PhonePe in talks to acquire Indian app store Indus OS

Walmart-backed payments services firm PhonePe is in advanced stages of talks to acquire Samsung-backed Indus OS, a startup that operates an eponymous third-party Android app store, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The deal values Indus OS at $60 million, the source said, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. The deal has yet to close. PhonePe and Indus OS didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Indian news outlet Entrackr first reported about the development.

Indus OS powers several popular third-party Android stores including Samsung’s Galaxy Store and provides partners with localized content and apps.

Late last year, Indus OS said it offered its partners 400,000 apps in English and 12 Indian languages. The seven-year-old startup, which has raised about $21 million to date and monetizes through ads, has amassed over 100 million users.

The startup plans to launch an app store for individual users once Google begins accepting third-party app stores, another source familiar with the matter said.

It remains unclear why PhonePe is interested in Indus OS’ offering. The Bangalore-based startup has long offered its own mini app store on its app. A handful of firms — including PhonePe rival Paytm — have either launched or explored launching their own mini app stores in recent months.

#android, #apps, #asia, #fundings-exits, #google, #india, #indus-os, #paytm, #phonepe

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Paytm claims top spot in India’s mobile payments market with 1.2B monthly transactions

Paytm, India’s most valuable startup, said on Monday it processed 1.2 billion transactions in the month of February, illustrating the level of penetration it has made in one of the world’s fastest-growing payments markets where it competes with Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Flipkart-backed PhonePe.

Paytm said its users made 1.2 billion transactions last month across several payments modes including wallets, plastic cards, internet banking, and UPI. This is the largest volume of transactions reported by any payments firm in India and Paytm claimed that it has consolidated its leadership position.

A Paytm spokesperson told TechCrunch that the startup clocked over 1 billion transactions in the month of January as well. A PhonePe spokesperson told TechCrunch that its app crossed a billion transactions in December, and its last month’s transacting volume was “over a billion” across UPI, wallet, and credit and debit cards.

Paytm’s figure shows how the SoftBank-backed startup has continued to grow despite not being a dominant player in the UPI ecosystem.

A payments railroad built by a coalition of retail banks and backed by the government, UPI has emerged as the most popular way users transact online in recent years though it does not offer any business model.

Last month, UPI services processed 2.29 billion transactions, the governing body NPCI said on Monday. PhonePe and Google Pay are the dominant UPI players in India, commanding over 85% of the person-to-person payments market. PhonePe processed about 970 million UPI transactions in February. (NPCI has said that it will enforce a market share cap on its member firms.)

Unlike Paytm, which leads among wallet players, and PhonePe, Google Pay and relatively new entrant WhatsApp solely operate on UPI.

Paytm has expanded to cater to merchants in recent years as several international firms launched their offerings to solve person-to-person payments in India. The startup claimed that its service dominates in offline merchant payments and is growing 15% month-on-month. The startup, led by Vijay Shekhar Sharma, said it serves over 17 million merchants. PhonePe told TechCrunch it serves over 17.5 million merchants.

Paytm said it has been “the main driving force behind building and expanding digital villages and now empowers over 6 lakh (600,000) villages in India with digital payments.” The startup said over 50% of its merchant partners have an account with Paytm Payments Bank — the startup’s digital bank — and it also commands the market with its digital wealth management service, Paytm Money.

At stake is India’s payments market that is estimated to be worth $1 trillion in the next three years, up from about $200 billion last year, according to Credit Suisse.

“We are humbled by the trust India has shown in us & made Paytm their preferred digital payments & financial service provider. We have consistently maintained industry-leading market share & growing at an impressive rate,” said Narendra Yadav, Vice President of Paytm, in a statement.

“We have been promoting all digital payment methods giving multiple-choices to consumers that have helped us in consolidating our leadership position. In fact, a large percentage of our users who started their digital journey with Paytm, have now adopted & embraced our financial services.”

#apps, #asia, #google-pay, #india, #payments, #paytm, #phonepe, #softbank

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PayPal is shutting down domestic payments business in India

PayPal is shutting down its domestic business in India, less than four years after the American giant kickstarted local operations in the world’s second largest internet market.

“From 1 April 2021, we will focus all our attention on enabling more international sales for Indian businesses, and shift focus away from our domestic products in India. This means we will no longer offer domestic payment services within India from 1 April,” said a company spokesperson.

In a long statement, PayPal did not say why it was winding down its India business, but a report recently said the company, which has amassed over 360,000 merchants in the country, had failed to make inroads in India.

Indian news outlet The Morning Context reported in December that PayPal was abandoning its local payments business in India, a claim the company had refuted at the time.

Nonetheless, the move comes as a surprise. The company said last year that it was building a payments service powered by India’s UPI railroad, suggesting the level of investments it was making in the country.

PayPal had also partnered with a range of popular Indian businesses such as ticketing services BookMyShow and MakeMyTrip and food delivery platform Swiggy to offer a faster check out experience. At the time of writing, PayPal website in India appears to have removed all such references.

