RBI Plans a Digital Payments Index

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is poised to launch by July 2020 a Digital Payments Index (DPI) to gauge the impact and reach of digital payments in rural, urban, and semi-urban areas. As a part of RBI’s Statement on Developmental and Regulatory Policies, the DPI will be based on various parameters (viz. the level of rural penetration and innovation in the present modes and channels) to reflect with finesse the penetration and deepening of various digital payment modes.

The RBI is also intending via its DPI exercise to comprehend in detail the impact of its policy decisions on the digital payments market. By ‘policy decisions’ what is meant to be conveyed is such decisions as the waiving of Merchant Discount Rate (MDR – the fees paid by a merchant to a bank for accepting payment from their customers through cards or the Unified Payments Interface (UPI)) on UPI transactions. In the recently held Union Budget 2020 it was announced that no charges shall now onwards be levied on UPI and RuPay transactions, and that MDR might also get scrapped on all of the transactions initiated via debit cards.

With the DPI scoring analysis, consumers and various stakeholders will be able to analyse developments of the local area in terms of infrastructure, access, demographic, and acceptance concerning growth in relation to broader domestic and global digital payments standards. DPI is also expected to steer the financial inclusion agenda.

The RBI considered development of a DPI owing to the stupendous growth recorded by the digital payments industry in India in the recent years. As reported by Inc42, in regards to the volume of total digital transactions, RBI numbers state that a growth rate of 58.8% in 2018-19 was recorded. The 2017-18 transactional volume was 50.4%. In value terms, digital transactions soared by 19.5% in 2018-19, as against 22.2% in 2017-18.

Throwing light on the preceding developments revolving around the digital payments space, it’s worth mentioning that the RBI, in January 2019, constituted a five-member Digital Payments Committee with Nandan Nilekani as its head. The “High-Level Committee for Deepening of Digital Payments” had as its objective to encourage digitisation of payments and boost financial inclusion. Preceding to this development, the NITI Aayog in its report titled, Digital Payments – Trends, Issues and Opportunities, released in August 2018, had projected the industry to grow $1 trillion by 2023.However, on the flipside, the incumbent government should also now act upon considering submission of a draft Bill on Payments Regulatory Board (as was recommended by the panel headed by Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg – awaited since Q4 2018) for Cabinet approval. Given that UPI recorded 955 million transactions valued at Rs. 1, 61,456.56 crore in September 2019, it’s a high-time time now that an independent PRB gets established to streamline the payments industry in India. Whereas, per the reports by Statista, in India, the total transaction value in the Digital Payments segment amounts to US$81,197m in 2020. It should also be noted that Google has recently expressed its recommendation for the US Federal Reserve to ‘replicate’ India’s UPI model for its proposed interbank real-time-gross settlement (RTGS) service. The DPI is set to strengthen India’s position of being a globally advanced digital payments leader.

RRBs Permitted by RBI to Install POS Terminals

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor, Shaktikanta Das, on February 06, 2020, read the announcement titled, “Guidelines on Merchant Acquiring Business – Regional Rural Banks (RRBs),” wherein, under the Statement on Developmental and Regulatory Policies (Feb. 06, 2020), its decision to permit RRBs to act as merchant acquiring banks via the usage of Aadhaar Pay – BHIM app and POS (Point Of Sale) terminals – was made official.

Put it simply, the RBI has now allowed RRBs to install the POS devices of their own – given that they have consent from the RBI of undertaking mobile banking. Apart from this, it’s also made mandatory by the RBI that the IT systems and Core banking solutions of the RRBs be subjected to an IS (Information Systems) Audit and have deployed secured systems.

The rationale communicated by the Governor revolves around giving an impetus to digital banking and permitting RRBs to be able to offer cost-effective and user-friendly alternatives to their customers. Bringing RRBs on a level-playing field with other commercial banks, RRBs will be subjected to offer the warranted IT infrastructure to enable seamless processes, secured transactions and facilitate timely customer grievance redressal.

It has also been clarified that the RRBs will also be required to make sure the establishment of a board-approved policy for merchant acquisition for card transactions. It has also been specified by the RBI that RRBs intending to deploy POS should be having net-worth of Rs. 100 crore or more as on March 31 of the preceding financial year, plus at least a CRAR at 9% and NET NPA lower than 5%.

