India's ATM network outside the realm of urban cities has been declining since 2016. The country's ATM penetration relative to the population is one of the lowest in the emerging markets and less than 20% of the ATMs are in rural areas, which is shockingly low. India has close to 650,000 villages but only one ATM for ten villages. The numbers overall highlight the sheer importance of developing a robust ATM network.

While the Government has several relief mechanisms in place for beneficiaries in rural India, the ground reports are far from positive. Given the inadequate ATM penetration and their poor maintenance in India's hinterland, many rural Indians travel miles to find a local ATM and many times return empty-handed because the ATM is either not operational or is short of cash. It is now a common understanding that there is a severe cash shortage in remote areas of India and banks and ATM operators aren't finding it viable to improve the current state of affairs. A bank ATM needs at least 80-100 transactions in a day to be profitable for the bank, this is one of the prime reasons banks aren't willing to extend their ATM network or even service it for that matter.

The pandemic only made matters worse for rural communities. While every industry and service went online, India's rural populace faced umpteen obstacles to carry out the most basic financial activities. Low digital literacy combined with limited access has almost cut off rural India from the rest of the country. It is, therefore, imperative that fintech players address the problems of people residing in semi-urban and rural India to ensure they come under the formal financial system.

Overall the situation calls for urgent action. That being said, I see a silver lining. The multi-pronged digital transformations across the financial services sector driven by the pandemic, has the potential to metamorphose the ecosystem positively. I believe, micro-ATMs are the best solution in the given circumstances. At Spice Money, we are currently working towards building the largest ATM network in India by activating our Spice Money Adhikari network. We’re present in 18,500 pin codes which cover 95% of India's rural pin codes and we're aiming to make that 100% with our efforts. The Spice Money Mini-ATMs will offer essential cash in, cash-out services with the help of our Adhikaris.

Going forward, proper collaborating between private and public players is a must to ensure we deploy effective technologies and solutions to bridge the digital and financial divide between rural and urban India. Developing a robust micro-ATM network is just the beginning, we have a long journey ahead of us and Spice Money is committed to the cause of empowering rural India digitally and financially.

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