A payments platform created by India’s largest retail banks surpassed a billion transactions in October, according to Bloomberg.
Indian digital payments took off when the government pushed demonetization in 2016, invalidating most of the country’s high-value currency notes in a move to curb corruption and push Indians away from cash. The Unified Payments Interface or UPI has now surpassed a 100 million users three-and-a-half years after its launch, thanks to booming smartphone use and wireless data rates among the lowest in the world.
Amazon and Google now vie with local startup Paytm, Walmart-PhonePe and a host of other players in a digital payments market forecast to quintuple to $1 trillion by 2023.
“UPI has had the fastest acceptance rate not just among payment platforms but digital platforms of any kind,” said Dilip Asbe, chief executive officer of the National Payments Corporation of India, which groups the lenders that developed the system. “We aim to expand the UPI base to 500 million users in the next three years.”
UPI sports an open architecture allowing digital wallet apps, payment banks and startups to link freely to its platform. That’s a contrast to the closed systems of China’s dominant services, WeChat and Alipay. It simplifies transactions between apps and banks linked through a biometric ID system called Aadhaar.
Regulated by the central bank, it allows the instant transfer of funds between bank accounts through a mobile device using a simple virtual handle, without sharing bank or personal details. UPI’s creators now want to take the platform beyond the country’s borders and allow payments in places like Singapore or the Middle East with a dense population of Indian expatriates.
But competition is set to worsen. Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp is seeking final approval for the full-fledged countrywide launch of its payments service, which has been in a long-drawn pilot phase with just 1 million users. Experts predict that the entry of WhatsApp into the arena will mark another inflection point because of an estimated user base of more than 400 million.
WhatsApp Payments will be launched “soon” in India, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told investors in a post-earnings conference call this week. WhatsApp is said to be seeking final approval after storing user data on local servers, as mandated by the central bank.
„Though Libra has met with fierce resistance from central banks and supervisory authorities and might never see the light of day, in many other cases tech firms (both start-ups and established big players) have successfully captured bits and pieces of universal banks’ traditional value chain. This trend may only intensify in the coming years. In this environment, European banks remain squeezed.”