How to usher payment revolution for millions without a smartphone

Asia's Tech News Daily

smartphone, digital payments, npci, snapchat, siri, alexa, upi, fastag, voice

The heart of India doesn’t beat to the tunes of a glitzy edgy smartphone. Away from the world of an instant dopamine hit, Instagram hashtags and Snapchat filters, the true heart of the nation is still connected by the evergreen, reliable and enduring feature phones. Yes, the same compact devices that can go on for days with a single charge and can be afforded easily, without having to necessarily avail EMIs or burn a hole in one’s pocket. Thus, it hardly comes as a surprise when the next wave of mobile payments in India has set its eyes on the segment of users loyal to feature phones.

Voice: The next big disruption

In one of her famous songs, the nightingale of India, Lata Mangeshkar, crooned, “My voice is my only identity”. If only she knew that she would be foretelling the future of the mobile payments’ revolution in India.

The new tides of the current times seem to be favourably disposed towards the emergence of voice-based technology for payments. The revolution that was started by the voice-based smart assistants like Siri and Alexa, is now touted to be the chief enabler for the feature phone segment to come aboard the digital payments bandwagon.

Financial inclusion for the rural segment has been on the agenda of the private and public stakeholders. While the segment, where the feature phones predominate, have access to several payment alternatives like AEPS, Solar ATM, and SMS, having access to voice-based commands to complete payments holds the key for a revolutionary financial inclusion.

After strengthening the digital payments infrastructure with UPI, AEPS, and Fastag, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) has now turned to test the voice-based systems for payments via feature phones, especially in areas where mobile internet coverage is still a challenge.

In their bid to enable financial inclusion in the hinterlands of India simply through voice-based commands, the NPCI is not left on its own. Companies like ToneTag are also furthering the field by utilising encrypted sound waves to enable proximity-based contactless payments. Other players in the ecosystem are also coming up with newer solutions to ensure a secured, voice-enabled ecosystem that is accessible to one and all. For instance, Paytm has taken digital transactions to a three-step authentication process for SoundBox. A payment credited is now heard loud and clear by all the parties involved, regardless of confirmation receipts with SMS, part of the 2-factor authentication process.

The emergence of voice-based digital activity is set to level the playing field, where digital awareness and literacy wouldn’t be the gatekeepers to the burgeoning world of online payments. Furthermore, the growing popularity of internet-enabled feature phones such as JioPhone is only set to enable the reach of digital payments to the feature phone segment.

The road ahead

The writing on the wall is clear. Feature phones are going to remain a constant companion of smartphones. While its loyal user-base in India’s hinterlands shows no signs of dwindling, there is a growing section of users going back to feature phones, be it for a digital detox or trying to create a safe environment for the kids at home, tucking them away from objectionable YouTube streaming and jarring mobile games.

Thus, voice-based digital payments are going to be a chief enabler for the economy, furthering India’s financial inclusion and enhancing the existing security standards. For this shift to reach its full potential, the emerging players in the financial payments landscape need to design API Stack, keeping in mind India’s digital divide. In addition to offering ease and security, the new and emerging solutions must also be robust to cushion a billion people.

(The writer is the founder and CEO of FidyPay)

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