Conversations around financial wellbeing have always been rigid, with many individuals, trying to keep their finances to themselves, come what may. In recent times, especially during the pandemic, along with mental and physical health, financial health came to the forefront with organisations understanding its importance in contributing towards productivity and overall stability of employees. That is one of the reasons why financial wellness programmes have become an important initiative in most enterprises to curb absenteeism and improve attrition rate.
Chitresh Sharma, CEO and co-founder, Refyne, India’s first & Asia’s largest earned wage access (EWA) platform, understood the struggles of salaried individuals, trying to keep up with day-to-day expenses. He dug deep into research and soon uncovered that the absence of formal education on personal finance, among other factors, resulted in individuals often falling prey to loan sharks and payday lenders, exposing themselves to a quick but costly solution. Refyne was born to create a business that would leave a social impact, empower organisations and its employees and transform them into promoters of financial resilience and independence. The app enables employees, both salaried and contractors, to track and access a portion of their real-time pay anytime before payday. Its low-touch technology comes at zero-cost to employers and seamlessly integrates with their existing payroll processes.
While Sharma founded his first enterprise, an IT outsourcing and marketing company in Bengaluru at the age of 19, putting him on the map of budding entrepreneurs, he always wanted to do and be more. In 2012, he decided to pursue his Master’s in International Marketing at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, where he co-founded Swipii, a digital cashback reward platform for shoppers. What he learnt there about the benefits of EWA helped him with building Refyne, a one-stop solution for the financial wellness of employees.
During an interaction with People Matters, Sharma spoke about EWA as a gamechanger for India’s financial market, the exponential growth of Refyne since its inception, the special features of the app that encourages inclusivity and what to keep in mind when developing programmes for financial wellbeing that will cater to employees with different financial goals, expectations and circumstances. Excerpts from the interview:
You started Refyne during the pandemic. What was the tipping point behind it?
We discovered that the pandemic exacerbated financial stress among employees, with many relying on high-interest emergency loans, which further contributed to their worries. And the shock of working from home following lockdowns amplified this stress for many salaried individuals. Though financial hardships were always present, it became more pronounced since. There was a point of convergence for physical, mental and financial stress, which impacted employees’ performance at work. These insights into the financial situation of the employees helped us build a better solution to address their financial needs, in the form of EWA.
According to the survey, Earned Wage Access in India: The Final Frontier of Employee Wellbeing we released in November 2021 in collaboration with EY corroborated the peculiar economic predicament that Indian employees found themselves in. For example, only 38% of employees surveyed felt satisfied and in control of their financial wellbeing, while 81% encountered cash flow problems between pay cycles.
Refyne equips employers to help their employees combat these conditions, by allowing them to access their earned wage/salary in real-time. EWA also helps them evade payday loans and short-term credit facilities that come with hefty interest rates, hidden fees, while carrying the risk of debt entrapment and depleted savings.
In India, many organisations are focusing on the financial wellbeing of their employees as a core value. Do you think the adoption of Refyne will change the landscape and improve the employee experience?
In less than a year of being operational, Refyne has partnered with over 200 companies, serving one million employees. Prudent and forward-looking HR leaders have understood the importance of financial wellness. By the end of 2022, we plan to reach more than three million employees. Our geographic footprint has swiftly increased from Tier 1 to Tier 3 cities, so there’s pan-India appeal for EWA.
EWA is a gamechanger for India’s financial market. The experience of visibility of work translating into money in real-time is powerful and rewarding to employees. Nearly 60% respondents in the EY survey said EWA is a deciding factor in their next job. We are already seeing promising results - our transacting user base has grown 68X in less than a year, and the platform has seen a 165X increase in transaction volume, highlighting the liquidity gap that EWA is addressing.
Since the onset of the pandemic, financial stress and anxiety have become common phenomena. How does Refyne’s EWA solution, which enables employees to access their earnings when they need it, bolster workforce productivity and improve performance?
Overall, Refyne has helped companies foster a work culture that nurtures employee's financial wellbeing. Refyne’s partner companies observed nearly 70% adoption among employees in the first quarter since launch, most notably, organisations saw a drop in their employee churn rate among those who used Refyne; certain cases saw 25% improvement in attrition rate in just one quarter. With less financial stress on their mind, employees log better workplace presence and develop a trusted relationship with the employer. EWA also helps attract and retain the right talent, resulting in enhanced overall business profit in the long-run.
Employee retention and positive work culture are critical to maintaining business growth and profitability in the new normal. How does Refyne help in personalising financial goals for each and every employee?
Refyne has been built to dismantle bias among the underbanked and unbanked masses in India - or simply for anyone who has sought affordable and quick liquidity. For example, our platform enables users to get one-on-one free financial coaching from financial planning experts on-demand in several languages. This helps employees not only gain control of their personal finances but also learn how to be prudent with money.
Refyne is a credit score-agnostic product, which means any employee can use it regardless of their credit history. In order for users to reach a level playing field, we’ve developed a proprietary score called Refyne score, which considers other factors such as career progression, performance at work, etc., helping them build a favourable credit profile. This further enables them to access more financial products.
Any investment demands that the impact is delivered and witnessed. In other words, measuring the ROI of a financial wellness programme is a must. What are some of the metrics by which organisations can measure the impact of Refyne?
We have impacted our partner companies positively. It has been observed that 68% of the employees of the partner company have signed up for EWA in the first quarter and in the first month of launch, 750 salary withdrawals were credited. Additionally, the partner company is saving several hundred man-hours per month in processing withdrawal requests, conserving working capital as Refyne fronts the risk and the earned salary withdrawals.
It is also heartening to see the visible impact on attrition. In just a quarter, the employees using Refyne showed a 25% improvement over the typical attrition compared to users who didn’t opt for the product.
What are some key words of advice you would like to share with leaders venturing into the space of employee financial wellness?
As employers engage in a more holistic approach to overall employee wellbeing, they want a high-quality, broad-based financial wellness programme. An excellent financial wellness programme will provide tailored and customisable solutions through a platform that is intuitive, simple to use, scale, and integrate. With upto five generations in the workforce, employees have different financial goals, expectations and circumstances that the programme should take into consideration. Employees who are just starting their careers, as well as those who are raising families or approaching retirement, must benefit from a good financial wellness programme.