The compliance requirements for RRBs also mention due compliance with instructions and guidelines on Merchant Acquisition for card transactions and POS, as issued from time-to-time by the Department of Payment and Settlement Systems, RBI. The exercise forms a crucial part of the initiative taken by the RBI to better credit flows to needy sectors; strengthen monetary transmission, regulation and supervision; expanding and deepening financial markets; and improving payment and settlement systems.

Also, on the digital payments front, under its Statement on Developmental and Regulatory Policies, the RBI has also announced scheduling in April 2020 the release of its framework to establish Self-Regulatory Organisation (SRO) for Digital Payment System. This is owing to the considerable growth trajectory exhibited by the entities in the payment ecosystem warranting a mechanism for orderly operations of the entities in the payment system, and also to foster fine practices on security, consumer protection, pricing, etc.

The RBI specifies that the SRO will act as a 2-way communication channel among the players and the regulator/supervisor. Lastly, again on the grounds of the rapid development of payment systems in India, the RBI has communicated its plan to develop, and from time-to-time, publish a composite “Digital Payments Index” (DPI) to record the degree of digitisation of payments in an effective manner. Multiple parameters exist on which the DPI would be based to accurately mirror the penetration and deepening of different digital payment modes starting July 2020.

BUDGET 2020 – Interpreting the Fine-print for FinTech India & Its Stakeholders

The incumbent Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced in her address of the Union Budget 2020 on February 1 (2020) the ambitious plan to transform India into a $5-trillion economy by 2024. The primary focus is inclined towards reinvigorating investments and consumption demand to achieve this target – restoration of common man’s confidence and also that of market entities is the key. The FinTech industry was expecting from the budget a revision of (personal) tax slabs to smoothen financial burden on the middle-income groups (while even reduced GST was voiced as an expectation coupled with appropriate tax incentives plus easing access to credit) –, so as to boost spending, thereby enhance instant loan and credit demand and supply dynamics.

The concerns were reasonably dealt with in the Union Budget 2020 pronouncement as the government introduced new personal income tax slabs and rates set to elevate disposable incomes and consumer spending. As also for the startups, the abolition of Dividend Distribution Tax (DDT) is poised to spur investments; further, the postponement of tax payment on ESOPs is a welcome move as is also an increase in the turnover limit to Rs. 100 Cr for accessing tax benefits. But, that’s not all; to boost business activities in India, the corporate tax is now set at 22% (amongst the lowest in the world).

However, per the Economic Times BFSI’s conversation with Venture Catalysts’ Anuj Golecha, the FinTech industry doesn’t stand much to gain from the Union Budget 2020 apart from getting NBFCs into the system of TReDS (Trade Receivables Discounting System – a liquidity boosting mechanism that FinTechs can utilise). Mr. Golecha clarifies that the ESOP relief isn’t made accessible to FinTechs, since the thin details of the budget document mention that only such startups are eligible for the ESOP benefits (and the tax relief that are extended for 10 years and the Rs. 100 crore turnover limits) which are recognised by the Inter-Ministerial Board (IMB) and which also qualify u/s 80-IAC of the Income-Tax Act, 1961, i.e., mere 221 startups in India. This figure for income tax exemption seeking entities was 94 out of 15,798 government-registered startups, as of February 7, 2019, as reported by Indian Express. This means that neither then (27,000 startups – as of 2019), nor now (30,000 startups – as of 2020), are all the startups registered with the DPIIT (Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade) made eligible for claiming ESOP benefits of a 5-year (proposed) deferment of tax payments by startup employees.

Another development worth mentioning is that the zero-MDR (Merchant Discount Rate) is now getting implemented in UPI and RuPay (following the promise made in the Union Budget 2019). MDR is essentially the amount that the merchants pay to banks for accessing the infrastructure that facilitates digital payments. While FinTech startups offering merchant payment services can rejoice, the Payments Council of India (PCI) has a deviating opinion on this development. The PCI Chairman Vishwas Patel states that the zero-MDR move is poised to limit innovation and investment – capable of rendering the business model unviable. He also opines that if the government is aiming to boost payment digitisation, then it should instead be done via a controlled and lower MDR coupled with added tax benefits to merchants. Lastly, he conveys that if MDR isn’t going to be charged to merchants, it’s the government who should bear the cost, reports Economic Times.

