Bettering a billion lives, India’s Unique ID System

Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, Nandan Nilekani, said over a third of India’s 1.1 billion consumers had been largely overlooked in areas such as banking and social services.

Speaking to business leaders gathered at The Nielsen Company’s Consumer 360 event in New Delhi, Nilekani said this had come about in part because there had been no effective way of reaching India’s poor.

“The poor remain a difficult to reach market. Their anonymity limits agencies from providing them services that are remotely available, and that could be accessed through a mobile phone. The absence of a universal, easy to verify identity system also prevents agencies from scaling towards national-level, more open systems where the poor can access services seamlessly, wherever they migrate.

“The services the poor can access as a result – the doors through which they can pass – are far fewer. They cannot easily open a bank account, possess insurance, or order services through a mobile phone,” Nilekani told those gathered for his keynote speech at the conference.
“The (unique identification) number will create a much more open marketplace, where hundreds of millions of people who were shut out of services will now be able to access them. “ He said only about a quarter India’s population had a bank account.

“The common man in India has long been a bystander, a spectator to the trends of consumption. With growth however, we’ve seen the Bottom of the Pyramid market take off – a class of the ‘individually poor but the collectively rich’, who now account for over one third of our consumption. “
He went on to outline four key shifts taking place in India with regard to consumers:

  1. A demographic disruption taking place in India with an expected 11 million new people joining the workforce every year for the next five years. “India is a young country in an ageing world.”
  2. Mass migration to cities. The urban population is expected to grow by 31 people every minute on average many years.
  3. Low cost mobile phones mean all social sets have access to the same or similar content.
  4. Indians are increasingly impatient with failing systems. As a consequence, service providers are responding more rapidly than ever.

Nilekani said these four broad trends heralded the rise of a new kind of consumer in India. “The Indian consumer today, no matter their income class, is highly aspirational, mobile, comfortable with technologies such as mobile phones, and eager for choices in faster, more accessible services.”

“This shift in attitudes is creating new urgencies for our services and infrastructure. And we are indeed seeing the emergence of solutions that respond to these forces,” he said.