Imagine a travel or food-ordering site’s checkout page circa 2010-14. Credit cards. Debit cards. Netbanking. Cash on delivery. That’s about it.
Then came the wallets. Mobikwik, and Paytm, and FreeCharge. Airtel Money. Amazon Pay. Phonepe. More wallets from everyone and their uncle. Then came the Unified Payments Interface, or UPI—the holy grail of instantaneous payments right from your bank account. And credit-like options where you buy now, pay later.
The past five years in India have been a rollercoaster ride for companies from card networks like Visa and Mastercard to Paytm and Mobikwik to banks to card payments firms like Pine Labs and Ingenico to payment gateways like BillDesk and PayU. (There are now 375 payments companies in India, according to a report by Medici, a fintech-focused consultancy firm.)
Business models have changed, changed and changed again. Driven by increasing internet penetration, the rise of e-commerce, and growing smartphone sales.
But most importantly—a series of policy decisions that, sometimes inadvertently, each reshaped the payments landscape. Into a market unlike any other. (China, the only comparable country, did exactly the opposite—practically unregulated, a digital payments ecosystem exploded over the years. Though that might be changing.)
For consumers, this meant that convenience became the order of the day.
Tired of dealing with cash and counting out change? Wallets—the user-friendly digital cash. Want even greater ease? Meet UPI, where you can send money straight from your bank account. Then pay later companies offered a different type of ease. And you could even ask for a payment from someone instead of waiting for them to pay you. That was the “collect” feature in UPI.
But this also opened the door for frauds. The collect feature saw people being spammed by collect requests from fraudsters. Failed payments on UPI—and the lack of quick resolution—became a problem in the early days. Payments banks opened accounts for customers without them even knowing.
Payments is not an easy business, for companies or for regulators. In the end, though, the fast-evolving nature of payments in India is changing the very way we deal with money—and even shaping consumer behaviour.
So here’s your guide to every twist and turn in India’s payments story—with all the gory details of policy and market.
The establishment of the NPCI by a consortium of banks more than a decade ago sowed the seed for large-scale changes in how payments worked in India. The non-profit entity is owned by banks, but answers to Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the government in general—and often acts as a quasi-regulator for payments.