In May 2016, when Apple CEO Tim Cook visited India, he made a big ticket announcement that got the country’s fintech community buzzing. Cook said that Apple wanted to bring its mobile payments and digital wallet service—Apple Pay—to India. The announcement came following his meeting with ICICI Bank CEO Chanda Kochhar in Mumbai, where Cook in his own words “tried to understand how their view of mobile payments would play out.”
Since Cook’s visit, the company has made progress in following up on the CEO’s announcements, specifically, Apple Pay. There is an emerging view within the government that Apple Pay should be allowed to enter the market, especially since digital transactions are on the rise. According to people familiar with the situation, Apple has already begun “scoping the market” in India and has held “multiple conversations with stakeholders and regulators, even responding to a questionnaire by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).” Those conversations, as per sources, are said to have “increased since November 2016.”
In December 2016, it hired Navnit Nakra, formerly of Citi, as ‘Head of Affordability’ to help out with on-ground execution for Apple Pay in India. However, the team responsible for the company’s payment strategy in India is based in London.
Apple Pay, launched in 2014, uses Near Field Communication (NFC) technology between the device and the payment terminal for transactions. The device, in this case, the iPhone, is fitted with an NFC chip, which builds an encrypted token and transmits it wirelessly to the payment terminal. It uses Touch ID—the biometric feature—to authenticate the transaction.
Apple did not respond to The Ken’s questions.
Curiously, a month after Cook’s visit, came another announcement, this time by the Indian unit of financial services company Visa Inc. In a media release, Visa said that over a million cards with its contactless product—Visa payWave—had been issued in the market. It also said that the cards, issued at the time by eight banks, found acceptance at more than 100,000 merchant locations in the country. “Contactless is the future of payments in India,” the release quoted TR Ramachandran, Visa’s group country manager for India and South Asia, as saying.
Both Cook’s and Ramachandran’s statements, one after the other, would have set the tone for India’s big contactless payments leap.
Except, it was never to happen.
“There was a lot of hype around Apple Pay during Tim Cook’s visit. But if you noticed, it evaporated soon after,” says a senior executive of a leading public sector bank in Delhi.