India’s Cash Crunch Means Opportunity for Mobile Wallets

For those championing the death of cash, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to de-monetize the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes in India might seem like the perfect opportunity for online and mobile banking providers to jump right on in.

The de-monetization of the 500 and 1,00 note rendered 86% of the currency in circulation valueless.

Mobile wallet provider Paytm certainly thought so, if one judges by the full-page advertisement the company took out in the Telegraph and the Hindustan Times the day after the decision.

The de-monetization was an attempt to curb the country’s “black money” problems or “shadow economy,” which runs entirely on cumbersome, expensive, difficult-to-trace cash. Modi’s decision could be huge for mobile banking (and a possible cashless society)—if, as Cross River Bank Managing Director Vaibhav Puranik states, it’s approached correctly.

Mobile wallets have certain advantages over cash, including the ability for transactions to be monitored, but providers like Paytm and MobiKwik need to solve issues with app security, quality and customer service first, Puranik told Bank Innovation.

He continued:

It will be a windfall for mobile wallet providers and mobile payment providers. You can see that by the full page ad that Paytm took out. But [it will be] more limited to cities. Lot of apps/providers have limited non-English functionality, which will hurt adoption. They are trying to fix it, but it will take time. Most banks & their apps haven’t adopted UPI [Unified Payment Interface] standards. Banks and apps infrastructure and customer service teams are not ready to bear the load.

It’s also worth noting that the majority of India’s population conducts its daily business in cash, which highlights the main problem with replacing physical cash with digital transactions: access.

Deva Annamalai, director of innovation and insights for Fiserv, told Bank Innovation:

Most educated folks are trying to use mobile wallets like Paytm. (And credit/debit cards). However there is a huge segment of uneducated populace who are unbanked/underbanked, who are severely affected by this situation.

We are definitely seeing an increase in folks starting to use cashless banking services; however the general public feels very frustrated with ability to not transact on everyday transactions from roadside vendors and smaller merchants who are fully cash-based.

In other words, the country’s mobile penetration is not nearly high enough at the moment for mobile wallet providers to fully fill in the vacuum—but anything can change, and few countries are changing faster than India.

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