600 Vortex ATMs have been deployed so far, of which 280 are solar-powered.
ATMs installed in cities come fitted with four cash cassettes i.e. they are designed to stock more cash given the larger volume of transactions per ATM; as opposed to ATM with two cash cassettes deployed in a rural setting.
The newly designed Vortex ATM includes four cash cassettes and will consume less than 1.5 units of power a day. Competitors’ ATMs consume 60 units of power a day, said Vortex Engineering CEO V Vijay Babu. “We continue to keep innovating. The newly designed ATM, for the urban market, consumes less power than our ATMs deployed in villages,” he added. The latter’s power consumption is about three units a day.
Vortex Engineering was founded in 2004 after banks approached IIT (M) to design a rural-India specific ATM. Vortex Founder and CTO L Kannan, an IIT (M) alumnus himself, set out to design one and the breakthrough came four years later. The State Bank of India was their first client for both the ‘not so eco-friendly’ variant and the solar powered ATM.
Babu and Kamal Sharma, vice president (sales and marketing) at Vortex spoke to SupportBiz about the company’s journey so far. Excerpts from the interview:
What was the company’s initial brief when you set out to design the ATM?
We had to design an ATM that solves the problem ground-up – one that is low-cost; consumes very little power and has the ability to dispense soiled notes. SBI was happy with the first ATM, deployed in Cuddalore, said Babu
Our ATMs were fitted with an inbuilt UPS but the battery could never hold sufficient charge owing to eight-hour power cuts in the villages. Therefore the idea for a solar-powered ATM, first deployed on the Pondicherry-Cuddalore road.
Our ATMs can run without air-conditioning, making it easier to deploy in remote areas that suffer regular power cuts, Babu added.
What challenges do you face in this business?
We supply machines to the rural market, areas that do not have paved roads. More ATMs are needed in rural India. Fewer ATMs would not even interest a cash replenishment agency (CRAs) in setting up cash vaults in semi-urban or rural locations, Sharma said. (Business growth could be slower at Vortex.)
But this is about to change. The recent Ministry of Finance RFP wants public sector banks to setup 60,000 ATMs over the next two years countrywide, and about half in semi-urban and rural areas, Sharma added.
What about tapping the export market?
We have a partner in Nepal and Bangladesh. We have on-going installations in Madagascar and Djibouti, in Africa. The idea is to expand into countries where the ground situation is similar to that in India, said Sharma.
What advice do you give entrepreneurs looking to develop a product or a service for rural India?
An entrepreneur must not give up, must not back out. He/she must be prepared for a tougher battle and for tougher obstacles. It is all about surviving the threshold period and moving up to higher ground.
The rural setting requires extra hand-holding. You have to create awareness and factor-in time needed to train people to use newer technology.