BharatQR, Another Payment Option?

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It’s another day and yet another payment option/technology was launched in India. The newest one to the party is called BharatQR, it’s being launched by the Government of India. BharatQR is like Paytm except instead of using e-wallets, you just need a bank account. It’s pretty clear the Indian government is hell bent on getting most people to transact online. With the explosive growth of Paytm, I’m guessing the government decided it needed it’s own QR-code offering.

I think this is a great move but I think the average user will be even more confused now. Below is a list of electronic payment options that I have compiled in alphabetical order:

  1. Aadhar Enabled Payment Service (AEPS)
  2. BharatQR
  3. BHIM
  4. Apple Pay and Android Pay (coming soon…)
  5. Credit/debit card
  6. E-wallets – Paytm, Mobikwik, etc…
  7. IMPS
  8. NEFT
  9. RTGS
  10. RuPay
  11. UPI

Yeah, even the most tech savvy person would get confused. I think the government should just wrap AEPS, BharatQR and BHIM into a single app and make that the defacto standard.

10 Years of the Mumbai Marathon

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Yup, the first Mumbai Marathon I ran was in 2006. Back then it was really easy to register for a running bib and probably under 5,000 people ran the half-marathon. Now it’s tough to register and they have capped the number of runners at some 25,000 for the half-marathon. When I used to train 11 years ago, the streets were empty and people would look at me like I was some crazy person. Today, if you don’t pay attention you might “run” into another runner on a Saturday or Sunday morning run. It’s great to see the whole city get involved in the race and especially all the people who come out to cheer on Pedder Road and Marine Drive.

Below are my finishing times for the 10 years I’ve been running the Mumbai Marathon.

1. 2006 – 2:16
2007 – did not participate (some wedding, I think mine!)
2. 2008 – 2:16
3. 2009 – 2:07
2010 – got sick
4. 2011 – 2:01:26
5. 2012 – 1:57:01
6. 2013 – 2:02:59
7. 2014 – 2:08:37
8. 2015 – 2:04:18
9.  2016 – 1:58:31
10. 2017 – 2:08:47

Picture from the first Mumbai Marathon I ran in 2006.

Modi Marches On

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We live in an era of limited attention span, super short news cycles and the upcoming President of the US who uses Twitter and it’s 140 characters to talk. When PM Modi announced on November 8th that all Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes would stop being legal tender as of midnight that day, it was like an earthquake and here we are almost 46 days later still talking about it.

The demonetization topic has come up at almost every party or business meeting I have attended and it’s been great to hear the pros and cons of PM Modi’s actions. First, I think we Indians can adapt to any damn thing and this exercise clearly shows that. People that had stacks and stacks of black money figured out ways to deposit their money into the banks. It remains to be seen if they will be able to get their money back or how much of a penalty they will have to pay. On the other hand, the middle class waited patiently to deposit their money and waited even more patiently to get the new currency notes.

The poor ended up being pawns in a political game where the opposition party said the poor were suffering the most. Actually, the poor have been suffering long before demonetization. The per capita income in India is about $1,500…not per week or month that’s per year. The Chief Minister (think Governor of a US State) of West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee, was one of the harshest critics of the policy and was on TV almost every night to highlight how much the poor are suffering. Because of the lines that people had to stand in line to get cash their own cash. Uhhh, we Indians are used to lines. Go to VT or Churchgate train station at 6:30pm and tell me what you see. Come to Nariman Point at 6pm to catch a bus and tell me what you see. I’ve seen these lines in Nariman Point for the past 10 years and that hasn’t changed.

The opposition party even played some of their classic hits like ex-PM Manmohan Singh. Manmohan Singh is like a one-hit wonder, he might have been the chief architect of India’s entry into the global economy in 1991 but he also was the PM during one of the most corrupt periods in recent times and was absolutely silent about it. (The joke is when he visited the dentist, the dentist said “at least open your mouth in my office”.)

I hope Modi doubles down on his drive to make the country a digital currency nation. When people say, how can you expect a poor man to buy a smart phone to take part in this new digital economy I just lose it. Have the politicians scammed this country for so many years that they have not been able to lift people out of poverty? That’s the real tragedy, not demonetization.

