Electronic Payments in India: Looking Back and Surging Forward

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The first decade has been an eventful and possibly a watershed period in the Indian economy with consistently high GDP growth, a mobile revolution resulting in over 700 million connections, rapid POS, ATM and branch expansion, the establishment of ecommerce and the penetration of plastic in millions of wallets across the country.

India”Ÿs economic expansion remains the catalyst the evolution of a large robust electronic payments ecosystem. GDP growth has averaged over 7% since 1997 and clocked a commendable growth rate of 5.4% in 2009 in spite of the global recession in the immediate prior period.

As services constitute an increasing proportion of the GDP each year, urbanization and industrialization coupled with the all round growth is catalyzing the growth of a middle class estimated to be over 300 million. Studies have indicated that with the current growth trajectory, household incomes could triple over the next two decades making India the world”Ÿs 5th-largest consumer economy by 2025, up from 12th now. Private consumption plays a significant role in India”Ÿs growth with private spending having crossed 17 trillion Indian rupees ($372 billion), accounting for more than 60 percent of India”Ÿs GDP in 2005.
India stands at a very interesting cusp, wherein the seeds appeared to have been sowed for the creation of a dual electronic payment architecture & ecosystem. The first in the classical card based mold and the second in the card-less!

This document attempts to outline the key developments and events that makes the recent years possibly one of the most influential periods in the Indian payments space and the electronics payments space in particular. It will also cover macro trends and developments that are likely to influence and shape the electronic payments space.

You will notice a skew towards newer age payments vis a vis the traditional card based payments, as at some fundamental level, believe therein lies the next wave.

A. Swingers


Outlined below is a snapshot of the key events and business models that have been witnessed in the Indian retail payments space in the recent past. These could potentially influence and catalyze the course and development of the electronic payments landscape in this decade.

1. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) drafted an electronic payments vision document, outlining its intent and focus areas for moving from a predominantly cash based society to a more efficient electronic one.

The primary objective, to establish a framework and body of regulations to grow efficient payment systems. The document has the added benefit of providing a clear roadmap for all stakeholders including banks and service providers on the focus areas and the drivers in the coming years

2. The National Payments Corporation of India was established in 2008 and commenced business in April „09, a result of the establishment of the Board of Payments & Settlements in 2005, with an objective of broad-basing electronic payments and making them more efficient.

3. Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) : The government has commenced implementation of UID (Unique Identifier), a 12 digit unique identifier that is planned to be issued to every Indian citizen. This remarkable breakthrough sets the foundation for establishing a unique national identifier and enabling identity authentication for every citizen, a logical and imperative building block for financial inclusion. With MasterCard having developed a payment solution for „Aadhar”Ÿ (UID), the road has been paved for integrated identification & payment solutions.

4. An Inter Ministerial Group (IMG) was constituted by the Cabinet Secretariat in 2009, to enable finalization of a framework for delivery of basic financial services using mobile phones. The framework envisages creation of “Mobile Linked No Frills Accounts” enabling a basic set of transactions via a mobile PIN based system using “Mobile Banking POS” or through bio-metric based “micro ATMs” of the BCs (or the sub-agents of BCs).

5. The 200 million cards milestone was breached in 2010! With over 44 million debit cards issued in 2009-10 and a larger number projected to be issued in 2010-11, the scorching pace of growth is set to continue in the coming years.

6. Credit card issuance and spends are back on the upswing after a period of consolidation and delinquencies which had resulted in a reduction of the credit card base by over 9 million cards in 2008 & 2009. Secured card issuance is gaining traction, inviting a large customer base across India into the credit card fold. Annual fees are back, shoring up credit card P&Ls. Spends per active
account are rising rapidly fueled by the growth in organized retail, domestic holidays and International travel.

7. Prepaid has come of age. Banks have seen the opportunity served by prepaid in addressing the gap left between the debit and credit customer base. Over 14 non banking corporate entities have been granted permissions to issue prepaid cards in card based, paper based and other electronic formats including virtual / mobile wallets till date. One of India”Ÿs leading mobile operators has been granted permission with several others in the fray.

