In charts: The story of how UPI is going places

How India's UPI is now travelling places. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
How India's UPI is now travelling places. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Summary

  • India has signed agreements with more than two dozen countries to expand UPI beyond its borders. The expansion will help Indians living abroad to send remittances home or for Indian travellers to transact with local merchants.

Last month, when delegates of the Group of 20 (G20) nations arrived in New Delhi, they were given the taste of one of India’s most successful creations: the Unified Payments Interface (UPI). Travellers could make a one-time payment in their own currency to load a digital wallet, which could be used throughout their visit to pay merchants in rupees using the ubiquitous UPI QR codes. That was just one of the various ways UPI has gone global in recent years: the system is already accessible in some form or the other in close to two dozen countries.

UPI’s travel diary

Following UPI’s local success, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) set up an arm called NIPL (NPCI International Payments Limited) in 2020 to take the payments system outside the country. Since then, NIPL and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) have entered into agreements with financial entities in over 30 nations to expand UPI-based transactions beyond India’s borders. In some cases, it is meant to aid remittances by NRIs, but in most, it is meant to help Indians make seamless payments while travelling abroad, without needing the traditional forex card or cash.

Use of UPI outside India
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Use of UPI outside India

World leader

UPI’s globalization isn’t limited to Indians being able to use it abroad. NIPL has also signed agreements to transfer technology and help Nepal build a UPI platform of its own, while Japan is reportedly considering something similar with India’s help. UPI has made India a leader in digital payments, far ahead of advanced countries. On most developmental and financial metrics, India falls behind on per-capita terms due to its high population. But it is close to the top on per-capita real-time transactions, ahead of the Netherlands and the UK. India conducts the most real-time payments (of which UPI is one type) annually, by far, and it’s still rising rapidly.

Early adopters

At least 74 countries have real-time payment systems active across the world, according to ACI Worldwide’s 2023 report on real-time payments. Though the first such system was developed in Japan in 1973, nearly all others came over the past decade. Most are government-run, though some such as Interac Online in Canada and Yape and PLIN in Peru are private. India’s first instant payments system was IMPS, but UPI has made a greater mark within seven years of inception.

Next frontier

Real-time transactions are only set to grow. Cash and credit cards have slipped in popularity. In India, real-time transactions are projected to grow from 89 billion in 2022 to 235 billion in 2027, and paper-based payments’ share in all transactions is set to decline from 45% to 22%, the ACI Worldwide report said. Globally, the share of cash in PoS transactions is expected to drop to 10% by value by 2026, according to projections by FIS. While India will drive this decline, remember that cash will continue to play a pivotal role in several economies.

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