Guns vs. Corruption

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As I type this blog post, I’ve got CNN on in the background and they are covering yet another mass shooting. This time it’s in Munich, Germany where guns are very tough to get. While Germany is still in shock and trying to comprehend with how to deal with the pain, for Americans it’s a daily affair. How did we get here? If you ask any die-hard card carrying National Rifle Association (NRA) member, it’s not guns that kill people but people kill people. That logically doesn’t even make sense. But, since the NRA is one of the most powerful lobbying groups inside the beltway, we are left with daily shootings.

While I was traveling in the US last month, many people would ask me questions about India since I’ve been living there for the last 11 years. Many would ask about the state of corruption since the new Modi administration has been in office for the past 2 years. Even before I could get a word out about corruption the same standard phrase would be blurted out “they really need to do something about corruption and lock up those politicians who take bribes.” I would explain to them the Modi administration is doing it’s best to try and curb corruption but there is only so much the government can do. I’d quickly change the topic to talk about gun violence in the US and why can’t the most powerful nation on Earth figure out a way to solve this mass shooting epidemic. Then they would remain silent and you could see the anguish on their face.

It’s so easy to say, they should ban guns, they should eliminate corruption but it’s not a simple process. Guns are so ingrained in the American ethos and part of the American Constitution. It will take a joint effort to restrict certain types of weapons and I’m not sure it will happen in my lifetime. While corruption is everywhere and more so in emerging markets like India, I’m not so sure you can easily wipe it out. You can curb it by using technology and transitioning to a cashless society but humans will be humans.

What is painful about the gun violence is that humans are dying and it seems there is no end in sight to the madness. At least with corruption, some politician might hit the jackpot and earn billions but people are not dying in the process. (Okay, the one caveat is that some of the Indian government programs to help the poor with getting their daily nutrition have been targeted by politicians. Which has led to some “leakage” in the programs.)

 

 

 

India’s Love Affair with Licenses

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10362Have you heard the saying one step forward, two steps back? That’s how I feel when it comes to public policy in India. One day they release a new policy that seems to be a game changer and positively impacts certain industries. Then the next day they release another set of policies that totally kills or curtails other industries. It’s like the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing, in the end it’s just masturbating.

A year ago, the one step forward was the concept paper around electronic payments. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) introduced the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) which would connect all the banks and make it very simple for people to send money to others and generally make e-commerce much easier. The good news is that last month it was launched and it’s gaining traction as more and more banks integrate to the UPI platform. UPI is really just like a Paytm wallet, so instead of having a Paytm wallet you would get a “Payment Address” issued by your bank and then make payments or receive money directly into the bank account.

UPI is not completely new, it’s an advanced version of the Immediate Payment Service (IMPS). The basic flow is that when you visit the checkout screen of an e-commerce company you would enter in a unique “Payment Address” such as 9820012345@AxisBank. This would then route this transaction to the National Payments Corporation of India (NCPI) and it would automagically go to the correct bank. If the bank is Axis Bank, you would open the Axis Bank app and then authorize the transaction in the app. There would be no need for a one time password (OTP) as the Axis app would required a MPIN (mobile PIN) or potentially your fingerprint scan from your Aadhaar enrollment. Magic.

If you are interested in the technical features of UPI, I suggest you download and read the UPI specification document. When you start to read it, you quickly realize how this technology could leap-frog the e-payment systems that are currently in use in the US and Europe.

If UPI was the one step forward, then the newly introduced draft bill called the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016, (the Geospatial Bill) is two steps back. The Geospatial Bill was released by the Ministry of Home Affairs and when you read it, you realize it’s more like two thousand steps back. Take for example, if on a map you accidentally misrepresent the borders of India, it can be punishable with a fine ranging from Rs. 10 lacs (USD $15k) to Rs. 100 CR (USD $15 million) and even crazier is the potential imprisonment of up to seven years.

Oh, but there is much more. You have to apply for a license via the Security Vetting Authority (SVA), which sounds fucking ominous like something the US Government would have created after 9/11. So who or what is the SVA? According to the draft bill:

The Security Vetting Authority shall consist of an officer of the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India or above as Chairman and two members, one, a technical expert and the other, a national security expert.

That just sounds like code for – be prepared to pony up some cash so we can “move your file” through the process. This licensing process is a throwback to the good old days of the License Raj in India. And, don’t get me started on how this will effect EVERY phone app that asks for your location or shows you a map. As I said, one step forward and two thousand steps back.

UPDATE:
Some sensible people have come together to rally against the current form of the Geospatial Bill, please visit SaveTheMap.

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