India takes a leaf out of China's book on mobile pay

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NEW DELI, May 11 (Xinhua) -- With arms wide open, Sugreev Singh was pouring tea back and forth between two pots. The brownish milky fluid drew a smooth arch in the air as it ran from one pot to the other.

Singh, a "chai wala" or tea seller, was performing alone in a stall in New Deli, capital of India. Business was good, but he rarely had to stop to collect money. Most customers just scanned a code on the stall and transferred money with their mobile phones.

Less than a year ago, Singh, like most Indians, knew nothing about mobile payment.

What is less known is that India's leapfrog from cash to mobile payment, skipping debit and credit cards, was made possible through cooperation with China's e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Now more than 200 million Indians, most of whom don't even have a bank account, are paying with their mobile phones.


In early 2016, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of Indian e-commerce company PayTM, or Pay Through Mobile, had an eye-opening trip to China.

Strolling on the streets of Hangzhou, east China, Sharma was surprised to see QR codes everywhere. A QR code is a cryptic matrix of barcodes that contain scannable information.

Sharma saw almost every shop, vendor or parlor had a QR code printed on a slip of paper. People, many of whom walk around without any cash or credit card, are so used to paying by scanning the code with a mobile phone.

At the moment, PayTM hit a bottleneck in rolling out digital payment in India as they had to provide business owners with costly machines to collect money. Sharma and his engineers had never thought that a code on a piece of paper could do the trick.

Sharma then copied this business mode to India with the help of PayTM's business partner Ant Financial, a subsidiary of Alibaba, whose Alipay is one of the most popular mobile wallets in China.

Sharma wouldn't have expected that the cooperation put him in the best place to benefit most from India's upcoming financial reform.

In November, the Indian government decided to scrap 500 and 1,000 rupee banknotes, removing four-fifths of the country's paper money. The move was designed to curb corruption. But it had the side effect of catapulting India's transition to digital payment, such as mobile wallets.

"We happened to have the technology, the talents and the money" when the policy came out, Sharma said. The number of PayTM's users exploded, ranking it as the top mobile wallet in India and among the top four in the world.

As more Chinese high-tech companies become globally known and respected, they are gaining followers throughout the world, especially in developing countries who import their business modes and technologies to copy their success in local markets.

Before, some say China copy from Silicon. Now Silicon is learning from China, especially Chinese mobile Internet technologies, Sharma said.


In the 13th century, Marco Polo was impressed by the use of paper money in China and brought the idea to Europe. More than 700 years later, Sharma was amazed by the extensive use of mobile wallet in China and copied the business to India.

The mobile wallet Sharma brought back cushioned the impact of India's cash ban on the economy. More importantly, it provided much needed financial service to millions of Indian people. India has 1.3 billion people but only 24.51 million credit cards and 661.8 million debit cards.

Insufficient financial service is not a problem unique to India but a common issue in developing countries.

Ant Financial is trying to bring their success in India to other developing countries. It has reached agreement on cooperation with leading digital payment companies in Thailand and the Philippines.

By promoting digital payment, Ant Financial is paving way for an online silk road where people can easily order and pay for products and services from not only the local market but also other parts of the world, said Jia Hang, a director of Ant Financial's international branch.

The driving force of Ant Financial's operation overseas is its leading technologies. The company aims at bringing cutting-edge digital payment technologies to India, Thailand, the Philippines and other countries, CEO of Ant Financial Jing Xiandong said.

In the past few years, China has emerged as the world's largest e-commerce market with annual transactions amounting to more than 20 trillion yuan (2.9 trillion U.S. dollars). The sheer scale and unprecedented complexity of transactions forced Chinese digital payment companies to innovate and improve at a breathtaking pace.

As a result, Chinese companies developed some of the most reliable technologies in risk control, cheat-proof and anti-money laundering systems for digital payment, saving years of research and development for local partners, Jia said.

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