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Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head for Google Pay & Next Billion User Initiative, Google India
Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head for Google Pay & Next Billion User Initiative, Google India

Contactless payments are gaining preference: Sajith Sivanandan

From an industry perspective, there is a distinct and significant acceleration in the adoption of digital services and payments

Experts have often said that the coronavirus pandemic could be a defining moment for India’s burgeoning fintech ecosystem. Mint spoke to Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head for Google Pay & Next Billion User Initiative, Google India, about how the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital payments platforms. Edited excerpts:

India’s fintech space is often seen as a lucrative playfield. Has the pandemic improved the prospects?

Consumer confidence to embrace UPI as a form of payment has seen consistent growth in the last few years. With the covid-19 crisis and the lockdown that followed, consumers’ preference to do contactless payments has gone up for essential services like mobile recharges, utility bill payments, and buying things online, even though initially the total volume of UPI transactions fell. But as evident in the total volume of transactions in August, consumers are increasingly opting to do more with digital payments.

We are also seeing rising searches for “how to pay bills with UPI" etc in Indian languages very fast. This augurs well for the overall industry and points to the future where we will see wider adoption of digital payments, and consumers will continue to opt to do more with digital payments as new user experiences come online. Lenin (Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin) had once said that “There are decades where nothing happens and then there are weeks where decades happen". That describes this year quite well.

Did the pandemic bring about specific challenges that weren’t expected earlier?

From an industry perspective, there is a distinct and significant acceleration in the adoption of digital services and payments. Contactless payment modes are being preferred over cash, and there is an uptake in first-time users of digital payments. At our end, we have tried to offer more helpful services on GPay; for example, we introduced Nearby Stores that helps users see which stores are providing essential goods, and are open in their vicinity.

Has the pandemic increased the reach of digital payment platforms in India?

There is definitely an acceleration in the adoption of digital payments in the country and the data shared by NPCI clearly reflects that. There were a total of 1.62 billion UPI transactions in August, worth 2.98 trillion, up from 2.90 trillion in July and 1.54 trillion a year ago. That’s a near doubling off on an already sizeable base in just 12 months!

Other than UPI, do other digital payment mechanisms also show signs of growth in India?

The single most important factor in growing the overall adoption of digital payments is consumer trust—people want reliable, safe, and secure ways of transacting online. And to that end, UPI has emerged as the single largest form of digital payments platform today. With UPI, India today has revolutionized the payments flow from bank to bank, and the value that players like us bring to this is the ability to make it simple and safe for people across the country to transact confidently.

We are focused on supporting and growing other forms of payments on Google Pay and have already launched the tokenized cards feature that helps users to make debit or credit card payments through a secure token attached to their phone which makes it more secure and convenient to make payments.

How far is India, in terms of use of digital payment technologies, as compared to developed countries?

BHIM UPI has been a game-changer in helping India embrace digital payments. But we are at the very beginning of what’s possible. There is a need to continue to work together with the government, regulators, ecosystem players, and innovate so that the benefits of digital payments can be brought to everyone.

Do you think fintech platforms growing in India can also be the groundwork for other developing countries?

We have been pretty vocal that we believe the right model for driving digital payments is through partnerships between banks, governments and tech companies through open and standards-based infrastructure like UPI. And we are sharing our learnings from India in many parts of the world, including the US, and not just in developing countries.

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