India has emerged as one of the world’s largest battlegrounds for mobile payments firms in recent years. Scores of heavily-backed firms including Paytm, PhonePe, Google, Amazon, and Facebook are competing among one another to increase their share in India, where the market is estimated to be worth $1 trillion by 2023. Several of these firms also offer a range of payments services for merchants.

The company, which says it processed $1.4 billion worth of international sales for merchants in India last year, added that it will continue to invest in “product development that enables Indian businesses to reach nearly 350 million PayPal consumers worldwide, increase their sales internationally, and help the Indian economy return to growth.”

#apps, #asia, #google-pay, #payments, #paypal, #paytm, #phonepe

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India proposes social security benefits for gig workers in annual budget

India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman proposed a handful of benefits for the startup ecosystem and to accelerate the growth of digital services in the annual budget Monday as the South Asian nation looks to revive the economy that plunged into deepest recorded slump amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sitharaman said the nation has earmarked 1,500 crore Indian rupees ($205.3 million) to incentivize the adoption of digital payments. Paytm, Google Pay, and PhonePe are locked in an intense battle to drive people in India to pay digitally, but the firms have struggled to find a viable business model with their core payments service.

Many firms were hoping that the government will permit them to charge for merchants transactions. No announcement on this front was made today.

The budget also proposed to extend social security benefits to gig workers and other platform workers and launch a website to help these workers find employment, said Sitharaman. These workers will be protected by minimum wages, she said. Additionally, she said women will be allowed to work in all categories with adequate protection.

The South Asian nation also proposed broadening the definition of small businesses, increasing the threshold for capitalization to 2 crore Indian rupees (about $275,000), up from existing limit of 50 lakh Indian rupees ($68,750). This will allow many more businesses to come under small business umbrella and avail relevant benefits such as some tax concessions.

The budget also proposed incentives for incorporation of one-person companies, a move that Sitharaman said will help companies “grow without restriction on paid up capital and turnover, allowing conversion into any other type of company at any time, reducing the residency limit for an Indian citizen to set up a one-person company from 182 days to 120 days, and allow also non-resident Indians to incorporate one-person companies in India.”

Industry executives in recent weeks said they were hoping that India will further relax angel investment tax in the country and address the digital services tax the country began imposing on foreign firms last year. These matters were not addressed in the new budget.

This is a developing story. Check back later for more information. 

#asia, #finance, #google-pay, #government, #india, #paytm, #phonepe

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From India’s richest man to Amazon and 100s of startups: The great rush to win neighborhood stores

After spending more than a decade disrupting the neighborhood stores in the U.S. and several other markets, Amazon and Walmart are employing an unusual strategy in India to face off this competitor: Friending them.

Walmart and Amazon, both of which face restrictions from New Delhi on what all they could do in India, have partnered with tens of thousands of neighborhood stores in the world’s second-largest internet market this year to leverage the vast presence of these mom and pop stores.

In June this year, at the height of the pandemic, Amazon announced “Smart Stores.” Through this India-specific program, for instance, Amazon is providing physical stores with software to maintain a digital log of the inventory they have in the shop and supplying them with a QR code.

When consumers walk to the store and scan this QR code with the Amazon app, they see everything the shop has to offer, in addition to any discounts and past reviews from customers. They can select the items and pay for it using Amazon Pay. Amazon Pay in India supports a range of payments services, including the popular UPI, and debit and credit cards.

The world’s largest e-commerce giant also maintains partnerships that allow it to turn tens of thousands of neighborhood stores as its delivery point for customers — and sometimes even rely on them for inventory.

India has over 60 million small businesses that dot the thousands of cities, towns and villages across the country. These mom and pop stores offer all kinds of items, are family run, and pay low wages and little to no rent.

This has enabled them to operate at an economics that is better than most — if not all — of their digital counterparts, and their scale allows them to offer unmatched fast delivery.

Krishna Shah, a New Delhi-based doctor, on paper is one of the perfect customers of e-commerce services. She lives in an urban city, uses digital payments apps and her earnings put her in the top 5% income level in the country. Yet, when she needed to buy food for her cats and needed it as soon as possible, she realized the major giants would take hours, if not longer. She ended up placing a call to a neighborhood store, which delivered the item within 10 minutes.

That neighborhood store, which employs fewer than half a dozen people, was competing with over a dozen giants and heavily funded startups including Grofers and BigBasket — and it won.

At stake is India’s retail market, which is estimated to be worth $1.3 trillion by 2025, from about $700 billion last year, according to Boston Consulting Group and the Retailers’ Association India. E-commerce, by several estimates, accounts for just 3% of the retail market in the country.

If that figure wasn’t small enough already, consider this: Some of the biggest customers of Flipkart and Amazon are these small retail stores. An executive with direct knowledge of the matter told TechCrunch that during some sales, as high as 40% of all smartphone units are bought by physical stores. The idea is, the executive said, to buy the devices at a discounted price, sit on them for a few days and when Amazon and Flipkart are done with their sales, sell the same phones at their standard prices.

