The proliferation of smartphones, a government initiative and a new payments interface are converging to change the face of Indian digital financial services market. Once these services go on-stream, it could potentially see a surge in use of digital financial services and would enable the more than 233 million Indians, who currently have no access to banks, to save their earnings, borrow, build credit and make purchases and payments online for the first time.
The three factors converging to create a new, more robust digital ecosystem in India are:
Smartphone proliferation: Earlier this year, India passed the United States to become the second-largest smartphone market in the world. With over one billion mobile phone connections, and quarter of those connections being smartphones, India is only behind China in smartphone usage. Also, smartphones currently account for a larger percentage of total phone sales in the country.
Aadhaar Card: The government’s Aadhaar Card initiative, a 12-digit unique identification number available to all Indians, provides the required identification needed to enable connecting people securely to the internet and formal financial services. Started in 2009 by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the government agency has issued more than 1 billion Aadhaar numbers so far, which amounts to more than 80 percent of the population.
The program gives many Indians something they have never had before — government-issued, formal identification. The voluntary identification system links a unique 12-digit number to basic demographic information and biometric data, such as fingerprints and iris scans, all of which are stored in a central database. Indians can now link bank accounts to their Aadhaar number, and the Aadhaar card is a valid ID for opening a bank account or accessing government services like a pension or subsidized ration
Unified Payment Interface: The third factor needed to create a robust digital ecosystem is the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), a new payment architecture launched by National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) and endorsed by Reserve Bank of India (RBI), to reduce the pain-points associated with online banking and to make banking services accessible to a wider audience. The UPI will allow money to move between two Aadhaar profiles via a smartphone. For the first time, the UPI makes it possible for Indians to do a huge number of transactions that are not only cashless, but also without the need for a bank branch. Ten major banks are already incorporating the interface into their mobile apps, and RBI is hopeful that more will join them. For rural Indians, the ability to conduct business via smartphone makes them less reliant on bank branches or kiosks, improving their practical access to financial services. The cost per transaction of less than a rupee also makes it attractive to users.
The confluence of these three factors, alongside efforts to improve financial literacy and the increasing availability of mobile wallets, payment banks and small banks, has the potential to create a flourishing digital ecosystem.