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What is e-RUPI & and how it is a big leap in the Digital Payments Ecosystem in India

Launched in August 2021 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, e-RUPI is a new digital payment solution for seamless transfer of funds, without the need for any card, digital payments app, internet access or even a bank account. 

 

e-RUPI is a cashless and contactless payment method done through an e-voucher sent to beneficiaries via QR Codes or SMS strings, which can be redeemed/used for specific purpose only, at the service providers. It connects the sponsors of the services with the users and service providers digitally, with no physical interface required.

 

These vouchers will be both person and purpose/end-use specific, for ex: If they are issued by government for availing any medical service at a particular hospital, then they can be redeemed only for that. In other words, it will work as a closed system PPI.

 

How e-RUPI works?

 

e-RUPI is developed by NPCI on its UPI platform, with onboarded banks as the issuers. The government or any private corporate will approach the partner banks with the details of specific beneficiaries to whom the payments have to be made and the purpose of such payments.

 

Each beneficiary will be uniquely identified basis their mobile number and voucher will then be issued and delivered (in the form of QR Code/SMS) in the name of that beneficiary only. 

 

Objective of e-RUPI

 

e-RUPI is expected to serve the following objectives:

 

  • The long-term vision of e-RUPI is to reach the unbanked population, include them into a formal financial system and reduce the digital gap in the country
  • To provide an equal access to various healthcare, education, and other benefits to each citizen of the country
  • Transparency in transactions, as the end-use of the funds can be easily tracked
  • Will guarantee that the money is used for the purpose for which it was intended, unlike traditional bank account transfer where it is possible that the funds are used for other purposes

 

Further, with the government in the process of establishing a digital currency for the Central Bank, e-RUPI can be used to emphasize the flaws in the current digital payment infrastructure which is crucial for the development of digital currencies in future. 

 

Application of e-RUPI

 

Currently, this is a platform launched as a government initiative for leak-proof distribution of welfare benefits to eligible beneficiaries. It aims to provide services under various schemes of the government including Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana and other subsidy programs, etc. 

 

However, in future even private entities can use this voucher-based payment method for providing services to their employees for travel, healthcare, and other such purpose-specific expenses.

 

It can also be used to provide credit to first-time borrowers, where the end-use of funds is specific and thereby evolving the digital lending landscape in the country.

 

A move towards digitalization and introduction of Digital Currency

 

While e-RUPI is in itself not a digital currency, as it is still backed by Indian Rupee as the underlying asset and is purpose specific, it is definitely a move towards introducing digital currency/cryptocurrency in India.

 

Both e-RUPI and cryptocurrency work on similar principle of enabling end to end digital transactions and removing physical intermediaries thereby ensuring transparency, data security and overall reduction in operating costs. 

 

What lies ahead?

 

With the introduction of e-RUPI, it is clear that the government is in support of new digital initiatives, as they expect that India has tremendous potential to change the way they transact and pay for different services. This is supported by increasing adoption of digital payments for small-value transactions, especially by the non-digital customer segment in the country.

 

This backed by India’s high currency to GDP ratio, validates that such digital initiatives and crypto assets/digital currencies can co-exist and position India as the front runner towards forming a complete digital economy. Further, e-RUPI will encourage the use of PPIs in India for better channelization & monitoring of funds, providing an opportunity for Fintechs driving digital payment solutions to design new products build around e-RUPI/digital currencies and such kind of digital solutions.

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NFC: What is it?

Ever wondered what happens in the background when you say my card has a“Tap & Pay” feature? 

It’s because of a technology called NFC or Near Field Communication.

 

NFC or Near Field Communication is a contactless communication technology based on a radio frequency (RF) field using a base frequency of 13.56 MHz NFC technology is perfectly designed to exchange data between two devices through a simple touch gesture. 

NFC is a form of communication between two devices, which makes transferring data more secure, convenient, and easy.

 

How does it work?

 

NFC works just like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, NFC works on the principle of sending information over radio waves. With the introduction of NFC, a user can share data, make payment without any manual hassle has turned out to be more important than any other technology in recent times, particularly in terms of mobile payments with simple operation. 

