Monday, August 17, 2009

Card acceptance infrastructure in India: A perspective

I have been scouting Bangalore for innovations in the payments industry. Bangalore is as good a place as any in India to deploy new offerings. The economy is vibrant, consumers willing to try new things, retail space is hyper-competitive with enough investments coming in...

Let me first take a step back and frame the merchant payments space (to help provide context). Retail payments are characterized by:
  • It is customary to see a retailer have card acceptance devices from multiple acquirers. Depending on the card provided by the consumer for payment, the retailer decides to run the card thru' the acceptance device that provides him the most favorable terms (which typically results in an 'On-Us' transaction)
  • Though there are third-party acquirers (e.g., Venture Infotek), leading card issuers are also acquirers (e.g., ICICI, Citi, HDFC...)
  • Smaller retailers will charge a fee of about 2% (surcharge) for purchases paid using payment cards. Some of these retailers may also share their POS terminal. They will run the card transaction thru' the neighboring retailer's terminal!
  • Benefits of India's cash economy (by some estimates, about 50% of India's economy) handily overcomes cash-handling costs borne by the merchant
  • As multiple acceptance devices are the norm at retailers, deploying new payment products is not as much of a challenge as you do not have to displace incumbents.
  • Over 70% of sales are cash-based (based on my informal spot surveys; will update this blog when I am better figures and support links)
Quite a few of the high-end retailers accept chip-n-PIN (EMV) cards, though very few card issuers in India have deployed chip-n-PIN cards. This is primarily to cater to tourists and visiting Indian diaspora (high-end high-margin clientele). Indian card issuers seem to have bought time till 2011, by which time they are expected to have rolled out EMV cards. I am keeping my fingers crossed regarding this target date.

It was a pleasant surprise to see PayPass readers at retailers. However, the excitement was tempered after finding out that the deployments were part of a trial. I hope that commercial deployments follow (both by card issuers and acquirers).

[Updated Aug 20 '09] First Data is continuing to push into India, first with their relationship with Kotak Mahindra (link), and next with their association with Yes Bank (link). First Data also offers a payment gateway (Merchant Solutons), in association with Standard Chartered Bank.

While I started off the post talking about Bangalore, I would like it to end talking about Delhi. As you might be aware, Delhi is having a coming-out party of sorts next year. It is hosting the Commonwealth Games 2010. Watch out for unveiling of new payment products next year around this event.

If you are interested in following trends in the Indian Payments industry, this is the conference for you (Digital Payment Conference, Mumbai, Aug 21 2009)

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