Urban India empowered with smartphones and the inclination to go digital has made the transition to using electronic and cashless modes of payment in last 40 days. From using cheques to digital wallets, everything has been tried, save for one - Unified Payments Interface or UPI.
In the days that followed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement invalidating high denomination notes the Indian public was bombarded with promotional campaigns from digiwallet start-ups. Day after day, front pages of leading newspapers were plastered with ads from competing digi-wallet start-ups. These vying start-ups with no effort at all overshadowed the government-backed cashless initiative - UPI.
Launched in April this year, UPI is a secure peer to peer money transfer tool for smartphones. The service is the government’s answer to digital wallet apps. “Today a few banks have gone live with UPI out of 29 banks that had concurred to provide UPI service to their customers. We are confident that several banks will join UPI this year and the number will multiply further. Our focus is in line with RBI’s vision of migrating towards a less-cash and more digital society. NPCI has always been at the forefront to innovate and introduce new products and services at par with global standards,” said A P Hota, MD and CEO, NPCI at the launch of UPI in April this year. UPI went live on August 24, 2016.
A total of 31 banks are currently live on UPI including State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, and HDFC Bank. UPI currently has about 4 million registered users, according to the National Payments Corporation of India. This number is just one-fifth of its target for this financial year.
Hota expects about 50 banks to go live by end of this financial year with daily transaction volume of 1 million per day. “This volume is possible by onboarding about 15-20 million customers,” he said. Hota also said that there has been a significant increase in the number of registered users since November 8.
Lack of aggressive advertising and marketing campaigns to promote this government-backed initiative has been very conspicuous. While Paytm rolled out TV commercials close on the heels of demonetisation, banks began promoting their UPI apps only in the last two weeks. A senior bank marketing manager told exchange4media that banks will soon swing into action to promote their UPI apps. In a simple comparison, Paytm is said to have registered 5 million new users between November 8 and November 21, while UPI has a total of 4 million registered users.
Banks will now face an uphill task in differentiating their apps from the now established digital wallet apps. While most banks are just beginning to promote their UPI apps, digital wallet start-ups like Paytm have moved from promoting their product to addressing the issue of digital literacy among India’s public.
Niti Ayog, the government think-tank, has launched an unconventional promotion programme to drive the adoption of UPI. The Lucky Grahak Yojna and Digi-Dhan Vyapari Yojna incentivise the use of UPI and digital payments. As part of the lucky draw proposed by NITI Ayog, users stand to gain up to Rs 1 crore if they make digital payments using RuPay, USSD, UPI and AEPS and merchants stand to gain up to Rs 50 lakh.
Banks and the government have both missed out on capitalising on demonetisation. The benefits, features, and USP of UPI will need to be aggressively communicated across all channels and mediums for there to be a significant uptake in the usage of UPI.
Exchange4media contacted ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, AXIS Bank and YES Bank for their inputs, none of the banks responded to our requests.