The digital payments ecosystem is engaged in an all-out Twitter war after Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma cooked up a storm by accusing WhatsApp of flouting rules of level playing field and NPCI abetting it in doing so.
Over 200 million WhatsApp users in India are welcoming UPI integration on the popular messaging app. But the digital payments ecosystem is engaged in an all-out Twitter war after Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma cooked up a storm by accusing WhatsApp of flouting rules of level playing field and NPCI abetting it in doing so.
NPCI or the National Payments Corporation of India is the nodal body for all UPI payments, which is a platform to send money to peers’ and merchants’ accounts directly from the sender’s bank account. The feature is deemed much more useful than mobile wallets, where one has to repeatedly top up the wallet using debit or credit card.
“After failing to win war against India’s open Internet with cheap tricks of free basics, Facebook is again in play. Killing beautiful open UPI system with its custom close garden implementation. I am surprised, champions of open @India_Stack, let it happen!” Sharma tweeted.
A Paytm competitor Mobikwik, on the other hand, is unperturbed by WhatsApp’s entry in the segment. Bipin Preet Singh, co-founder and CEO of MobiKwik feels criticism against WhatsApp is on unreasonable grounds. “What is really there to oppose! WhatsApp’s UPI integration will in fact do well in expanding the entire digital payments ecosystem. The consumer is benefiting, there is enough competition already, so then what is the contention with WhatsApp specifically!”
Interestingly, WhatsApp isn’t the first messenger app to integrate UPI. Kavin Bharti Mittal-led Hike Messenger and Paytm itself allows users to send money to their friends instantly, peer-to-peer transaction in specific terms.
“Everyone with a smartphone has access to WhatsApp. It has emerged as the favoured Instant Messenger for 200 million Indians. With its new UPI-based payment offering, it will surely emerge as a disruptor in the payments space. It has a simple UI which is convenient for Indian audience. WhatsApp's massive user base could give the biggest boost to the adoption of UPI,” Jitendra Gupta, Managing Director of PayU India, said.
Mobikwik’s Singh also tweeted a rebuttal to Paytm’s accusations, saying “All incumbents complaining about WhatsApp getting unfair advantage in its UPI implementation to further its business interests — Those who live in glass houses ... there is clear record of private companies who got access first and exclusively when UPI was launched.”
“Those complaining about WhatsApp are the same folks who refuse to entertain neutral payment options (like@Mobikwik)on their own ecommerce websites/apps and instead promote only captive wallets. A standard of interoperability should include wallet acceptance as well,” he added.
Freecharge co-founder and ex-CEO Kunal Shah also voiced Singh’s line: “All companies threatened by WhatsApp payments are going to tag it as anti-national and try to pull it down as it is hard to win on merit against network effects of WhatsApp.”
Sharma’s remarks on WhatsApp’s UPI roll out came days after the Facebook-owned company began rolling out the payment feature in India. “Paytm has emerged winner amongst several other mobile wallet startups till now and has continued its bull run unopposed till now. WhatsApp is also said to be talking to a few brands for merchant payments. Maybe that is the real threat Paytm is responding to,” a prominent investor based in Bangalore said on conditions of anonymity.
What has also got Paytm worried is WhatsApp’s simplified user interface, since the company has left out several specs mandated by the NPCI. That is one of the contentions Paytm has. Interestingly, in the standoff between ICICI and Flipkart-backed PhonePe in January last year, NPCI had ordered the app to comply with the regulator’s mandate of full interoperability on UPI.
Singh of Mobikwik, however, says that WhatApp is a tech-based messaging app, “and they are using what suits their user case best. They are not an out-and-out payments company to mandate implementation of all features.”
A user on WhatsApp can only send money to others on WhatsApp who have activated the UPI payments feature. The company has also simplified the virtual payment address by using the sender’s phone number, instead of arbitrary numerical addressed used by other payment services. WhatsApp users, much like Ola and Uber users don’t have to log-in separately each time either. WhatsApp has also left out the QR scan feature for payments and doesn’t allow users to request money as other UPI-powered payment apps do.
Sharma of Paytm has contended that lack of a login makes WhatsApp payments a security risk. He also questioned the fact that WhatsApp was allowed to start a pilot with lakhs of customers, while it should have been with 5,000-10,000 customers.“India is an open capitalist country. I cannot just cry foul over global companies grabbing market. One has to win through merit,” Singh of Mobikwik said.