Amazon, Google vie for piece of India’s digital payments market

4 March, 2021 12:00 AM printer

NEW DELHI: Technology giants Facebook Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Google and credit-card providers Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc. are among those vying for unprecedented access to India’s burgeoning digital retail payments market.

The companies are part of four consortia preparing to apply for licenses to operate retail payments and settlement systems in the country, people familiar with the matter said. More companies could band together before a March 31 application deadline.

In a market where cash is still king, digital payments are quickly gaining ground as India’s 1.3 billion people are starting to embrace online shopping and services such as online gaming and streaming. With Credit Suisse Group AG predicting $1 trillion in online payments in India in 2023, the companies chosen to enable such transactions stand to reap lucrative commissions.

“India’s mobile digital payments is seeing huge growth in a post-pandemic world,” said Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and chief executive officer of New Delhi-based payment provider Paytm. “It’s a good time to open up more diverse payments solutions and keep the momentum going.”

One of the consortia consists of Amazon, Visa, Indian retail banks ICICI Bank Ltd. and Axis Bank Ltd. as well as fintech startups Pine Labs and BillDesk. Another group is led by billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd. and its partners Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which together agreed to invest more than $10 billion in Reliance’s digital services unit last year.

Sharma’s Paytm heads a group that includes ride-hailing startup Ola and at least five other companies. The fourth consortium consists of Tata Group, Mastercard, telecom operator Bharti Airtel Ltd. and retail banks Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd. and HDFC Bank Ltd.

Sharma, a spokeswoman for Tata Group and a spokesman for Google declined to comment on the potential bidders. Amazon and Facebook didn’t respond to emailed questions.

The contest is fierce as regulator Reserve Bank of India is expected to give just one or two licenses, as implied in its notification inviting bids. The process to decide the winners could take at least six months and it could be a further year or more before the systems and solutions come into use.

The winners will take on National Payments Corporation of India, the sole pioneering umbrella organization backed by more than 50 retail banks. Its Unified Payments Interface, or UPI, protocol debuted in 2016 and set the digital payments arena afire by allowing users to link their phone numbers to their bank accounts. That made transferring and receiving money via apps as easy as sending a text message, allowing large scale and high volumes of transactions to happen at minimal cost.


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