However, with even the government anticipating India’s digital economy to contribute $1 trillion to the goal of achieving the $5 trillion economy target, it’s motivating to note that UPI transactions have registered over a billion transactions and the domestic RuPay card has garnered a positive response (of acceptance) in a number of Asian and Middle East countries. With this, if the government can assist in increasing liquidity, inculcating transparency and easing the burden of compliance on the FinTech sector, the future will have promising prospects for the FinTech, its stakeholders, and the economy of India.

RBI Commences Low-KYC for FinTech Customer Retention

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), on February 5, introduced ‘low-KYC’ to let non-compliant know-your-customer accounts continue paying via mobile wallets. Prior to this, the RBI had recommended payment companies to conform to ‘full-KYC’ by February 29, 2020. As a result, approximately over 200 million mobile wallets were under the risk of getting cancelled by the regulators, owing to the approaching deadline of upgrading the non-compliant accounts to ‘full KYC’ account. Apart from this, RBI has also recommended video-KYC as an alternative to establish customer identity.

Therefore, now, mobile wallet firms such as Paytm, PhonePe, Amazon Pay, etc. and their user-base running into millions would be able to continue their association per the permission from the RBI allowing wallet service providers to continue operating their millions of non-compliant KYC accounts without any transnational limits.

With this new alternative of the RBI, a mechanism will be offered to customers wherein they will be able to convert their ‘minimum KYC’ accounts to the RBI’s ‘low-KYC’ PPI (Prepaid Payment Instrument – a semi-closed retail payment instrument introduced by the RBI in December 2019, having a monthly rechargeable limit of Rs. 10,000 or of Rs. 1, 20,000 in a Financial Year, and which is issued based on the sourcing of essential minimum details from the customer –) accounts.

This comes as a sigh of relief for FinTech firms as they were finding it difficult to onboard fresh customers and retain them following the barring imposed by the Supreme Court on telecom companies and NBFCs concerning the usage by them of Aadhaar-based KYC in 2018. Now onwards, companies will seek customer consent prior to performing ‘low-KYC’ of their accounts. However, it should also be noted that while KYC formalities were already done before, these were rendered null and void following the earlier pronouncement of the restrictions of the Aadhaar KYC method by the Supreme Court.

Following this, in February (2019), the Union Cabinet had considered promulgating an ordinance to permit voluntary use of Aadhaar number as a proof of identity for bank account opening and also for obtaining a new mobile phone connection. While the payment firms had also sought from the regulator an alternative to eKYC for onboarding and verification, the Payments Council of India (PCI) also requested the regulator to postpone the conversion of minimum-KYC accounts to full-KYC accounts deadline till February 28, 2020, owing to Aadhaar restrictions pertaining to eKYC process.

Other proposed formats of KYC in the pipeline include live video customer verification and XML internet format. It has also been reported that Amazon Pay had considered doorstep KYC for its mobile wallet subscribers.

FinTech India – Mobile Phones, FinTech & the Incoming of New Players

The economic challenges presented in 2019 coupled with protectionist regulatory measures didn’t actually hinder the development of the FinTech ecosystem of India as the startups in this domain managed raising over USD 365 million in July 2019, while the total investments entering in this sector being USD 1.16 billion, per the research conducted by IBS Intelligence. 

The FinTech sector is poised to witness established firms entering with much optimism. These include companies such as PhonePe and PineLabs (both having raised 100 million), BharatPe (raising USD 75 million), PayMate (raising USD 25 million), and Niyo (raising USD 35 million). As reported by Tracxn, the total investments entering in India’s FinTech sector stood at USD 800 million in the 1st half of CY 2019 (up 14% from the USD 688 million raised in 1st half of CY 2018. Whereas in 2019, FinTech startups raised over $3.2 billion.

However, that’s not all; a couple of top smartphone vendors are also making their presence felt in the FinTech startups space of India. Xiaomi launches MiCredit, in association with domestic startups such as CreditVidya, ZestMoney, Aditya Birla Finance Limited, Early Salary and Money View (to determine credit worthiness and financing eligibility). Xiaomi is intending to offer digital lending (credit in the range of Rs. 1000 and Rs. 100,000 at reasonable interest rates). In March 2019, Xiaomi started Mi Pay (a payments app powered by UPI) in India as a unit of its Mi Finance ecosystem (having around 20 million registered users).

Following the trend of entering the FinTech domain are other popular mobile phone brands, viz. RealMe, OnePlus and lately OPPO, as well. OPPO Kash by OPPO, is scheduled to be launched in June 2020 in India, to offer 1-click micro-loans coupled with flexible repayment features. Realme India started its payments service, Realme Paysa in December 2019, with the aim of being top-5 new financial services offering entity in 3 years.

