimed medical allowance in all my years of employment. I never wanted to store bills, scan them, fill a form and submit them during a window of time each quarter and track that claim. It just seemed an unreasonable thing to ask of me. It used to make me feel that I have to prove my trustworthiness with each transaction I am claiming the allowance for. The company trusts me for much bigger things. Why can’t it trust me with a Rs 15,000 medical allowance? The feeling is terrible. So, I just stayed away from anything I needed to submit bills and evidences for. With Zeta, we eliminated all the painful aspects and seamlessly integrated claims into spend flow, removed the need for any human interaction and brought back the feeling of warmth and trust back into the benefits provided by the companies.”
Zeta’s offerings also comprise Zeta Express and a payment suite that includes — the App, Super Card and Super Tag. Zeta Express is a smartphone-based meal ordering and payment solution that can be used in the corporate cafeteria space. Zeta Express is further complemented by the Zeta Express Kiosk which is an automated cashier that eliminates the need of queueing up at cafeterias. The Zeta Super Card is a MasterCard-powered card with anti-fraud security measures that lets consumers make payments across 11 lakh outlets as well as online stores. Zeta’s Super Tag is a one-tap payment solution, which is an NFC-enabled tag, that allows users to make quick payments by tapping the tag on any NFC reading device.
Expansion on the cards
“I have only mentioned a few examples of applications of the platform we are building and the change we want to bring about by democratizing banking,” says Gaddipati. “We have a lot of work to do in India. We plan on expanding our reach by adding about 200+ employees across various roles and cities. Our product offerings will also expand. More than 300 corporates, ranging from start-ups to conglomerates, across industries have already implemented Zeta’s solutions. We have seen good growth in the past few months. Given our pace, Zeta will see an investment to the tune of $25 million in the current and next financial year that will be used for scaling up the business,” Gaddipati ambitiously expresses his plans.