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Indian fintech unicorn Slice acquires stake in a bank

Slice has acquired a 5% stake in the Indian bank North East Small Finance in what analysts say is a key step in the unicorn fintech startup's journey amid mounting challenges from the central bank that has toppled many young firms.

The Bengaluru-headquartered startup invested $3.42 million for the 5% stake in the Guwahati-headquartered small finance bank in September, a regulatory filing showed.

The investment comes at a time when the Reserve Bank of India has clipped the wings of many fintech startups operating in cards and lending categories by mandating strict compliance with stringent new guidelines.

It’s unclear how a stake in a bank, admittedly a rare and ostensibly significant milestone by a startup, would be immediately beneficial to Slice, a $1.55 billion startup that counts Tiger Global, Insight Partners, Blume Ventures and Axis Bank among its backers.

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The world’s second most populous nation is undergoing an interesting phase of time as banks and fintech startups explore ways to improve their engagements. Federal Bank and SBM Bank India have courted many startups as customers in recent years as they attempt to supercharge their businesses.

Slowly bigger banks, including HDFC and ICICI, have also expanded their deliberations with younger firms. HDFC, the largest private bank in India, recently backed Mintoak, a SaaS platform that provides merchant services in India and other markets.

The Indian arm of SBM Bank began engaging with investors to raise capital late last year, pitching the vision of becoming one of the top banking-as-a-service providers in the country, TechCrunch reported earlier. Accel and Quona backed Shivalik Small Finance Bank last year.

But a rise in proliferation of some predatory China-linked lending apps in recent years in the South Asian market has forced the hands of the central bank to introduce rules that have a far-reaching impact on many firms, including those not involved in bad-faith business practices.

Incorporated in 2016, North East Small Finance Bank is a subsidiary of RGVN (NE) Microfinance that serves customers in the north eastern region of the country. It counts Pi Ventures, SIDBI Venture Capital and Bajaj Group among its backers.