India Clings to Cash, Even as Tech Firms Push Digital Money


Still, the country’s cash economy has endured.

Only one-third of India’s 1.3 billion residents have access to the internet. Of those who are able to go online, just 14 percent make mobile payments at least once a week, according to Kantar TNS, a research firm based in London.

Consumer trust is a big issue. Ghani Khan, who was finishing a snack with his wife at Aligarh’s lone McDonald’s, said that someone had once stolen 3,300 rupees, what would be about $52 now, from his Paytm account.

“People feel scared to use these apps,” Mr. Khan said. Although he got his money back, he now avoids payment apps, preferring to use cash or his debit card. (Paytm says that most such problems are related to thieves who call users and persuade them to turn over sensitive account data.)


According to the research firm Kantar TNS, 6 percent of mobile phone users in India made at least one digital transaction a day in 2017, up from 2 percent in 2016. Credit Atul Loke for The New York Times

Merchants also worry that officials are promoting digital transactions as a way to better track commerce — and collect more taxes.

Anusheel Shrivastava, a top Kantar executive in India, said his firm found that 6 percent of mobile phone users made at least one digital transaction a day in 2017, up from 2 percent in 2016.

That number is likely to increase further when WhatsApp, the messaging service owned by Facebook, adds payments to its service in the next few months.

Paytm stands out in part because of the 10,000 employees that it has in the field to help new businesses use the service, educate existing ones about new features and troubleshoot problems. There are about six million merchants in its network, from giant multinationals like Uber to tiny neighborhood sweet shops.

“We have to train them, we have to retrain them, we have to visit them,” said Yashwin Gupta, who oversees a team of 65 Paytm representatives in the region that includes Aligarh. “That’s our daily job.”

The job is getting easier now that Paytm is better known.


A Paytm salesman helped Mukesh Gupta, who runs a toy shop in Aligarh, set up the digital payments service. Credit Atul Loke for The New York Times Photo

Paytm has about 10,000 employees in the field to help businesses start using the service. Credit Atul Loke for The New York Times

Last month, Mukesh Gupta sought Paytm’s help in setting up the service for his toy shop here after 10 to 20 percent of his customers asked to pay with Paytm. “People like to spend money on more than just needs,” he said.

Aligarh, with 1.2 million residents, is a barometer for Paytm’s progress because it’s a midsize city, and because Mr. Sharma, the company’s chief executive, grew up nearby.

On one visit home, he said, he met a Hindi-speaking merchant who did not know how to get money out of Paytm and into his bank.

The problem? Paytm’s app for merchants was in English, and the icons were not clear enough for those who did not speak the language. Paytm soon developed a Hindi version.

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