Building upon the foundation of USAID’s “beyond cash” India partnership, Catalyst set its vision to realize an inclusive digital economy that meets the needs of all Indians by demonstrating a replicable, affordable and sustainable approach to adoption and usage of digital payments, especially among low income populations and small merchants. We are doing this by establishing urban and rural “digital payment labs” – i.e., real-life geo-economic ecosystems of consumers, merchants and suppliers – to comprehensively test, iterate and scale interventions that can positively impact user payments behaviour.
While recent events have changed the game, our work has only become more urgent. The road to a cashless (or rather a cash-light) economy is not a sprint but a marathon. It requires systematic deployment of interoperable technologies, new business models, and institutional innovations to ensure lasting transformation. We believe only a geographically concentrated, coordinated, and multi-stakeholder approach of learning & implementation can solve the multiple “chicken & egg” type interdependencies that otherwise impede rapid uptake of payments. Once solution templates have been validated in these “labs,” they can be scaled across the country.
Catalyst will invest in three areas of fundamental innovation that leverages its digital payments ecosystem:
- An Incubator focused on Fintech for the Bottom 80% to directly address the financial needs of under-served customers through reimagined solutions, features and interfaces
- A Data Vault to track local payment digitization trends, and also facilitate data exchange between complementary solution providers (e.g., mPOS providers and digital lenders) to uncover new end-user value propositions (e.g., access to credit),
- A Regulatory Sandbox mechanism for policymakers and leading edge innovators to collaborate more effectively, and to support evidence-based policy design
We’ve moved quickly to prepare the groundwork for these ambitious goals. Catalyst has entered a formal agreement with the Government of Rajasthan to set up its first “digital payment lab” in Jaipur, and help digitize payments for its population of over 3 million residents and over 65,000 registered (and many more unregistered) small merchants. The nuts and bolts of the GoR-Catalyst strategy in Jaipur includes introducing tools & incentives to drive large scale merchant digital payment acceptance, including merchant literacy and protection programs, development of an open-loop transit payments ecosystem, digitizing supply chain payments between retailers and distributors, salary digitization across informal employer networks, and new solutions to induce low income consumers to actively use digital money accounts. At the same time, we’ve also significantly expanded our partners network to include over 120 national and global organizations. Many of you participated in our consultations held in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi in mid-November and early December. We’ve since lined up 25+ implementation partnerships with solution providers and operational stakeholders to be rolled out as part of the Jaipur initiative. We’re also thrilled to partner with three leading research organizations to generate new, much needed data insights on digital payments – Ideas42, a US-based behavioral research firm with particular focus on financial inclusion solutions; PRICE ICE360, a leading survey research agency that covers 60,000 Indian households across 21 states and 216 districts with digital financial data, and our parent organization, IFMR LEAD, with whom we’re partnering on an advanced analytics and big data for payments program.
In December, we launched a merchant-focused vernacular-based literacy campaign in partnership with the Niti Aayog, the Confederation of All India Traders, Tally, and ISpirt. This campaign seeks to empower small merchants to understand the benefits of going cashless, and help them navigate a confusing, rapidly evolving solution-scape. It has potential to reach 6 crore merchants across the country. It will be rolled out in digital, print, video, TV, radio, and physical formats to maximize impact. We have developed collaterals focused on benefits of digital, card based, and mobile based solutions, and more is soon to follow. Please feel free to use and disseminate these as well as share your inputs so we can improve the material. Finally, we’re proud to have gotten recognition for our contributions to the report on Medium Term Recommendations to Strengthen Digital Payments Ecosystem developed by Committee on Digital Payments appointed by the Ministry of Finance and led by Shri Ratan Watal of Niti Ayog. This report, which is bold and seminal in its recommendations for new payment regulation frameworks and legislation, can be found here. We hope to continue our engagement with NIPFP, the Ministry of Finance, and other key stakeholders to test and execute some of these ideas on the ground.
As CEO, I’m particularly proud of our small but “punchy” team. We come from backgrounds as diverse as entrepreneurship, banking, telecom, microfinance, strategy consulting, and Government, and all share a heightened level of intrinsic motivation. We hope to remain lean and nimble footed, as we traverse this challenging course. We are lucky to have equally motivated design and digital marketing partners in INCITE. A new website is in the offing! I’d like to invite all of you to join us on this shared journey to transition India into an inclusive digital economy. The work has only begun, and there are many building blocks still needed to ensure a safe, reliable, inclusive and cost-effective digital payments ecosystem. Please let us know if you wish to partner on solutions, knowledge & research, mobilize communities, or facilitate implementation in a particular area of expertise. We have also launched our 2017 Summer Internship program (link to more information). I’d like to take this opportunity to extend our best wishes for the new year. We look forward to achieving many new and exciting milestones together.