Friday, October 9, 2015

Payment Banks - Opportunities for start-ups

My younger daughter when she was 3 years old, used to ask, what we do in a bank. I did not want to complicate things for her and answered “we put money and we get money”. This could not be more appropriate for the current set of 11 payment banks which RBI has given permission to setup. These banks can not lend and hence “we get money and we give back money” can’t be true.

New striped down payment banks have a big impact not only on the financial and technology fraternity, but also on the Indians in the remotest places, resulting in three things. One, it will help financial inclusion of the unbanked. Secondly, it will spur into greater percentage of cashless economy, and the third, banking transaction costs will reduce across the board. Payment banks are unlikely to open the branch network on a scale as “full” banks do. They are not even obliged to. Lean organization structure, technology enabled banking - mobile or net banking, specialist and limited services on offer, partnering as banking agents, will enable them to reduce the transaction costs. It is big impact for the current set of banks as many transactions and low capital cost accounts are likely to shift to payment banks. When the impact of payment banks on people is such immense, will it have opportunities for new ventures? There are many and we will discuss the same here.

First, let us evaluate the scope of opportunity for SME. Conventional banks have only been able to reach 30,000 out of 5.94 lakhs villages; resulting in almost 50% Indians without a bank account. Unbanked rural folks will find it convenient to pay using mobile. Mobile phone will become paperless cheque and ATM. Urban Indians will shift due to convenience, speed and captivating deals on mobile transactions.

Payment technologies have proved hugely popular in other developing countries. In Kenya, the most cited success story, Vodafone’s M-Pesa is used by two in three of adults to store money, make purchases and transfer funds to friends and relatives. One study found that in rural Kenyan households that adopted M-PESA, incomes increased by 5-30%, due to time saved in avoiding regular banking and savings on transactions costs.

This opens up opportunities for many start-ups. Payment banks will have to depend upon “local” entrepreneurs for reaching wide and deep. These entrepreneurs will have more accessibility to last-mile customer and hence the trust, a key ingredient. These entrepreneurs on non-exclusive basis, like in telecom tower business, can create business catering to multiple pay-banks / banks and source products and services including cash dispensing. This is cost effective and win-win model.

Faster adaptation of banking by vast majority of unbanked population will depend on correct and effective consumer education. More than 24 languages, regional biases, dialect, and cultural differences make education of masses a complex task. New ventures can be opened in content creation and local delivery of such content effectively. A friend of mine, who runs a NGO, publishes a “newspaper” with huge amount of local news and pastes them on the milk-van for people to read free wherever this van goes. His income comes from advertisement that consumer non-durable and durable product companies gives to reach this deep. Innovative solutions like this will come more when people at grass-root are involved. This also will help gain trust.

Can the money be sent from Airtel network to non-Airtel network without both collaborating? Here, aggregators come into play that is not among the banks. These new ventures will build plug-ins with each service provider and offer a platform that is ready-to-offer services, like payment gateway aggregators in today’s world, drastically reducing the go-to-market time and cost, while standardizing the platform.

Think of grocery store accepting mobile payment instead of card, as it would entail him to lower service charges (transaction deduction rate – TDR) than 2% he forgo in case of cards. How about electricity and other utilities accepting mobile payments? Purchase a magazine on the traffic light? Purchase goods and pay while talking over phone without the need to disclose the bank account or debit card details? How about lending small amount to a friend /relative in need at a distinct location without the availability of any bank or the ATM? Soon, many apps will be made by ventures on mobile cash management, setting-triggers for regular payments, usage spent limits by spend category, dashboard for predictive spends in future months, suggestions on avenues to spend basis available cash, on-the-fly proximity and spend based restaurant search among many innovations that ventures can think of. Many technology companies will bring innovation; build their application and tie-up with banks to facilitate transactions for each use case, just the same way value added services (VAS) like astrologer, cricket scores, news updates etc. happens on mobile today.

All these services will fail if trust is breached on the safety of money kept in mobile wallet or linked bank account. How to secure if mobile is lost or mobile number changed without opting for mobile number portability? Start-ups with specialization on security of m-cash transaction and reconciliation services will see the day soon.

It is an opportune time for start-ups to prepare and grab the pie, advent of payment banks opportunity throws before them. Size of the market is at least 10 times bigger than the credit card market size.

Ashish Jain

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