  • With the mobile based payment app on your phone, you will just need to Tap the phone on the POS machine and a connection will be established utilising the NFC feature which is secured with password authentication or scanning your finger which makes it more secure. 
  • Further, the transaction is then approved by a different chip called the SE (secure element), which transfers the transaction for approval back to the NFC modem. 

Currently, in India NFC-embedded cards are in the market with the imposed limits on the transaction sizes that it can process for NFC based card transactions.

 

With the introduction of NFC compatible smartphones like Samsung’s Galaxy Series, Google’s Nexus Series, and the iPhone in India we are stepping into a more cashless payment’s era. 

 

Is NFC Payments secure or not?

 

Are NFC payments secure or not? Most of you were wondering the same. However, the answer is NFC based payments are secure and safe. 

 

 For e.g A consumer who is interested in making payment via NFC based mobile application, due to the imposed limits on the transaction size on consumers cards the data cannot be stored in any of businesses NFC based terminals. In Addition to this, for instance, if a business’s NFC enabled terminal had been compromised but still the customer’s card details cannot be accessed. Likewise, tokenization makes NFC based payments so secure that there’s no decipherable information to steal from NFC terminal.

 

With the introduction of a process called tokenization, both NFC enabled merchants and the customers can feel reassured that contactless payments will provide end to end data security. For customers, card numbers are never stored in the application or anywhere in the operating system but in fact they are replaced with “token”. Furthermore, two-factor authentication like Face ID, passcode or touch ID within our smartphones enable a second layer of encryption and makes it more secure and safe for payments. On the merchant side NFC terminals and readers also use tokenization technology to encrypt sensitive information.

 

Contactless payments and its evolution in India

 

India’s journey towards a cashless economy can be judged by the impact of demonetization (2016) and COVID-19. Back in 2016, the government announced demonetization to convert India from cash-based economy to cashless economy. India had shown a gradual progress with the digitisation followed by ATM, credit and debit card, digital wallet, prepaid cards, recharge vouchers etc. payment solution helped India to build a cashless economy.

 

On 24 May 2021 – NPCI (National Payments Corporation of India) partnered with Turkey’s global payment solutions company PayCore as one of the certified partners for RuPay SoftPOS to drive cashless payments across the country. RuPay SoftPOS allows retailers to easily accept payments from contactless cards, mobile wallets, and wearables using only their phones. With the usage of RuPay SoftPOS, millions of merchants can now transform their NFC smartphones into POS machines to accept contactless payments. 

 

Under this association, NPCI mentioned that they have authorised the SoftPOS solution developed by PayCOre for RuPay. This solution can be integrated into bank or aggregator acquiring systems to enable acquiring of RuPay using mobile phones enabled with NFC capability. 

 

With PayCore’s SoftPOS solution, which enables smartphones and tablets to be used as POS terminals without any additional devices, investment costs required by banks to reach out to over 63 million micro-, small-and medium-sized businesses will significantly reduce, said Ali Kancha, chief executive of PayCore”.

 

According to Nalin Bansal, “chief of fintech’s, corporates and new initiative at NPCI, the launch of RuPay SoftPOS is aimed at supporting small merchants which form the backbone of our Indian Economy and is one of many in the series of launches starting with its open-loop transit program.”

 

With the introduction of eye-popping innovations and technologies like UPI (scan & pay), FASTags, NFC payments, interoperability etc it certainly holds a promising future in India. In addition to these NPCI initiatives to introduce SoftPOS to support small merchants and provide one step towards a cashless economy. Recently, Google Pay is offering the NFC feature for android phones that support NFC to make payments at NFC based terminals. 

 

Apart from the list of Pros and Cons of NFC as a technology in the payment sector. One of the major challenges I came across is the  transaction limit of Rs 5000 set by RBI for NFC payments. However,  in the future it will prove to be a big step towards a cashless economy where NFC based terminals or POS will provide seamless payment experience to the end user and the receiver.

