MUMBAI: HDFC Bank is targeting a ten-time increase in the number of small merchants it serves to 20 million in the next three years, sources at the largest private sector lender have said. The bank started targeting merchants about 18 months ago with solutions on accepting payments, providing value-added services like creating a simple website for them, taking care of their inventory and lending based on cash flows, through a single app.

The merchant relationships accrue in fees as the services are charged, in interest income for the lending and also in low-cost current and saving account (Casa) deposits.

“We are serving two million merchants at present and aim to take it to 20 million in three years by the end of FY23,” a bank source told .

Having a bigger number of merchants will help the bank’s analytics engines gather more intelligence and deploy suitable solutions, the source said.

Therefore, right now, the focus is more on building the base, the source said, adding the merchant acquisition business is a “strategic pillar” for the bank.

When contacted, the bank was not immediately available for a comment.

The bank is fusing payments solutions, which include an acceptance infrastructure for customers to pay a merchant and also for the merchant to pay a supplier, with the basics of banking like lending and having an account at the back end.

Interest to serve the merchants has been growing since digitisation started at the merchants’ end and the government has also been pushing banks to serve this community better and make them a part of formal financial channels, the source said.

It can be noted that interest about what happens in the merchants’ space has been very high especially after the recent deals struck by the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Retail and Jio Platforms.

HDFC Bank processes 48 per cent of the overall spends through cards and about a fourth of the UPI spends happening at the merchant ends, and the merchant uses the app for a variety of uses including buying, selling and launching promotional campaigns as well, the source said.

“We have the brand recall and a physical network of branches which is helping us get to the merchants as per a locality,” the source said.

When asked if it is competing with financial technology firms, it was clarified that it is more about ecosystem play and the bank is partnering with many of them who have done innovations.

It is early days of using analytics but the bank has already given loans to 5 lakh of the merchants out of 20 lakh merchants it currently serves, the source said.

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