Post-Demonetization E-Payment Trends
Developing a solid foundation for electronic payment systems is an integral part of ICT-driven development for any country. Compared to cash, e-payment transactions offer the advantages of portability, security, and convenience. For interpersonal transactions, e-payments enable instantaneous exchanges of funds without requiring large sums of physical currency to be carried around and exchanged. E-payments also allow money to be sent rapidly to any recipient regardless of location, eliminating the time cost of making transactions over distance. Integrated e-payment systems are vital to the functioning of any ICT platform whose services require payment, especially those based on mobile technology. Finally, e-payments are more visible than cash transactions, reducing the corrupting influence of black money, widening the tax base, improving data on spending and consumption, and aiding in the formalization of large sectors of the economy.
India has long been a cash-based economy, but in recent years, the country has been in the process of transitioning towards a cashless society, In November 2016, this transition was accelerated when 87% of the country’s paper currency by value was demonetized. The macroeconomic merits of demonetization remain up for debate, but the policy shock did provide India a golden opportunity to replace legacy systems with ones that could interface with new IT platforms and the country’s national ID database, Aadhaar. Although digital payment remains relatively infrequent for now, total digital payments are expected to reach USD 500 billion by 2020, ten times the level in 2016. Government has encouraged this transition by linking public transactions such as Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) to e-payment services through Aadhaar.
Numerous modes of digital payment are now available to Indian consumers, but some have been more successful than others. Demonetization additionally played a heavy role in influencing which payment systems have been adopted for which purposes. For example, while mobile wallets were popular in the months and years preceding demonetization, Unified Payments Interface (UPI) based systems have since become more prevalent, largely thanks to the convenience of being able to skip the intermediate step of adding money to a specific account in favor of sending money directly to recipients via one’s own bank account. UPI transactions increased threefold in the year following demonetization, representing the largest segment of the country’s digital payment growth. As smartphones continue growing in popularity and data usage continues to increase, India’s digital payment market is expected to reach over 1 trillion USD by 2023.
However, specific interventions and investments are required for the information economy to penetrate rural areas. Initiatives such as the ICICI Digital Villages Program provide training and support for rural Indians to enter the digital financial ecosystem, offering assistance in opening paperless accounts, introducing SMS services for fund transfers and balance inquiries, and developing native cashless payment systems for direct deposit. Infrastructure investments are also required to make digital payments feasible for those in remote and poorly connected areas. Such efforts are necessary if ICT-driven development is to sustain India’s economic growth in a fashion inclusive for all of India’s citizens.
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Keywords: demonetization, UPI, Aadhar, formal economy, digitization, Digital Villages