A new approach to digital payments
New Delhi: Smartphones are handy when it comes to paying for mobile recharge, direct-to-home TV services, cabs or for booking bus tickets, among other things. Paytm and FreeCharge dominate the market with a share of 39% and 26%, respectively, according to a March Nielsen report, but they are limited to online transactions.
However, when it comes to using Paytm and FreeCharge for payments at brick-and-mortar stores, the options are limited.
Paytm has tied up with New Delhi-based Mother Dairy, allowing users to pay through its wallet for purchases at 100 outlets of the milk co-operative across the National Capital Region. While it will help reduce users’ dependence on cash transactions, this feature works only when the smartphone is connected to the Internet.
This is where UltraCash, a Bengaluru-based start-up that is a winner in the business & commerce category at the mBillionth Awards 2016, has done something remarkable.
Launched in October 2015 by a pair of Indian Institute of Technology-Banaras Hindu University graduates, UltraCash was developed keeping in mind the limitations of near-field communication (NFC) wireless technology-based tap and pay mechanism.
For NFC-based payments, both parties need a smartphone with NFC or they need an NFC tag to carry out a financial transaction.
“The first avatar of UltraCash was for proximity payments at the shops, which we believe is the most challenging payment scenario. Subsequently, we have added other use cases such as utility and bill payments, paying at home for online deliveries and we are in the process to add more,” says Vishal Lal, co-founder of UltraCash. The other founder is Umesh Singhal.
Though a payment wallet is part of its product portfolio, the key highlight of UltraCash is that it can be used to make payments at restaurants and shops by taking a user’s smartphone closer to the merchant’s smartphone.
Instead of relying on an NFC that is still available mostly in mid-range smartphones and in a few budget smartphones, UltraCash uses an innovative technology—sound-based proximity data transfer—which makes a payment from the customer’s smartphone to the merchant’s smartphone using ultra high-frequency sound waves.
This technology works through the app and a user doesn’t need a special hardware like an NFC tag to use it.
UltraCash claims that the technology is fast, paired, encrypted, copy-protected, time-sensitive and inaudible. The technology was developed in-house by the team.
The interesting part is that users don’t have to load money into the UltraCash wallet to make payments. UltraCash allows users to pay directly from their bank account, which is linked to the app.
UltraCash is financed by angel investors, though Lal refuses to disclose the funding the company has raised so far.
The service is currently operational only in Bengaluru, where about 2,000 merchants are already using it. It works with most of the Indian banks.
The response to UltraCash has been impressive. Since its launch on the iOS App Store and Google Play Store, the app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times.
With more than 300,000 transactions carried out so far, UltraCash has exceeded the company’s targets and expectations.
One of the challenges before the UltraCash team was to do something different instead of walking the same path and developing a mobile wallet as the primary product.
“We had to resist the temptation to deploy a wallet-based solution and get into the business fast. We worked harder to convert a consumers’ phone to represent their entire net worth and at the same time make things simple,” says Lal.
The company says that the government’s Digital India initiative will play an important role in the future and some of the initiatives under it like the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana will help deliver financial services such as bank access to disadvantaged sections of the society.
Similarly, initiatives such as Aadhaar authentication and e-KYC (e-know your customer) will reduce dependence on paperwork, stem the risk of forged documents and reduce the time spent on verification.
“We need to create an environment that incentivizes digital payments and discourage cash transactions," adds Lal.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.