Sujeet Kumar, co-founder of Udaan, a Bangalore-based startup that works with merchants, said that even as smartphones and the internet have reached all corners of India, e-commerce hasn’t been able to disrupt the retail market.

“The problem is that it is very difficult for e-commerce companies to build a supply chain and distribution network that is more efficient than those established by neighborhood stores. These mom and pop stores operate on an insanely different kind of cost economics. E-commerce companies are not able to match it,” he said.

#amazon, #apps, #asia, #bigbasket, #ecommerce, #facebook, #finance, #flipkart, #food, #google, #grofers, #india, #instamojo, #khatabook, #mobile, #online-lending, #payments, #paytm, #phonepe, #udaan, #walmart, #whatsapp

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PhonePe raises $700 million, becomes a separate entity

PhonePe, the crown jewel in Flipkart’s acquisition by Walmart, is “partially” spinning off, the Bangalore-based financial services firm said on Thursday. To kick off its new journey, the firm said it has secured $700 million in a new financing round.

This round, the name of which was not disclosed, was led by Walmart with participation from some existing investors, PhonePe said. The new round gave PhonePe, which was founded by a former Flipkart employee, a post-money valuation of $5.5 billion.

Today’s announcement is a big boost to the confidence investors have on PhonePe. The startup has been engaging with investors for new capital for several quarters and had struggled to raise capital at a $3 valuation earlier this year, TechCrunch reported earlier.

The partial spin-off, which had been in the works for more than a year, means that Flipkart’s stake in PhonePe will reduce from a 100% to 87%. “This partial spin-off gives PhonePe access to dedicated long-term capital to pursue our vision of providing financial inclusion to a billion Indians,” said Sameer Nigam, founder and chief executive of PhonePe, in a statement.

PhonePe currently leads the mobile payments market in India, by some metrics. In October, it surpassed Google Pay to become the top UPI payments app. UPI is a four-year-old payments infrastructure built by India’s largest banks. It is the most popular way people transact money digitally in India. PhonePe reported 835 million UPI transactions in October, ahead of Google Pay, which processed about 820 million transactions that month.

“As Flipkart Commerce continues to grow strongly serving the needs of Indian customers, we are excited at the future prospects of the group. This move will help PhonePe maximize its potential as it moves to the next phase of its development, and it will also maximize value creation for Flipkart and our shareholders,” said Kalyan Krishnamurthy, CEO of Flipkart Group, in a statement.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #flipkart, #funding, #google-pay, #india, #paytm, #phonepe, #walmart

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India opens antitrust case against Google over its payments app

India’s antitrust watchdog has opened an investigation into Google for allegedly abusing the dominant position of its app store to promote its payments service in the world’s second largest internet market.

In its Monday announcement (PDF) about opening an antitrust case against Google, Indian watchdog Competition Commission of India said it would review claims whether Google “unfairly” skews the search results on the Play Store in favor of Google Pay app over others; prominently promotes Google Pay during the setup of an Android smartphone, and if Play Store’s billing system is designed “to the disadvantage of both i.e. apps facilitating payment through UPI, as well as users.”

The informant, who has not been identified, alleged that Google “rigs its feature app lists such as ‘Editor’s Choice Apps’, ‘User Choice Apps’ and ‘Top Free apps’ … demonstrating clear bias in favor of its own app; by manipulating the search advertisements algorithm on the Play Store in favour of Google Pay; and by pre-installing and prominently placing Google Pay on Android smartphones at the time of initial set-up resulting in a ‘status-quo bias’ to the detriment of other apps facilitating payments through UPI as well.”

If the allegation provided by the informant, who has not been identified, is found credible, Google’s practices could be in violation of various provisions of Section 4 of India’s Competition Act of 2002.

Google Pay, formerly known as Tez, is one of the most popular payments services in India. It competes with Walmart’s PhonePe, Paytm, and a range of other apps. As of last month, Walmart’s PhonePe was slightly ahead of Google Pay in India. Both the apps individually process roughly 40% of all transactions on UPI, a payments infrastructure built by large banks in the country. UPI is the most popular digital payments solution in India.

Google Play Store supports a range of payments methods, including credit cards, mobile wallets, internet banking, and UPI. But, as the informant alleges, “UPI based digital payment apps are more convenient, secured, economical, etc. over other digital payment solutions.” Based on such distinct features, the Indian watchdog said, “the Informant has averred that the market for apps facilitating payment through UPI is a separate relevant market as users do not regard apps facilitating payment through UPI as interchangeable or substitutable with other modes of digital payment.”

