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Bharti takes the initiative on Digital India with Airtel Payments Bank

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The major new initiative to bring mobile banking to the whole of India is backed by around $440 million of investment and government endorsement.

The big unveiling was led by Union Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitley and has already both a million merchants, including a quarter of a million banking points in Airtel retail stores, and a million customers. This seems to solely be a deposit, as opposed to lending bank and has not capacity to offer loans. Bharti Airtel is currently India’s biggest mobile operator, with almost a quarter of a billion subscribers but is under severe pressure from new entrant Jio and needs to innovate.

This is much more than a knee-jerk response to the Jio threat. Banking Tech reports that the scheme was first unveiled in the middle of last year and it has the apparent backing of the Indian government, which is on a crusade to move the country’s many millions of impoverished rural people into the digital age, with all the theoretical self-empowerment that comes with it.

“With Airtel Payments Bank, we are starting another important chapter in our journey, with the potential to truly transform lives and contribute to financial inclusion in the country” said Bharti Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal. “Just like mobile telephony leapfrogged traditional telecom networks to take affordable telecom services deep into the country, Airtel Payments Bank aims to take digital banking services to the unbanked over their mobile phones in a quick and efficient manner. Millions of Indians in rural areas will get their first formal banking experience with Airtel Payments Bank.

“We are fully committed to the Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s call to build a Digital India and lay a strong foundation for India’s transition to a cashless economy. Airtel Payments Bank will invest towards building a vast digital payments ecosystem with millions of merchants, and allow customers to make convenient cashless payments for good and services with their mobile phones.”

The move to a cashless economy has not come without its issues. Late last year the Indian government thought it would be a bright idea to remove majority of all paper currency from circulation, then seemed to be surprised when this caused some problems in a country that runs almost entirely on cash.

The stated reasons for this were things like tackling counterfeiting, the black market and forcing people to digitize. The fact that digital commerce is a lot easier to tax than cash is a complete coincidence and as much of a surprise to the Indian government as anyone.

Mobile banking has been touted for years as a way of empowering individuals in underdeveloped regions such as Africa, but it hasn’t grown as quickly as many expected it to. This initiative could buck the trend, however, as it is within the confines of one country and furthermore one in which the mobile market is in the middle of an exponential growth phase.


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With Amazon and Google launching smart home initiatives, have the telcos missed out on their chance to cash in on this market?

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