[YS Exclusive] Payments on WhatsApp can help promote UPI ecosystem: Manesh Mahatme, Director, WhatsApp Payments India

In conversation with YourStory, Manesh Mahatme, Director, WhatsApp Payments, India, talks about how they are taking on the fintech competition and the role India plays in the future.
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WhatsApp has reportedly won regulatory approval from the National Payments Corporation of India (NCPI) to expand WhatsAppPay to 40 million users across India. 

With more than 400 million active users, WhatsApp’s largest user base is in India and the company has been looking to strongly push WhatsApp Pay to make a dent in the Indian payments ecosystem. 

In June this year, WhatsApp appointed Manesh Mahatme to lead the growth of its Payments business in India. As Director, WhatsApp Payments - India, Manesh is focusing on enhancing the payments experience for users, scaling the service offering, and contributing to WhatsApp’s vision of digital and financial inclusion in India. 

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Manesh brings with him 17 years of experience in digital financial services and payments across Citibank, Airtel Money, and Amazon. He joins WhatsApp after a stint at Amazon where he spent close to seven years as Director and Board member of Amazon Pay India, and led product, engineering, and growth teams. He was also instrumental in building and scaling the payment experience and platform for Amazon India’s marketplace business.  

Manesh graduated from BITS, Pilani (electronics engineering), and SP Jain, Mumbai (management).  

In an exclusive interaction with YourStory, Manesh spoke about the growth and traction WhatsApp has seen, how they are fighting the larger fintech competition, and the company’s India plans. 

Edited excerpts from the interview:

YourStory (YS): What are your core plans for India? And how do you view the India market? 

Manesh Mahatme (MM): As the adoption of payments on WhatsApp increases with users across the country, we look forward to working with NPCI to further expand it to all users. Since our initial approval from NPCI, we have been working to deliver a simple, reliable, and secure experience for WhatsApp users that we hope will accelerate the adoption of UPI for the “next five hundred million” Indians. 

As part of this roadmap, we introduced several India-specific features in ‘payments on WhatsApp’  over the last few weeks, and have seen exciting results.

Over the next six months, we have planned significant investments in ‘payments on WhatsApp’ across India -- including many more “India-first” features -- that we are sure will accelerate growth.

YS: What is the core tech play that makes payments seamless? 

MM: UPI has been an unquestioned success, and we believe there is an opportunity for UPI to have an even greater impact on the country -- especially in rural regions where digital and financial inclusion can significantly improve peoples’ lives. We believe that ‘payments on WhatsApp’ can be a key partner to NPCI and RBI as we all aim to scale the adoption of UPI and financial inclusion to those most in need.

When people can access financial tools, they’re more empowered to support themselves and others, or start a business. This will deliver financial services to those who have never had access before. And to those who need it most. 

With our new vision under metaverse we will continue to be aligned with RBI’s vision and strategy of driving financial inclusion through awareness, accessibility, and affordability across all segments of our society and motivated to move towards enabling financial inclusion by increasing access and removing barriers, so that people and businesses have more choice and control.  

YS: What kind of growth and traction has WhatsApp seen? And what kind of growth do you expect?

MM: I’ve been here for more than six months now and my time at WhatsApp building payments in India has been an exciting and rewarding journey. We are just getting started with payments on WhatsApp. 

While WhatsApp continues to be an enabler and a digital ally in India’s transformational journey, payments on WhatsApp is another opportunity that has the potential to bring millions to the digital payments ecosystem. 

WhatsApp is a trusted and simple app, often the first digital gateway, and for many across our country the only one. Its ease of use takes away any tech inhibitions and offers the unique opportunity to enhance inclusion and introduce more people to the benefits of using digital. 

We have made continuous and thoughtful investments in product innovations to make payments on WhatsApp more inclusive and intuitive for users to send money. We’ve introduced the most iconic and recognisable symbols within WhatsApp’s Chat Composer to drive adoption of payments:  

  • The Rupee symbol in chat composer makes sending payments using WhatsApp easier for people. 
  • WhatsApp’s main camera icon can now be used to scan any QR code to enable paying at more than 20 million stores in India that are QR code-enabled.

We have also announced new features that make sending money more relatable and expressive. Culturally relevant stickers and thematic backgrounds that are based on India’s cultural nuances make sending money on WhatsApp a personalised experience, and just as seamless and natural as everyday conversations on WhatsApp are, with an added element of fun and storytelling.  

YS: WhatsApp has a long way to go as other incumbents have different things on the platform other than payments. You have to fight the larger fintech competition. How do you work around that? 

MM: We have a very long-term view on India and it’s still very early days for digital payments in India. We look forward to contributing meaningfully to add new users to digital payments, as well as serve existing users who find our experience simple, immersive, and safe. 

We have taken our time with payments on WhatsApp because we were very clear that we want to ensure a good user experience. With our thoughtful modifications and constant investments in research and development, we want to make our payments offering more robust and intuitive. 

Our efforts are to build out a frictionless and secure payments system that is simple, easy, and reliable to use along with providing a personalised experience that users expect from WhatsApp. We are confident that we are on the right track.

YS: How do you aim to create stickiness? 

MM: With payments on WhatsApp, our vision and purpose is to financially include and onboard those in the next 500 million who aren't yet a part of the digital payments ecosystem. 

India is at the heart of a transformation where digital is playing a central role in changing lives, creating opportunity, and spurring entirely new models of innovation and enterprise for the world. The JAM trinity — Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhaar, and mobile number — has provided a solid foundational framework to nudge digital transformation. 

One in two Indians owns a smartphone today, more than half the population has access to the internet, and data costs are amongst the lowest in the world.  The Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has been scaling rapidly and has accelerated India’s digital economy. The payments ecosystem is increasingly moving to a friction-less, less-cash intensive landscape. 

India is heading towards a digital revolution, but the rural and semi-urban populations, especially those at the bottom of the pyramid, in parts, still remain untouched by the effects and benefits of a digital transformation.  

The next tranche of digital products needs to be more accessible and inclusive, and we believe that’s where payments on WhatsApp can significantly impact positively.

WhatsApp, as you know, can be operated using even basic smartphones. Its ease of use, trust of users, and reliability of the platform creates a democratised access for people across the country. The security and simplicity take away user inhibition towards technology. 

We believe that with payments on WhatsApp the needle can be moved further to reach and onboard those who’ve still not tried digital payments from right within WhatsApp’s chat composer. 

Payments on WhatsApp can be instrumental in promoting the UPI ecosystem - one of the most successful financial innovations of recent times. 

The month-on-month growth in transactions on UPI is very encouraging and gives us the confidence that India is at the brink of digital payments adoption as the one of fastest-growing digital economies in the world. 

YS: Tell us the measures you are taking on data privacy and security? 

MM: WhatsApp’s core principles of simplicity, reliability, privacy, and security are the reasons people across the cross-sections of our society trust us and are comfortable using the platform. With a secure payments experience, we have made transferring money just as easy as sending a message securely. 

We’ve worked with the NPCI and our partner banks to make sure payments on WhatsApp are secure and reliable.  And we’ve built our platform using India’s Unified Payments Interface, which makes it easy for anyone to instantly pay securely and accept payments across different apps -- and for companies to provide people with great services. 

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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