The new antitrust case is the latest headache for Google in India, its biggest market by users. In recent months, the dominant position of Android — which powers roughly 99% smartphones in the country, according to research firm Counterpoint, has also irked many startups in the country, who have formed an informal coalition to fight back the Android maker.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #google, #google-india, #google-pay, #government, #india, #paytm, #phonepe

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WhatsApp receives approval to expand its payments service in India

WhatsApp, which began testing its payments service in India with 1 million users in early 2018, can finally start to expand the feature to more users in the world’s second largest internet market.

National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), the body that operates the widely popular UPI payments infrastructure, said on Thursday evening that it has granted approval to WhatsApp to roll out UPI-powered payments in India.

Like Google, Samsung, and a number of other firms, WhatsApp has built its payments service atop UPI, a payments infrastructure built by a coalition of large banks in India. NPCI said WhatsApp, which has amassed over 400 million users in India, can expand payments to its users in a “graded manner” and to start with, it can only roll out the payments service to 20 million users and has to work with multiple banking partners.

A WhatsApp spokesperson in India did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Google and Walmart currently dominate the mobile payments market in India with roughly 40% of the UPI market share. UPI has emerged as the most popular digital payments method in India, thanks in part to New Delhi’s abrupt move to invalidate more than 85% of the paper cash circulation in the nation in late 2016.

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #google-pay, #india, #payments, #phonepe, #whatsapp

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Google and Walmart face growth hurdles as India caps payments transactions

Google and Walmart have a new challenge ahead of them as they race to expand the reach of their payments apps in India: They won’t be permitted to grow beyond a limit.

National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), the body that operates the widely popular UPI payments infrastructure, said Thursday evening that it will enforce a cap to ensure that no single payments app processes more than 30% of UPI transactions in a month.

The payments body said the move is aimed at addressing the “risks” and “protecting the UPI ecosystem as it further scales up.” The change goes into effect in January 2021.

UPI is a payments infrastructure built by large banks in India and is backed by the Indian government. It has become the most popular digital payments method in the country in recent years.

The cap of 30% will be calculated based on total volume of UPI transactions processed in the preceding three months, it added.

The move, described by an industry executive as the most absurd thing they have heard in months in India, will severely impact Google and Walmart, whose respective apps already process more than 35% of UPI transactions each.

In fact, Walmart’s PhonePe processed more than 40% of about 2 billion transactions on UPI network last month.

It remains unclear how any payments app will comply with this limit. Let’s say PhonePe or Google Pay has already processed about 650 million transactions in three weeks. Would it just switch off UPI payments on their app for the remainder of the month?

More to follow…

#apps, #asia, #google, #india, #payments, #paytm, #phonepe, #walmart

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Walmart’s PhonePe zips past Google Pay in India as UPI tops 2B monthly transactions

UPI, a four-year-old payments infrastructure built by India’s largest banks, surpassed 2 billion transactions last month, exactly a year after hitting the 1 billion monthly transactions milestone.

Driving the transactions for UPI — which has become the most popular digital payments method in India thanks to its open architecture that allows interoperability among all participating payments apps — are Walmart’s PhonePe, Google Pay, Paytm, and Amazon Pay.

But for the first time in more than a year, Google Pay did not drive the most volume of UPI transactions. PhonePe recorded 835 million UPI transactions in October, it said, while Google Pay hit about 820 million, according to people familiar with the matter.

Paytm recorded about 245 million transactions, while Amazon Pay settled with about 125 million, the people said.

In a statement, PhonePe confirmed that it assumed the “market leading position” with about 40% of all UPI transactions last month. Google and Paytm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TechCrunch could not determine how many unique monthly transacting users these payments firms have amassed in the country. In May, Google Pay had about 75 million transacting users, ahead of 60 million of PhonePe and 30 million of Paytm.

Unlike Google Pay, both Paytm and PhonePe also operate a wallet service. The wallet service is not powered by UPI. PhonePe said overall it processed 925 million transactions last month and had over 100 million monthly active users.

PhonePe has recently seen a surge in its transactions as more offline shops open and merchants and consumers opt for a digital alternative to complete transactions. The app has also added a range of financing services, including 600,000 insurance policies, it said.

“We are on a mission to make digital payments a way of life for every Indian citizen, and our next target is to cross 500 million registered users by Dec 2022. In line with our brand ethos of ‘Karte Ja. Badhte Ja,’ (Hindi for keep working and growing) we continue to launch new and innovative products for every strata of Indian society, as well as enable digital payment acceptance across every merchant in every village and town in India,” said Sameer Nigam, chief executive and founder of PhonePe, in a statement.

India’s mobile payments market is estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2023, according to Credit Suisse. More players are expected to join the race. WhatsApp, which has over 400 million users in India, started testing UPI payments on its app in 2018. It remains stuck in a regulatory maze, however, which has prevented it from rolling out WhatsApp Pay to most of its users in the country.

