🇮🇳’s ePayments Kohinoor – BHIM, Different Eras, Same Story.

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‘If a strong man were to throw four stones, one to each of the cardinal points, North, South, East, and West, and a fifth stone vertically, and if space between were to be filled with gold and precious stones, they would not equal in value the Koh­-i-­Noor’, goes India’s oral lore.

Koh-i-noor before 1852 - Koh-i-Noor Diamond

“Right now, business happens by the way of [currency] notes and coins. That day is not far when all business transactions will be conducted through the BHIM app,” said our Prime Minister in 2016, 167 years after the hen’s egg-sized, Koh-i-Noor was usurped by the British.

This time India was giving herself a second Koh-i-Noor, constructed digitally, a 16-megabyte app named BHIM, both a tribute to India’s Father of the Constitution and also a wise acronym for, Bharat Interface for Money.

Within thirty-six months of being launched, at 1.1%, BHIM’s market share kisses the X-axis of UPI’s periodic progress graphs, whereas GooglePay, Google’s Yamato-class payments battleship builds its position with a disturbing 60% market share of UPI.

Two Koh-i-Noor’s, different eras, identical story, usurped, yet again.

India lost BHIM’s Koh-i-Noor for two reasons:

A. Primarily, Google’s dominant, abusive monopolistic market power in India, and

B. NPCI’s stretched competencies, capacity, and needing immediate reinforcements, its capability to run a consumer software product, India’s BHIM.

A. Google: D̶o̶n̶’̶t̶ ̶b̶e̶ ̶E̶v̶i̶l̶

Trivia: Sheer coincidence, Nine months of launching GooglePay in India, Google removed the two-decade-old uber-chic, ultra inspirational, PR Gold, “Don’t Be Evil” from its code of conduct.

GooglePay leveraged Google India’s distribution monopoly and chugged in its scratch cards-cashback gravy train to usurp BHIM’s Koh-i-Noor. Let me explain,

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1. Google’s 95% 🇮🇳 Mobile Operating System Monopoly

Google rules India’s mobile OS with its Android, holding a naked ~95% market share.

This means 95% of phones in India are shipped with Android, crammed with Google’s “Core-Apps, Google Apps which can be stopped, but cannot be uninstalled”, as well as Google’s Play Store, and Google Play Services.

Consumers and merchants would do well recalling Eagles 1977 hit-single, Hotel California, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!”.

When consumers search for UPI or payments, European history-sheeter at “abusing search engine dominance”, Google ranks its own services ahead of competitors. 

Google decides what shows up. Search for BHIM, you’ll see a Google Pay advertisement, paid by parent Google, placed millimeters apart, flouting all s̶o̶c̶i̶a̶l̶ search-distancing norms. Simple-nuclear-power.

Some tech stuff, Google Pay API is tightly bound with Google Play Services.

Essentially UPI is contained in GooglePay, which is bound in GooglePlay Services, which is housed in every in Android, sitting on 95% Indian mobile phones. If this does not translate into the dominant market power of Google Pay, what does?

2. “Rewards that are endlessly rewarding”

Google is a cash-rich, monstrous $35 Billion annual net profit-generating, search giant, don’t be misled by their carefully crafted to divert world’s attention from their monopoly position in ‘search’, the Alphabet soup of loss-making, moonshots like Calico, DeepMind, Jigsaw, Loon, Makani, Sidewalk, Verily, Waymo, Wing, and X.

Google ensures, more than adequate cash gets sprayed through scratch cards, on India’s couldn’t-be-happier, cashback-addicted consumers, further gluing its position to the usurped UPI throne.

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Publication Entrackr reported how Google India receives and funds GooglePay’s cash backs.

  • Google India Digital Services Private Limited (GIDS) operates Google Pay.

  • Google Asia Pacific (GAP) reimbursed GIDS entirely, in 2019, 92% (i.e Rs 1028.83 crore) came in the form of reimbursements for cash rewards

Google Play used an evil trinity of monopoly distribution, GooglePay binding with PlayServices, and cashback gravy to usurp BHIM’s Koh-i-Noor!

B. Stretched NPCI

BHIM has everything, minimalist design, secure and efficient, it is produced by RBI incubated and majority government-owned NPCI, the app was designed and delivered by India’s quietest, but sharpest payments engineering house, JusPay. BHIM is one of the good products produced by any Government-owned entity.

Yet, every month volumes on UPI scale greater heights and BHIM consistently hits newer lows. Fintech influencers, celebrate UPI success, with apathy towards BHIM.

NPCI is India’s sole payments and settlement systems operator, it runs India’s alphabet soup of payment systems IMPS, FastTag, Bharat BillPay, Bharat QR, and others. NPCI also manages India’s answer to Visa-Master, the Rupay card scheme, and the BHIM app.

When a newspaper questioned the falling market share of BHIM, NPCI, retorted with an indecipherable mumbo-jumbo, “the intent of creating the BHIM app was to enable program partners to use this as a starter app to become UPI compatible and allow their customers the convenience of using the UPI platform.”

NPCI’s sour-grapes statement contradicts both the ‘letter and spirit’ of what our Prime Minister said when dedicating BHIM to the nation, “Right now, business happens by the way of [currency] notes and coins. That day is not far when all business transactions will be conducted through the BHIM app,”

Prime Minister was clear, so why is NPCI unable to deliver the promise?

NPCI is clearly multi tasking with payment system protocols, software engineering, product management, payments regulation, policy making, marketing. NPCI competencies, capacity, and capabilities are stretched beyond the tethering point.

NPCI now wants to export UPI to other nations, who said something about charity beginning at home, maybe a little care and ❤️ for BHIM ?

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Restoring BHIM’s Koh-i-Noor

BHIM has everything that takes to be a typical Unicorn, a huge addressable market opportunity, great traction, (once-upon-a-time) great user engagement metrics, a high-recall brand resonating perfectly with Indians, and a not-so-distant future, of switching on monetization via the classic, cross-selling and up-selling of other financial products and services.

If PhonePe and Paytm can command multi-billion dollar valuations, so must BHIM!

India needs to house BHIM, a consumer software application in a new entity or special purpose vehicle, BHIM’s valuable team needs to be fortified with resources, both monetary and human, a pool of cross-functional talent made of engineers, designers, product managers, sales, and partnerships folks to fight and restore its, Koh-i-Noor.

As a payments system operator, NPCI must immediately, check and stop Google Pay’s rampant abusive leveraging of Google’s operating system monopoly, product binding, and, limit the marketing promotions.

We can restore BHIM’s lost “Koh-i-Noor”, the mountain of light.

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Vibhu Arya
Vibhu has previously worked in India, Middle East, South East Asia, and China across banking, e-commerce, fintech, varied payment types, remittances, and blockchain.
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