 

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Aadhaar Pay – Digitisation of Payments in India

In Today’s world of Digitalisation, the Government of India (GoI) is taking steps to provide the infrastructure and technology to promote the digital payment ecosystem. GoI has initiated steps like BHIM Aadhaar Pay, an alternative for online and card based payment to popularize digital payments in Rural India which forms 65% of Indian Population. Aadhaar pay is still not accepted by the merchant and the customers of rural areas because of lack of any awareness about Aadhaar Pay solutions and its benefits. In the absence of any publicity campaigns about Aadhaar Pay in print media or broadcast media, customers find it difficult to trust Aadhaar Pay.  

 

What is Aadhaar Pay?

Aadhaar Pay is a smartphone app for individual merchants developed by National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI). Using this app, merchants can receive instant payments in their bank accounts from the customers having an account with any of the banks. Aadhaar Pay uses Aadhaar number along with validation using biometric authentication or OTP sent on the Aadhaar linked mobile number. This is extremely helpful in rural contexts, since most rural users do not remember their password and PIN. 

 

How does Aadhaar Pay work ?

Rahul is an owner of a kirana store in a small village of India. Mohan is a regular customer and purchases all the household goods from his shop. Today while making payment for the goods, Mohan realised that he had forgotten his wallet at home and requested Rahul to make a note of the bill amount and he will clear these dues tomorrow. On hearing this, Rahul informed Mohan about the concept of Aadhaar pay. At first, Mohan was confused because he had never heard about it. However, after Rahul explained to Mohan that he can use aadhar based payment process to make direct payment from his bank account without the need of an ATM card or a smartphone, Mohan decided to give it a try. 

 

Rahul logged into Aadhaar Pay through a mobile app of his bank using his Aadhaar number and typed the bill amount. Thereafter, Mohan typed his Aadhaar number and selected his Aadhaar linked bank name and completed the transaction by authenticating with a fingerprint. After the completion of payment both Rahul and Mohan instantly received confirmation messages on their phones.

 

Mohan’s story highlights the need for a “payment solution” that would simplify and digitize transactions especially for those with low literacy levels in rural areas.

Aadhaar pay will help merchants to receive funds on a real time basis and no MDR is charged by the bank. Currently, approximately  96 crore bank accounts are linked with Aadhaar including 75% of Jan Dhan Yojana accounts. Some of the largest banks in India such as State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, Andhra Bank, Syndicate Bank, IndusInd Bank and IDFC First Bank have gone live with Aadhar Pay. 

 

Despite its high utility and ease of user experience, the reliability and security of Biometric authentication pose a high challenge to its wider acceptability. The task becomes particularly challenging when there have been cases of leakage of Aadhaar data. UIDAI has tried to mitigate such concerns by ensuring that the Aadhaar database is not directly connected to the service provider and all the authentication is done through APIs only. Another main concern is that many people in India do not have clear fingerprints due to the nature of their work causing high authentication failure during fingerprint impressions on the biometric reader. However, this problem has drastically reduced as Biometric readers have evolved ever since and now new biometric readers including iris scan are being used which are more reliable.

 

Challenges faced in Implementing Aadhaar Pay

Technical Challenge

According to UIDAI, ~ 16 lakh Aadhaar authentication requests fail every week mainly due to problems faced in capturing fingerprints mainly due to very high match ratio (98%) being set in certified Biometric readers.

 Administration Challenge

Only prerequisite for Aadhaar pay has been linking a Bank account number with Aadhaar. However, the Honourable Supreme Court of India has made the linking non-mandatory in its judgement. 

 

Key to the success of any new tech enabled platform is the absolute trust and confidence of customers and service providers that their privacy will be protected and transaction is secured. To make Aadhaar pay more secure and safer than card payments, there should be proper laid down procedures for Certification and Testing of third party apps used by merchants for payments. This would build confidence in authenticity and reliability of Aadhaar pay and would promote its use amongst the mass population. 

 

Way Forward

 

Based on our market understanding and research, we conclude that the potential of Aadhaar Pay is still underutilised and the idea of cashless India can still be achieved with Aadhaar pay with support from all stakeholders. GOI and banks should create awareness and incentive schemes for Aadhaar Pay amongst merchants and customers especially for rural areas using both print and digital media.

We feel that Aadhaar Pay will create an ecosystem especially for rural demographics wherein customers have ease of payments and merchants have quick access to the payment with a comparatively low- cost payment solution. 

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