#amazon-pay, #apps, #asia, #flipkart, #google-pay, #india, #payments, #paytm, #phonepe, #walmart

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Thanks to Google, app store monopoly concerns have now reached India

Last week, as Epic Games, Facebook, and Microsoft continued to express concerns about Apple’s “monopolistic” hold over what a billion people can download on their iPhones, a similar story unfolded in India, the world’s second largest internet market, between a giant developer and the operator of the only other large mobile app store.

Google pulled Paytm, the app from India’s most valuable startup, off of the Play Store on Friday. The app returned to the store eight hours later, but the controversy and acrimony Google has stirred up in the country will linger for years.

TechCrunch reported on Friday that Google pulled Paytm app from its app store after a repeat pattern of violations of Google Play Store guidelines by the Indian firm.

Paytm, which is locked in a battle against Google to win India’s payments market, has been frustrated at Google’s policies — which it argues gives Google an unfair advantage — for several past quarters over how the Android-maker is limiting its marketing campaigns to acquire new users, sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The explanation provided by Google to Paytm for why it pulled the Indian firm’s app this week from its app store is the latest attempt by the company to thwart the Noida-headquartered firm’s ability to acquire new users, Paytm executives said.

In a blog post Paytm posted Sunday evening (local India time), the Indian firm said Google took issue with the company for giving customers cashbacks and scratch cards for initiating transactions over UPI, a government-backed payments infrastructure in India that has become the most popular way for people to exchange money digitally in the country.

Paytm said it rolled out this new version of scratch cards that are linked to cricket on September 11. Users collected these cricket-themed stickers for sending money to others, or making transactions such as topping up credit on their phone or paying their broadband or electricity bill.

In a statement on Sunday evening, a Google spokesperson said, “offering cashbacks and vouchers alone do not constitute a violation of our Google Play gambling policies” and that Play Store “policies are applied and enforced on all developers consistently.”

But it’s arguably anything but consistent.

On September 18, Google told Paytm that it had pulled its app for not complying with Play Store’s “gambling policy” as it offered games with “loyalty points.” Paytm said that Google had not expressed any concerns over Paytm’s new marketing campaign prior to its notice on Friday, in which it revealed that Paytm app had been temporarily removed from the Play Store.

But Google itself is running a similar campaign linked to cricket in India, Paytm argues. (Why cricket? Cricket is immensely popular in India and one of the biggest cricket tournaments globally, Indian Premier League, kicked off its latest season on Saturday.)

Cricket-themed cashback offered by Paytm (left) and Google Pay (right) in India

Google Play Store in India has long prohibited apps that promote gambling such as betting on sporting events, and Google has raised concerns about Paytm’s marquee app promoting Paytm First Games, a fantasy sports app run by Paytm, in the past.

Paytm executives argued that PhonePe, a Walmart-owned payments app in India, also promoted Dream11, the most popular fantasy sports app in the country, and got away without any action.

Google also permits fantasy sports app operators — including Paytm — to advertise on Search in India.

“This is bullshit of a different degree,” Paytm chief executive Vijay Shekhar Sharma said of Google’s objection to Paytm offering cashback in a televised interview Friday. The removal of Paytm app was only on the grounds of Paytm offering cricket-themed cashback, he claimed. “Google is not allowing us to acquire new customers right now. That’s all what this is,” he added.

Google’s payments app, Google Pay, competes with Paytm in India. In fact, Google Pay is the largest payments app for peer-to-peer transaction between users in India and holds the largest market share in UPI.

Without identifying any names, Sharma, the poster child of Indian startup ecosystem, claimed that many founders in India have just accepted that it is Google that has the final say on any matter in India — and not the country’s regulatory agencies.

For Google, which reaches more users than any other company in India and whose Android operating system commands 99% of the local smartphone market, this kind of accusation is exactly what it needs to avoid in the country. The Silicon Valley search and advertising giant has launched a charm offensive in India, including a recently commitment to invest $10 billion — more than any other American or Chinese technology firm.

The timing for Google’s parent company, Alphabet, couldn’t be worse. Google is currently the subject of an antitrust complaint in India over an allegation that it has abused its market position to unfairly promote its mobile payments app in the country; and in the U.S., Congress has intimidated that it may pursue antitrust regulatory action against Alphabet and Apple over app store concerns.

In India, Google’s moves could have a devastating impact on businesses and everyday consumers.

Paytm is not just a payments app. It is also a fully licensed digital bank. And just an eight-hour of absence from the Play Store created a panic among a portion of its users. A source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that Paytm saw several people withdraw their fixed deposit in Paytm Payments Bank on Friday.

Anecdotally, TechCrunch heard of instances where vendors who previously preferred Paytm for accepting money digitally asked their customers to use a different payments method as they had heard that Paytm was “banned” in India.

Sharma said Google’s monopoly on Indian app ecosystem is of a magnitude unparalleled elsewhere in the world.

“If paying someone and getting a cashback is gambling, then the same rule should be applied to everyone,” said Sharma. “It’s disgraceful that we are standing here at the cusp of an internet revolution in India and we are being sanctioned by companies that are not governed by the law of this country.”

