Technology companies such Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and WhatsApp Inc. are in talks with the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to enable Unified Payments Interface (UPI)-enabled payment on their platforms, a move which, if executed successfully, would significantly boost digital payments in the country, a senior NPCI executive said.

Among the three, Google is in advanced talks with NPCI to integrate its digital payment service, Android Pay, with UPI. The company has completed discussions with NPCI, which has in turn requested the Reserve Bank of India to consider the firm’s application, NPCI managing director and chief executive A.P. Hota said on Monday.

Hota added that Facebook and its subsidiary WhatApp have also initiated talks to enable UPI-based payments on their respective platforms. He declined to divulge further details on the negotiations with these companies, but added that if implemented, UPI-enabled payments by these companies would be a significant step forward in achieving the government’s target of 25 billion digital payments this fiscal.

“Google is testing UPI-enabled payments. The Reserve Bank of India has to look into it. Facebook and WhatsApp are in preliminary talks as well. Google and apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook will have a pervasive presence in India. Such an integration is technologically possible but we are waiting for the Reserve Bank of India’s approval. Such a move can make a difference as these companies can bring in volumes," said Hota.

Google announced the launch of Android Pay in March 2015. The same month, Facebook announced that it would enable peer-to-peer payments through Facebook Messenger. In April this year, several news reports suggested that WhatsApp, which was bought by Facebook in February 2015, is planning to launch UPI-enabled peer-to-peer payments in India.

“We are always looking for ways to make it easy for people to pay with their mobile devices, such as Android Pay in some countries, and looking to expand those capabilities to the next billion users," a Google spokesperson said in an email response.

A Facebook spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Adoption of UPI based payments by the likes of Facebook, WhatsApp and Google could significantly boost digital payments adoption in India. According to data portal Statista.com, Facebook had 213 million users in India in April 2017, while WhatsApp had about 160 million active users in India in November 2016.

In June, Hike, a mobile chat platform, launched peer-to-peer payments based on the UPI framework and a native wallet service, becoming the first chat app in India to do so. Truecaller, a spam-caller identification app, launched peer-to-peer mobile payments in March.

Some of the other payments apps to have enabled UPI-based payments are Paytm, Mobikwik and PhonePe.

NPCI’s Hota said digital payments volume, which had picked up significantly after demonetization in November, fell between February and April. While the volume of digital transactions revived in May, it is still lower than the January levels.

“Cash is back so we need to redouble our efforts to propagate digital transactions," he said, adding that NPCI has been tasked with facilitating at least 11 billion digital transactions this fiscal. The company has so far executed about 1.3 billion transactions in the quarter ended 30 June.

Hota said initiatives such as BHIM, a UPI-based digital payments app launched by the government last December, and RuPay debit cards will significantly boost digital payments. The government has earmarked Rs50 crore towards publicity campaigns for BHIM and another Rs445 crore for a referral programme to push the uptake of the app.

With about 375 million debit cards issued, RuPay has 43% market share in terms of the number of debit cards issued, Hota said.

“We are currently evaluating the possibilities around a comprehensive UPI integration and continuing to engage with the relevant stakeholders. As a first step, we will look at offering our riders the option to use their existing UPI IDs to pay for their Uber rides," he added.

“As a technology-driven company, we applaud the potential and impact that fin-tech innovations like UPI can make. UPI is the future of Indian payments and we are proud to be a partner in this monumental mission of the government to facilitate a digital payments led society," a spokesperson for cab-hailing firm Uber said in an email response.

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