WhatsApp’s Integration of UPI-Based Payments Has Strategic Consequences for India’s Digital Economy
The world’s most popular messaging application’s decision to use locally-designed architecture to send and receive money is momentous for reasons both technological and strategic. WhatsApp relies on the address books of users to send and receive messages, images or calls, so it could well have deployed an in-house mechanism to make digital payments from one phone number to another. Indeed, the Chinese messaging application WeChat has engineered exactly such a system – WeChat Pay – relying on user contacts and scanned QR codes to effect payments.
WhatsApp has instead chosen to adopt a homegrown product, and a UPI-driven platform will allow it to make payments through other personally-identifiable markers: Aadhaar numbers, account number/IFSC code and so on. It is yet unclear how the payment interface will be integrated into WhatsApp. WhatsApp has two options before it: in the manner of a PayTM, WhatsApp could fashion itself a digital wallet and link it to UPI addresses. But given this would necessitate an RBI license and would be a rather minimal use of the UPI interface, WhatsApp is likely to adopt UPI-driven payments in the same way as the BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) app, and potentially process transactions from all manners of IDs: phone numbers, Facebook contacts, bank accounts or even Aadhaar numbers. No matter what the final configuration, WhatsApp’s embrace of UPI will have lasting consequences for India’s digital economy.