If this sentiment gained traction in India it could create challenges for Google’s future in the world’s second largest internet market.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is forcing a Chinese company to sell stakes to local firms to continue operations in the country. In a recent episode of Dithering podcast, Ben Thompson cautioned that Trump administration’s move — which some have argued is a long due tit for tat against Chinese companies (as China has long prevented U.S. firms from meaningfully operating in the world’s largest  internet market) — might encourage other open markets to do to American firms what it is doing to TikTok.

Several U.S. tech executives share these concerns.

“I’ve said this before, but a US TikTok ban would be quite bad for Instagram, Facebook, and the internet more broadly,” Instagram chief executive Adam Mosseri tweeted earlier this week. “If you’re skeptical keep in mind that most of the people who use Instagram are outside the US, as is most of our potential growth. The long term costs of moods countries making aggressive demands and banning us over the next decade outweigh slowing down one competitor today.”

India, which Google, Facebook, and many other tech giants count as their biggest market by users, has made several proposals in the past three years — including mandates that foreign firms store payments information of users locally in India and companies help local enforcement agencies identify the originator of questionable messages circulating on their platforms — that are widely seen as protectionist moves.

And India is not even that open anymore. New Delhi has also banned more than 200 Chinese apps including TikTok, UC Browser, and PUBG Mobile citing cybersecurity concerns in recent months. India has not made public what those cybersecurity concerns are and in its orders acknowledged that users had expressed concerns.

Enough noise against a foreign firm might just be enough to face an avalanche of serious troubles in India.

#apps, #asia, #dream-sports, #dream11, #google, #google-play-store, #india, #paytm, #phonepe

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Google to offer loans to merchants in India

Google said on Thursday it plans to offer crediting feature to millions of merchants in India through its Google Pay app starting later this year as the American technology group looks to help small businesses in the country steer through the pandemic and also find a business model for its mobile payments service.

The company said it was working with financial institutions to offer loans to merchants from within Google Pay for Business app. The Google Pay’s business app, which the Android giant launched late last year, has already amassed 3 million merchants, it said.

Google’s announcement comes today as part of its effort to share its broader initiatives for small and micro-businesses in India. The company said Google My Business, an app it launched in India in the second half of 2017 to help mom and pop stores and other small merchants build online presence, has been used by more than 26 million businesses in the country to list themselves on Google search and Maps. India has about 60 million small and micro-sized businesses in the nation, according to government estimates.

“Every month we drive over 150 million direct connections between these businesses and customers including calls, online reservations and direction requests,” it said.

New Delhi ordered a nationwide lockdown in late March in a bid to control the spread of Covid-19. The move forced most businesses to suspend their operations. In recent weeks, the Indian government has moved to relax some of its restrictions and many stores have resumed their businesses.

Last year Google launched Spot feature in India that allows businesses to easily create their own branded commercial fronts that will be accessible to customers through Google Pay app.

In May, Google introduced Nearby Stores as a Spot feature on Google Pay app that allowed local businesses in select part of the country get discovered by customers in their neighborhood. The company said it is expanding this offering across India starting today.

Thursday’s announcement also outlines the grip Google has on small businesses in India, and how its scale — and resources — could pose additional challenges for scores of startups that are already attempting to serve businesses.

SoftBank -backed Paytm, Walmart’s PhonePe, and New Delhi-based BharatPe have in recent years onboarded millions of merchants and offer them a range of services including loans.

Paytm, which works with over 16 million merchants, earlier this year launched a range of gadgets, including a device that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and USB charger, a jukebox that provides voice confirmations of transactions and services to streamline inventory management for merchants.

For some of these players, Google’s increasingly growing interest in targeting merchants means they will be facing off the search giant on two fronts. TechCrunch reported earlier this month that Google Pay had about 75 million transacting users in India, more than any of its competitors. But Google Pay, and most other payments services in India are struggling to find a business model for their services.

Facebook, Google’s global rival, has courted more than 1 million merchants in India on its WhatsApp’s business app. WhatsApp, which is the most popular app in India, is informally used by countless of additional merchants in the country.

#android, #apps, #asia, #bharatpe, #flipkart, #google, #google-india, #india, #online-lending, #payments, #paytm, #phonepe, #softbank, #tc, #walmart

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Google and Walmart’s PhonePe establish dominance in India’s mobile payments market as WhatsApp Pay struggles to launch

In India, it’s Google and Walmart-owned PhonePe that are racing neck-and-neck to be the top player in the mobile payments market, while Facebook remains mired in a regulatory maze for WhatsApp Pay’s rollout.

In May, more than 75 million users transacted on Google Pay app, ahead of PhonePe’s 60 million users, and SoftBank -backed Paytm’s 30 million users, people familiar with the companies’ figures told TechCrunch.

Google still lags Paytm’s reach with merchants, but the Android -maker has maintained its overall lead in recent months despite every player losing momentum due to one of the most stringent lockdowns globally in place in India. Google declined to comment.

