Around 2000 -05 period retail finance was a booming market in India along with many other spots in world. Finance companies looked at every possible avenue to convert consumer interest and desire into a sale – be it in the tangible form of loans to buy consumer durables, two-wheelers, cars, residential property, loans against property or as intangibles like credit cards, cash cards ,personal loans.
Working with a leading MNC in the space as a young Sales Manager just having completed my MBA was a great experience – life revolved in working hard and partying harder.
When I joined the finance company as an Assistant Sales Manager handling a dealer and DSA network to promote sale of finance for consumer durables, I had little idea of what the actual job would involve and how the ‘practical’ application of finance would be so different from the theory we learn in B schools. But youth has its wings I believe so I was brash enough to look confident about being up to the challenge during my interview. On reflection later on I realized that the Business Head who interviewed me was not at all fooled – he was looking for enthusiasm (even misplaced) and was confident of the company’s induction process taking care of smoothing the rough edges.
I will never forget my first day when I walked into my DSA’s (Direct Sales Agency) office and the firm owner took me to meet the team. Imagine being introduced to group of 60 sales officers and 3 team leaders. This was to be my team and I was to be the boss. The opening meeting went fine and I thought things look nice and sorted. A week later I was bogged down with dozens of requests for intervention while I was still trying to understand how our business worked. Thankfully the TLs were experienced and took care of me. But it did not take me long to understand that you had to be on top of things – if you ceded an inch by mistake they took you on a nice ride and you lost the whole yard in the process.
The consumer durable retailers were no less demanding – all of them wanted you to launch fancy schemes to entice the customer, ensure that finance was provided for everyone who walked into their shop and the processing was done rapidly to ensure immediate release of their payment. And then they negotiated to be paid a commission for referring us customers. My business on a standalone basis never made any money – it was just an acquisition platform to get retail clients in so that we could offer them retention schemes like personal loans and cash cards to manage their financial needs and our profits.
The Manager was truly empowered and I could take decisions without getting stuck in paperwork and approvals. At a later stage I was working in selling Two Wheeler finance and we offered a ‘Gold Coin’ scheme to the customers on the auspicious occasion of ‘Akshaya Tritiya’. I remember taking custody of the Gold Coins that were to be distributed and delivering them to the showrooms within a day of the launch. One of the showroom owners noticed this and remarked that he was amazed that a relatively junior Manager could move at such a rapid pace and had been empowered to manage such offers single-handedly.
The consumer durable sale season during the period of Christmas to New Year was an amazing feature on the Chennai market. Adding the additional offers for the Pongal festival around mid Jan, the period would account for over 30 % of our annual business. It was a crazy season and we had to resort to extraordinary measures to ensure loan approvals. So every hand who could be spared, including Managers who would otherwise handles other products, would be assigned to the key showrooms.
They would supervise a team of sales officers and ensure sport sanction of the loan based on a 5-minute interaction with the customer and a few checks in the backend. And the days would stretch out long into the night. Interestingly fraudsters would know about our vulnerabilities and would try to trick us into approving bad deals. All competing financiers would help one another by alerting the teams whenever we spotted a bad egg.
A lasting memory of working as a frontline manager in retail finance is that we would spend all our festivals working in the showrooms. It was an odd feeling to be away from your family and friends but we would watch our customers celebrate the occasion. And of course we would celebrate it as a team along with the showroom staff and even competing financiers. A final celebration at home would then seem belated and odd. And yet our families seemed to understand our enthusiasm and the urge to outperform and achieve success.