He will turn 50 in about a month but there are no plans for a big bash. That's Sanjiv Bajaj for you, quiet and down to earth, no hype or hoopla. Not for him, the chaotic and noisy life in the big city; he prefers the peace of Pune where he can catch a movie, play basketball or simply spend time at home with kids.
That's in stark contrast to the buzz that Bajaj Finance and Bajaj Finserv have created in the stock market. With a combined market capitalisation of Rs 3.65 lakh crore, the two are together more valuable than State Bank of India. Not surprising since they have reached out to 100 million customers with mortgages, loans against property, consumer credit, commercial lending, rural loans and insurance. At a time when NBFCs are in all sorts of trouble, the Bajaj twins are rocking. But that hasn't changed Bajaj one bit. He's still the same, happy to go home to Ed Sheeran or Dire Straits. Or some jazz.
In the early days, he was once asked who the enemy was: the credit card, he answered. But since he couldn't launch one, he came up with the EMI card which today is a franchise with 16.5 million customers; in 2018-19, the EMI card contributed about 60% of the loans.
Bajaj may be absorbed in Graham Hancock's Fingerprints of the Gods but he doesn't lose sight of the future. He is quietly confident about the next round of growth where the strategy is to spread out to the interiors and reduce the urban concentration; he knows how important it is to have a robust balance sheet.
Indeed, at 50, Bajaj is no less excited about the business than he was at 40. He may not be playing basketball as often as he used to but his love for sports is undiminished; now, he plays more tennis and swims. And the rapid digitisation of financial services driven by the killer combination of cheap smartphones and low-cost high-speed data, he believes, can be a game changer. In fact, Bajaj no longer misses a bank licence. Instead the team is arming itself with a whole new set of capabilities. And even as he mines his 100-million customer base, Bajaj knows how important it is not to get carried away with digital channels but to take measured risks. That's his style of entrepreneurism anyway and the secret of his fabulous franchise. Long-term financial products, he knows, can get messy so it's probably better to keep it short and simple.
"We don't mind not being a bank. We're able to raise retail money and don't need to put aside any CRR or SLR," he says, adding that while customers may have greater confidence in a bank, Bajaj has built credibility.
The point is well taken. And for that, he should give in to his sweet tooth and treat himself to a big slice of birthday cake.