Paytm, once the dominant player in India, has been struggling to sustain its user base for nearly two years. The company had about 60 million transacting users in January last year, said people familiar with the matter.

Data sets consider transacting users to be those who have made at least one payment through the app in a month. It’s a coveted metric and is different from the much more popular monthly active users, or MAU, that various firms use to share their performance. A portion of those labeled as monthly active users do not make any transaction on the app.

India’s homegrown payment firm, Paytm, has struggled to grow in recent years in part because of a mandate by India’s central bank to mobile wallet firms — the middlemen between users and banks — to perform know-your-client (KYC) verification of users, which created confusion among many, some of the people said. These woes come despite the firm’s fundraising success, which amounts to more than $3 billion.

In a statement, a Paytm spokesperson said, “When it comes to mobile wallets one has to remember the fact that Paytm was the company that set up the infrastructure to do KYC and has been able to complete over 100 million KYCs by physically meeting customers.”

Paytm has long benefited from integration with popular services such as Uber, and food delivery startups Swiggy and Zomato, but fewer than 10 million of Paytm’s monthly transacting users have relied on this feature in recent months.

Two executives, who like everyone else spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution, also said that Paytm resisted the idea of adopting Unified Payments Interface. That’s the nearly two-year-old payments infrastructure built and backed by a collation of banks in India that enables money to be sent directly between accounts at different banks and eliminates the need for a separate mobile wallet.

Paytm’s delays in adopting the standard left room for Google and PhonePe, another early adopter of UPI, to seize the opportunity.

Paytm, which adopted UPI a year after Google and PhonePe, refuted the characterization that it resisted joining UPI ecosystem.

“We are the company that cherishes innovation and technology that can transform the lives of millions. We understand the importance of financial technology and for this very reason, we have always been the champion and supporter of UPI. We, however, launched it on Paytm later than our peers because it took a little longer for us to get the approval to start UPI based services,“ a spokesperson said.

A sign for Paytm online payment method, operated by One97 Communications Ltd., is displayed at a street stall selling accessories in Bengaluru, India, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Missing from the fray is Facebook, which counts India as its biggest market by user count. The company began talks with banks to enter India’s mobile payments market, estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2023 (according to Credit Suisse), through WhatsApp as early as 2017. WhatsApp is the most popular smartphone app in India with over 400 million users in the country.

Facebook launched WhatsApp Pay to a million users in the following year, but has been locked in a regulatory battle since to expand the payments service to the rest of its users. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said WhatsApp Pay would roll out nationwide by end of last year, but the firm is yet to secure all approvals — and new challenges keep cropping up. WhatsApp declined to comment.

PhonePe, which was conceived only a year before WhatsApp set eyes to India’s mobile payments, has consistently grown as it added several third-party services. These include leading food and grocery delivery services Swiggy and Grofers, ride-hailing giant Ola, ticketing and staying players Ixigo and Oyo Hotels, in a so-called super app strategy. In November, about 63 million users were active on PhonePe, 45 million of whom transacted through the app.

Karthik Raghupathy, the head of business at PhonePe, confirmed the company’s transacting users to TechCrunch.

Three factors contributed to the growth of PhonePe, he said in an interview. “The rise of smartphones and mobile data adoption in recent years; early adoption to UPI at a time when most mobile payments firms in India were betting on virtual mobile-wallet model; and taking an open-ecosystem approach,” he said.

“We opened our consumer base to all our merchant partners very early on. Our philosophy was that we would not enter categories such as online ticketing for movies and travel, and instead work with market leaders on those fronts,” he explained.

“We also went to the market with a completely open, interoperable QR code that enabled merchants and businesses to use just one QR code to accept payments from any app — not just ours. Prior to this, you would see a neighborhood store maintain several QR codes to support a number of payment apps. Over the years, our approach has become the industry norm,” he said, adding that PhonePe has been similarly open to other wallets and payments options as well.

But despite the growth and its open approach, PhonePe has still struggled to win the confidence of investors in recent quarters. Stoking investors’ fears is the lack of a clear business model for mobile payments firms in India.

PhonePe executives held talks to raise capital last year that would have valued it at $8 billion, but the negotiations fell apart. Similar talks early this year, which would have valued PhonePe at $3 billion, which hasn’t been previously reported, also fell apart, three people familiar with the matter said. Raghupathy and a PhonePe spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s fundraising plans.

For now, Walmart has agreed to continue to bankroll the payments app, which became part of the retail group with Flipkart acquisition in 2018.

As UPI gained inroads in the market, banks have done away with any promotional incentives to mobile payments players, one of their only revenue sources.

At an event in Bangalore late last year, Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head of Google Pay and Next Billion User Initiatives, said current local rules have forced Google Pay to operate without a clear business model in India.

