Key Ingredients… with Abhishek – India

EP’s Chief Technology Officer visits India as the country makes leaps and bounds towards becoming a cashless economy. We catch up with him about the big changes to the payments landscape and the local delicacy he loves that might scare a few…

There have been some big changes to payments in India – why are you so excited?
We are witnessing the single most successful digitization change in the payments sphere. A marketplace that’s post-demonetization and the overall reaction I’ve seen has been exuberant. In November last year, the Prime Minister said he would take 86% of cash out of the economy, which is forcing people to digitize their wallets and move to non-cash methods. First, the government introduced Adhar cards and jan dhan accounts for better KYC and financial inclusion for the unbanked. Then they launched the UPI (Unified Payments Interface), which facilitates a transfer between two bank accounts on the mobile platform instantly and eliminates any hassle of typing in card details or passwords. Just this week they unveiled the BharatQR for merchants to accept digital payments from all major cards – MasterCard, Visa or Rupay – without consumers going through the process of paying using their cards. They just scan one QR code from their mobile. It’s a great development.

Why is BharatQR such a big deal?
BharatQR is being touted as the world’s first interoperable and low cost acceptance solution. It should help immensely in adoption of mobile based digital commerce in India. For consumers, they will no longer have to scan different QR codes at the same merchant and for merchants they will only have to display one QR code at their storefront. It reminds me of how Shanghai has QR codes everywhere you go. The global possibilities for this kind of implementation are enormous.

How are Indian consumers responding to the government’s push towards a cashless world?
The key thing to know about Indian consumers is they are connected, wired and prosperous. They are a brand conscious community, in every walk of life – music, movies, fashion – Indian consumers are very Western savvy. The way people carry out their business has changed too in every walk of life. The vast majority of the population have smartphones thanks to manufacturers like Xiaomi and Huaweii that have introduced low cost smartphones very successfully into the Indian market. This has seen the masses become more and more included. A local tea farmer is directly participating in auctions to sell his crop. Because he has a low cost smartphone he no longer has to pay the middleman.

ABHISHEK’S DAY IN MUMBAI
7:30am: Time to go to work. Hailed an auto rickshaw (local mode of transport) to get into the office. Paid 75 cents using Paytm – the driver was more fluent than me at using his wallet.

7:45am: A steaming cup of tea to start kick start the day. 25 cents at the roadside stall and paid with a wallet. No friction at all – I’m getting better at this!

10:00am: India is booming. Amazed by the magic of UPI. This will redefine online banking transactions in India for good.

12:00pm: What are they lining up for? No, it’s not the lunchtime rush, but people trying to withdraw cash. More have to go cashless as the government moves the country digital.

12:30pm: Off to meetings. Hailing a lot of Uber rides – cards have a sub-optimal 3D sure experience but mandatory two-factor authorization is being removed under 2000 Indian rupees.

3:00pm: Quick stop off at the markets. My most unique payment experience of the day! Bought some fresh fish for $3 using Paytm.

6:00pm: Who’s round is it? After work beers with old friends. No need for credit card roulette, we split tabs wallet to wallet.

Why should businesses looking to expand globally consider India?
The potential for merchants is far bigger than the US now and the barrier of entry into India is very low. Consumers are easily reached through their smartphones, they are social media savvy and much advertising is driven around this. We’re seeing Indian consumers moving towards using wallets at scale, they like the idea of wallets. The government is doing a lot to open up bank accounts in order to help the country navigate to the newly digitized world of payments. It’s a very different place to the one I left 21 years ago.

What did you take away from your visit to India?
We have to pivot to more and more wallets, as well as local cards and debits, and we need to deprioritize cash on items. It has changed my entire engineering focus. People have been very supportive of the move to go cashless. What makes it difficult in some cases is the lack of infrastructure developed in time to support the move – it’s sparked a frenzy of development and we are hoping it happens fast enough.

And finally, when people think of Indian food often curry comes to mind but we hear you upped the ante?
I did! I focused my attention on street vendors… A bit like Anthony Bourdain would have done! I met up with a few of my old buddies and we had Bheja fry, which is pretty unique to India. It’s essentially scrambled lamb, sheep or goat brains and usually a great breakfast combination with Roti. It might sound a little off-putting but once you’ve tried it you won’t be able to resist going back for more. Next on the table was Paya, a stew of goat’s hooves, slow-cooked for hours to perfection. If done right it’s one of the best dishes around. I also couldn’t go past some freshly made dosa – a local style pancake and you have to have it served piping hot. And of course lots and lots of tea.