As reported by AsianAge, mobile wallet transactions in India soared by 40 times in the preceding 5 years. Much of this momentum can be attributed to the mobile phone-based financial services global standard of FinTech, the Unified Payment Interface (UPI – enabling secure, real-time transfers even without a bank account). Mobile wallet transactions in India have increased 40 times in the preceding 5 years. Compared to traditional financial models, mobile finance gives distinct advantages, as follows: 1. Digital transactions generally don’t cost when initiated. 2. In-person services and cash transactions are now innate elements of routine banking expenses. 3. In the case of mobile finance, clients maintain their balance money in digital format. 4. In the absence of transaction costs, sending and receiving money from individual banks or mobile service providers is easy. 5. Mobile communication leads to high-volume of data, usable by banks and service providers to develop optimally profitable services. 6. Traditional credit scores get done away with as the subscribers without financial credit history also obtain the necessary credit to run their small businesses. 7. Mobile platforms have bank accounts linked to their clients on a real-time basis, thereby, banks can process account information. 8. Microfinance is also made accessible to those no credit risk proofs.

As per Financial Express, smartphone users in India are poised to double to reach 829 million by 2022 (growing at a CAGR of 15.5%). Coupled with this, there is also the influx of mobile form factor in the Point of Sale (PoS) devices to accept device-based payments (the growth numbers have been forecasted at a CAGR of 54.2% in the period 2019-23, per the Mobile PoS Payments, Statista, 2019

Decoding FASTag: How National Electronic Toll Collection (NETC) Works?

The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) has built the RFID-enabled National Electronic Toll Collection (NETC) program poised to fulfil the electronic tolling needs of the transport market of India. For the same objective, NPCI now offers a national interoperable toll-payment solution that also inculcates within its scope the offering of clearinghouse services for settlement of disputes. Within its spectrum of offering ‘Interoperability’ (applied to NETC system), it includes a common set of procedures, business rules and technical specifications allowing a customer to utilise their FASTag as a payment mode on either of the toll plazas, regardless of the specifics of the acquirer of the toll plaza.

The various objectives of NETC FASTag are: i. creating a compatible and interoperable toll-collection ecosystem to use nationally. ii. through a simple and robust framework, increase transparency and efficiency in transaction processing. iii. achieving the sub-goals of the Government of India of electronification of retail payments, reducing air pollution via decreased toll plaza congestion, plummeting fuel consumption and promoting cashless transactions, enhancing audit control via user account centralisation

NETC – the technical ecosystem on which the FASTag is based – supports multiple issuers and acquirers authorised for the NETC program. The transaction request from the Toll Plaza is sent to the Acquiring System for transactional validation, and it then moves further so as to finally reach the NETC Switch. The NPCI routes these transactions to the relevant Issuer Bank for debiting the tag-holder account. During the entire process, a particular transaction travels through an 8-step (LEGs) process.

The NETC transaction process flow emanates at the Toll Plaza System (capturing the FASTag data, viz. Tag ID, TID, Vehicle Class, etc.) and travels through the Acquirer Bank for processing, which then sends a request to the Online Switch & Mapper (i.e., the NETC validation mechanism that responds with such details as Vehicle class, VRN, Tag Status, etc. – upon an absence of the Tag ID in NETC Mapper, a response is issued stating that the Tag ID isn’t registered). Following the receipt of a Tag ID validation from the NETC Mapper, the acquirer host calculates the relevant toll fare and emanates a debit request to the NETC system. Then the NETC system switches the debit request to the relevant issuer bank for debiting the customer account.

The Issuer host then debits the linked tag holder account and sends an SMS alert to the tag holder. It also sends the response message to the NETC system. Upon failing to send the response within the defined TAT (Turn-Around-Time), the transaction is considered as Deemed Accepted. The response is then notified to the acquirer host for notifying the respective toll plaza system.

Financial Inclusion: All you need to know

Financial inclusion is where people and organizations approach valuable and moderate money related items and services that address their requirements which are conveyed in a mindful and credible way. Financial inclusion is characterized by the accessibility and fairness of chances to get money-related services. The accessibility of monetary administrations that meet the particular needs of a user without any discrimination is a key goal of Financial Inclusion. Continue reading “Financial Inclusion: All you need to know”