The demonetization move couldn’t have come at a better time for the government’s UPI initiative.
UPI had been live for a few months before the demonetization scheme was announced, but hadn’t really caught on. Even though several banks and private entities had come out with their apps, usage was muted, and growth of platform was slow. Mobile wallets were still very much the chosen method to send payments online.
Cut to two months later, and transactions of the UPI have grown tenfold, and are now nudging transactions on mobile wallets. In November 2016, transactions worth only Rs. 90 crore had been transacted on the UPI platform; in the first 19 days of January, transactions worth Rs. 990 crore had already been transacted. In comparison, wallets haven’t grown as much – their usage rose nearly 100% in December over November, but growth has been slower in January. In November, transactions on wallets were nearly 15 times those on UPI, in January, it is less than 1.5 times.
(Data from 8 non-bank issuers, updated January 20)
A big part of the increased usage of the UPI has been the government’s BHIM app. It was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the beginning of the year, and thanks to its high profile launch, managed to get the initial interest of the public. Within the first few days, it became the highest rated UPI app on the Play Store, and so far it’s been downloaded over a crore times. The app hasn’t worked like a typical government project – its developers have been proactive to respond to feedback, and the results are showing.
Banks, too, have got on the UPI bandwagon. Nearly every major bank now has its own UPI app, with varying levels of quality. Non banking players have also jumped in – Flipkart’s PhonePe is highly rated and has traction, and even Paytm has integrated on the UPI.
But things aren’t all rosy. Last week saw Flipkart and ICICI lock horns over the latter blocking transactions to PhonePe. The NPCI finally stepped in, flip-flopped, the issue still stands unresolved. It’s likely that there will be other disagreements too – a whole new industry is being created before our eyes, and firms will be eager to get as big of a piece of the pie.
But if the competing players can keep their disagreements aside, and NPCI and other regulatory bodies can keep a check on the platform, UPI has the potential to radically transform payments in India. It has the numbers to show it – all it needs to do is make sure that this initial momentum isn’t lost.
Update: A previous version of the article said that the BHIM app has been downloaded has over 10 crore downloads. It’s been downloaded just over 1 crore times.