Mukesh Ambani’s New Venture: a Financial Super-App for India

Photo from: Bloomberg

In a visionary move that has captured the attention of the financial world, Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s wealthiest man and the Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries Limited, has set his sights on transforming India’s financial landscape. On 21 August 2023, the conglomerate unveiled its new financial unit, heralding the birth of India’s largest non-banking lender. This audacious endeavor, led by Reliance Industries Limited, is poised to reshape the delivery of financial services for small merchants and ordinary Indians.

Mukesh Ambani, whose estimated net worth hovers in the stratospheric range, has long been known for his visionary business acumen. His latest endeavor aims to create a financial super-app, analogous to China’s WeChat, that will centralise online shopping, video streaming, digital financing, and stock trading. This ambitious project is being steered by a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Limited, aptly named “Jio Financial” which is expected to be listed later this year, with an estimated value of around $20 billion.

In his annual report released in July 2023, Ambani stated that Jio Financial, along with its subsidiaries, will harness the technological prowess of Reliance to digitally deliver financial services. The primary goal is to democratise access to these offerings for the Indian populace. With a commitment to simplicity, affordability, and innovation, Jio Financial Services seeks to provide digital-first solutions that will resonate with the diverse needs of the Indian population.

The financial services sector in India is strictly regulated in the country. Observers are closely monitoring how Ambani intends to establish dominance in this challenging terrain. Jio Financial has already entered the fray by forming a strategic joint venture with the US-based financial giant, BlackRock, to offer asset management services. Additionally, the company will heavily rely on its digital capabilities to deliver its services.

Ambani explains in the annual report, “As various financial services are governed by different regulatory frameworks, we believe an independent financial services entity will allow us to access the opportunities available in the Indian market.” This strategic move underscores Ambani’s commitment to navigating the complexities of India’s financial landscape.

In India, 1.4 million individuals remain unbanked, lacking access to basic financial services like credit cards and bank accounts. Jio Financial aims to bridge this gap by leveraging the country’s robust public digital infrastructure, including the government’s instant payment platform. This move aligns with the broader trend of Indian banks becoming more consumer-focused, with financial services now representing a significant 25% of India’s market capitalization. Reliance is poised to explore these immense opportunities.

While Jio Financial may not have access to low-cost deposits like traditional banks, it is poised for success by creating innovative investment vehicles, such as index funds. By focusing on passive investments like mutual funds and forming strategic partnerships, such as the one with BlackRock, Reliance can tap into merchant lending, consumer durable lending, and “buy now, pay later” products.

One unique challenge for Jio Financial is India’s stringent data regulations, which restrict data sharing within a conglomerate’s various units. This limitation means that Jio Financial won’t have access to customer information from Reliance’s phones and retail units. Consequently, it faces restrictions on rolling out targeted advertising and developing new products based on in-house customer preferences.

Mukesh Ambani’s audacious foray into India’s financial sector has the potential to be a game-changer. As Jio Financial charts its course, the world watches with bated breath to see if this visionary leader can revolutionise the way financial services are delivered in one of the world’s largest and most dynamic economies. One thing is certain: Mukesh Ambani is once again leading the charge into uncharted territory, with the hopes of unlocking India’s vast financial potential.

Source: Bloomberg