The “Tipping Point”Ÿ is surely around the corner in 2011

8. With the operationalization of large scale transit projects including metros, toll roads, organized parking and other emerging urban transit systems, electronic transit payment systems have become the norm. Large transit payment products (contactless cards largely) are already flourishing across major metro towns eg. Delhi Metro, Gurgaon-Delhi toll road & Mumbai Suburban Rail

9. With 2 new credit bureaus being set up, in addition to the existing CIBIL, the quality and depth of credit history and analysis is expected to grow multifold in the coming years, resulting in enhanced quality of credit scoring and recoveries. The remarkable transformation has been the increased consumer awareness of the importance and impact of their credit histories.

10. Debit cards have been opened up for Internet transactions, potentially providing a tipping point for ecommerce transactions. With cash withdrawal at POS machines now a reality, the seeds for wide adoption and use have been sowed.

11. With an estimated 450,000 POS terminals and 45,000 ATMs the acceptance infrastructure is set at yet another inflection point for growth. Several Indian banks have blueprints in place to install and potentially double the base in the next 3 years. Entry of global players including First Data and ATOS in merchant acquiring marks a significant shift in banks”Ÿ strategy moving to the processor model vis a vis completely owned and operated model. This should revive the profitability of the merchant acquiring business lines and lead to the next phase of profitable long term expansion.

12. The India Card initiative as an alternative domestic payment network and system could potentially take the Indian card payments into another orbit.

13. ATM access fees have been normalized by the RBI enabling easier and cheaper access for banked customers across all bank ATMs. Though stressing the cost lines of banks, the lower charges should result in an explosion in ATM usage across India.

14. Payback acquired iMint, India”Ÿs largest coalition loyalty programme which in turn was subsequently acquired by American Express. This potentially changes the contours, creating a fine meshing of payments and loyalty systems. Interesting times ahead

15. The qualifying criteria for business correspondents, potentially allowing the entry of corporates with their distribution partners and retailers into the realm, could be a game changer for financial inclusion and banking access. More on this in a subsequent section on Mobile Banking.

16. The innovation melee continues with a wide array of breakthrough business models, consumer propositions and technology solutions being implemented driving adoption of electronic payments. Eko, FINO, ATOM and a host of other players have been setting and redefining the grass-root level electronic payment principles

17. The RBI has introduced Interbank Mobile Payment Service (IMPS) enabling seamless mobile based transfers between bank account holders. The cornerstone of interoperability has been established with this measure

18. With over USD 133 billion payments from bank accounts via ECS & NEFT, electronic fund transfers has proven to be the silent monster that has established the increasing orientation towards cashless (and even chequeless) payments in India

19.With the formal launch of 3G in India a deluge of service offerings across customer segments is expected to fuel purchases and transactions on the mobile.

20. The BC model has received a quantum push, with both retailers and non banking entities now being permitted to work with banks as extensions of their branch counters. This virtually opens up the opportunity of converting over 10 million retail outlets in India into bank branches!

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Upendra Namburi is a banking & financial services professional. He also blogs at futureredefined.blogpsot.com & loyaltyredefined.blogspot.com. The views expressed in this column are that of the author only and do not necessarily reflect that of any outside affiliations. Upendra can be reachced at un2400@gmail.com or http://twitter.com/upendranamburi


Upendra Namburi is a sales and marketing professional with over 15 years experience in Banking, Financial Services, FMCG & Manufacturing. He has played key roles in establishing and growing 3 new business lines and over 20 new product launches across industries.

He has worked in diverse areas including debit & credit cards, smart cards, merchant services, Internet & mobile banking, ATMs, payment gateways, transit payments, loyalty services, packaged foods and beverages.

Upendra has been a part of teams that set up India’s first payment gateway service, the country’s largest merchant services business and the first introduction of EMV, VbV and Securecode offerings. He has worked extensively in new and evolving areas of mobile and transit payments piloting some of the country’s first forays in these new areas.

He was also responsible for conceptualizing one of India’s first large coalition loyalty programmes, and has also worked extensively in designing and establishing some of the country’s leading credit cum loyalty programmes.

Payments & loyalty remain areas of passion and he has both spoken and published extensively on the subjects. Innovation, financial inclusion and social marketing are subjects that excite him.

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