Coronavirus takes its toll on payments companies

The coronavirus pandemic that prompted New Delhi to order a nationwide lockdown in late March preceded a significant, but predictable, drop in mobile payments usage in the following weeks. But while Paytm continues to struggle in bouncing back, PhonePe and Google Pay have fully recovered as India eased some restrictions.

About 120 million UPI transactions occurred on Paytm in the month of May, down from 127 million in April and 186 million in March, according to data compiled by NPCI, the body that oversees UPI, and obtained by TechCrunch. (Paytm maintains a mobile wallet business, which contributes to its overall transacting users.)

Google Pay, which only supports UPI payments, facilitated 540 million transactions in May, up from 434 million in April and 515 million in March. PhonePe’s 454 million March figure slid to 368 million in April, but it turned the corner, with 460 million transactions last month. An NPCI spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

PhonePe and Google Pay together accounted for about 83% of all UPI transactions in India last month.

Industry executives working at rival firms said it would be a mistake to dismiss Paytm, the one-time leader of the mobile payments market in India.

Paytm has cut its marketing expenses and aggressively chased merchants in recent quarters. Earlier this year, it unveiled a range of gadgets, including a device that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and USB charger, a jukebox that provides voice confirmations of transactions and services to streamline inventory management for merchants.

Merchants who use these devices pay a recurring fee to Paytm, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of the firm told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year. Paytm has also entered several businesses, such as movie and travel ticketing, lending, games and e-commerce, and set up a digital payments bank over the years.

“Everyone knows Paytm. Paytm is synonymous with digital payments in India. And outside, there’s a perceived notion that it’s truly the Alipay of India,” an executive at a rival firm said.

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India’s Khatabook raises $60 million to help merchants digitize bookkeeping and accept payments online

Khatabook, a startup that is helping small businesses in India record financial transactions digitally and accept payments online with an app, has raised $60 million in a new financing round as it looks to gain more ground in the world’s second most populous nation.

The new financing round, Series B, was led by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital. A range of other new and existing investors, including Sequoia India, Partners of DST Global, Tencent, GGV Capital, RTP Global, Hummingbird Ventures, Falcon Edge Capital, Rocketship.vc and Unilever Ventures, also participated in the round, as did Facebook’s Kevin Weil, Calm’s Alexander Will, CRED’s Kunal Shah and Snapdeal co-founders Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal.

The one-and-a-half-year-old startup, which closed its Series A financing round in October last year and has raised $87 million to date, is now valued between $275 million to $300 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

Hundreds of millions of Indians came online in the last decade, but most merchants — think of neighborhood stores — are still offline in the country. They continue to rely on long notebooks to keep a log of their financial transactions. The process is also time-consuming and prone to errors, which could result in substantial losses.

Khatabook, as well as a handful of young and established players in the country, is attempting to change that by using apps to allow merchants to digitize their bookkeeping and also accept payments.

Today more than 8 million merchants from over 700 districts actively use Khatabook, its co-founder and chief executive Ravish Naresh told TechCrunch in an interview.

“We spent most of last year growing our user base,” said Naresh. And that bet has worked for Khatabook, which today competes with Lightspeed -backed OkCredit, Ribbit Capital-backed BharatPe, Walmart’s PhonePe and Paytm, all of which have raised more money than Khatabook.

khatabook team

The Khatabook team poses for a picture (Khatabook)

According to mobile insight firm AppAnnie, Khatabook had more than 910,000 daily active users as of earlier this month, ahead of Paytm’s merchant app, which is used each day by about 520,000 users, OkCredit with 352,000 users, PhonePe with 231,000 users and BharatPe, with some 120,000 users.

All of these firms have seen a decline in their daily active users base in recent months as India enforced a stay-at-home order for all its citizens and shut most stores and public places. But most of the aforementioned firms have only seen about 10-20% decline in their usage, according to AppAnnie.

Because most of Khatabook’s merchants stay in smaller cities and towns that are away from large cities and operate in grocery stores or work in agritech — areas that are exempted from New Delhi’s stay-at-home orders, they have been less impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, said Naresh.

Naresh declined to comment on AppAnnie’s data, but said merchants on the platform were adding $200 million worth of transactions on the Khatabook app each day.

In a statement, Kabir Narang, a general partner at B Capital who also co-heads the firm’s Asia business, said, “we expect the number of digitally sophisticated MSMEs to double over the next three to five years. Small and medium-sized businesses will drive the Indian economy in the era of COVID-19 and they need digital tools to make their businesses efficient and to grow.”

Khatabook will deploy the new capital to expand the size of its technology team as it looks to build more products. One such product could be online lending for these merchants, Naresh said, with some others exploring to solve other challenges these small businesses face.

Amit Jain, former head of Uber in India and now a partner at Sequoia Capital, said more than 50% of these small businesses are yet to get online. According to government data, there are more than 60 million small and micro-sized businesses in India.

India’s payments market could reach $1 trillion by 2023, according to a report by Credit Suisse .

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