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50p and Digital Payments Masterclass Learning - CIS

Posted by Udbhav Tiwari at Feb 15, 2017 09:25 PM |
Sunil Abraham, Saikat Dutta and Udbhav Tiwari from the CIS team attended 50p on the 24 and 25 of January 2017 in Bangalore, India. We had the following learnings from the event, which will shape our work in the digital finance and payments space in the future.

Sunil Abraham, Saikat Dutta and Udbhav Tiwari from the CIS team attended 50p on the 24 and 25 of January 2017 in Bangalore, India. We had the following learnings from the event, which will shape our work in the digital finance and payments space in the future.


  1. Historical Developments of Digital Payments Regulation in India - The historical development of the digital payments ecosystem in India, starting with mobile/SMS banking around 2004, focusing mostly on high-end consumers. The widely varying implementations across banks led to the RBI taking an active regulatory approach, beginning with the introduction of compulsory two factor authentication in the form of mandatory PIN usage for credit and debit cards. This move helped secure “card not present” (CNP) transactions, which in turn allowed the e commerce, online streaming services and other digital services to rapidly gain customers. This serves as an example of how simple, targeted and uniformly imposed regulations can help secure widely used digital payment modes, securing customers while expanding opportunities for businesses. The Watal Committee report has also stressed on how the the industry and consumers alike, in the medium term, will benefit from focused sectoral regulation for the FinTech industry.


  1. Expansion in the Modern Digital Payments Industry - The digital payments industry has expanded from having three main stakeholders (banks, card issuing agencies and customers) in mid 2000s to over eight distinct entities who take part in the same payments chain. These include Digital Wallet Providers, Payment Gateways, Payment Processors, Ticketing or Payment Service Providers Billers, all of which are operate with millions of transactions per day. This not only increases the potential attack surface for possible attempts at compromising them but also governance under traditional banking regulations difficult for the regulatory authority. The introduction of BBPS (Bharat Bill Pay System) to integrate the thousands of local utility bill payment system in India, into one centrally administered programme, is just one example of the vast amounts of data being generated (and integrated) by the digital payments industry. Therefore, the need for unique FinTech regulations and standards (maybe even a regulator) to handle the rapidly expanding and critical industry is quite strong in the booming space in India.


  1. UPI - The Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is a set of standards that allow for a single application to connect to and control multiple bank accounts (of participating banks), allowing users to use several banking services such as funds transfer (P2P), merchant payments, etc. Initially launched in August, 2016 with support from 16 banks and is gaining rapid acceptance among users, businesses and payment providers alike. While built on the same technological underpinnings as the IMPS system, the UPI standard allows for a wide variety of data, including credit scores, Aadhaar numbers and geographical location to be transmitted. While the standard itself seems reasonably secure, its diverse and closed source implementation allow for the usual closed source development risks of security and unresolved bugs.  It is stipulated to become the most widely used digital transaction protocol in India and the backbone of the FinTech industry due to its interoperability and regulatory acceptance. A set of security guidelines and practices that allow for a uniform, secure and auditable implementation of the UPI standard as well as its operational usage will aid in faster and more secure development of the standard while simultaneously protecting consumer interest.


  1. Need for Consumer Advocacy - The need for educating consumers about the technical operations of the digital payments industry, best practices to maximise user facing security and strategies for effective dispute redressal were tagged as key focus areas by various groups. The inadequacy of the Consumer Protection Act to deal with the labyrinth of digital payments  and the relative lack of liability and breach notification laws (especially in the non-banking finance companies sector) have lead to bargaining power in consumer contracts to fall in the favour of the digital payments industry. While initiatives such as Cashless Consumer are attempting to rectify this, sustained and well planned initiatives implemented in a diverse and multi-lingual manner will be needed to keep up with the rapid pace of expansion in the industry and is burgeoning user base.  Incidental benefits of such programmes (an increase in the demand for data protection and  privacy aware practices) will also serve to further consumer interest in a manner that will have a positive impact outside the FinTech industry.


  1. USSD - The recent push towards USSD based banking, which allows banking transactions to be carried using feature phones, has led to various concerns regarding its security, reliability and implementation. The varying levels of GSM encryption in the providers in India, the lack of open standards (such as HTTPS for Internet Banking) that allow consumers to verify security and the rapid but untested implementation by most banks have led to some players raising doubts about the possibility of exploitation of the particularly vulnerable section of users that will use USSD banking. The need for a detailed investigation into current practices, open and auditable standards unique to USSD banking in India and regulations that mandate a minimum level of compliance was expressed by multiple stakeholders.