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FinTech: Prodigy Finance Is Driving Emerging Economy Development With MBA Student Loans

The tuition crowdfunder finances the studies of MBAs from developing economies, who then return home to make a difference

By  Marco De Novellis

Thu Sep 8 2016

“It’s always been in my mind to make a difference in Colombia,” says Andres Rico Grisales, an MBA graduate from Belgium’s Vlerick Business School.

Born and raised in Bogota, Andres started out his career in finance, working in New York before relocating to Europe for his MBA in 2010. Yet following the financial crisis, MBA funding was hard to come by. And applying for a bank loan in Colombia is a long process, requiring a lot of paperwork.

“Definitely, Prodigy Finance made my life much easier,” says Andres. “The process with Prodigy was so friendly, so easy, so fast, that I didn’t bother looking for alternatives; I went for it right away.”

Prodigy Finance offers international post-graduate loans to high-potential MBA students at the world’s leading business schools. Since it was founded by a group of INSEAD MBAs in 2007, it’s processed over $140 million in loans, funding MBAs and business masters degrees for over 4000 students of 112 different nationalities.

In emerging economies in particular, Prodigy’s borderless, peer-to-peer lending model is opening up opportunities for students to study abroad.

During his MBA, Andres took part in a summer exchange at Peking University, known as the Harvard of China. While in Europe, he was selected to attend LSE's prestigious private equity and venture capital conference in the UK. After graduation, he returned home to Colombia, determined to leverage his newfound knowledge and make a difference.

“I have been sure throughout my life that I’m going to do something to change the world for the better; I work every morning for that,” he says. “I ended up working for the Colombian government, into finance, into private equity, into venture capital, and two years after graduation, I ended up starting a company.”

Founded in 2013, Two To Tango is a business networking platform based on supply and demand, connecting entrepreneurs with mentors and businesses with investors. It was among 16 out of 10,000 companies worldwide, recognized by the White House for its innovative contribution to economic growth in Latin America.

Alongside his own business, Andres is an investor and board member of early-stage venture capital fund Invictum Capital. The fund is looking to invest in seven Latin American companies over the next year and a half. “Part of the criteria is that we measure social impact as well as economic impact,” he says.

Throughout his pursuit of social impact in his career, Prodigy has been a persistent enabler: “They take care of the financials for me in moments when I need it most,” he says. “The support they give is unbelievable. It doesn’t matter where a graduate is in the world, they’re always available.”

Dhruv Bahl, who relocated from India to study an MBA at INSEAD’s Singapore campus, agrees.

“Prodigy is extremely helpful both in getting to the MBA, and once the MBAs over,” he says. “They have multiple ways you can repay, they accept money in advance and they answer your queries within 24 hours.”

Prior to his MBA, Dhruv studied a masters in financial engineering at London’s Cass Business School, partially funded by a loan from the State Bank of India. His experience was one of high interest rates, clauses, sub-clauses and dreaded repayment penalties.

And when he was looking for an MBA loan, he found the maximum amount that Indian providers were willing to give was 2 million rupees (around $30,000), a third of what he needed to fund his studies.

“Prodigy Finance gave twice that amount,” he says. “There are no hidden charges or hidden fees, they tell you exactly what you have to repay and when, and they don’t ask for any collateral.”

Dhruv returned to India to join Bain & Co after his MBA. In March this year, he left mainstream consulting to work for Paytm, India’s leading mobile payment company. Now, he heads up operations for its e-commerce marketplace, helping over 130,000 small-scale businesses to scale and sell their products to new markets.

“Mobile penetration in India is growing much faster than bank or financial services penetration,” Dhruv explains. “Through our platform, you can have people selling handicrafts from one corner of India to the other.”

Dhruv’s journey from an INSEAD MBA, to consulting at Bain & Co, to working at Paytm and driving development in his native India, was only enabled by a Prodigy loan.

“I don’t think I would have been able to go for my MBA without Prodigy Finance,” he says. “Now, I am in a position of influence in this organization, which would not have been possible otherwise.”