How Realistic is Chidambaram’s ATM Promise?

The Union Budget for 2013-14, presented by the finance minister of India, P Chidambaram, has been thoroughly analyzed by analysts, media and economists. Many have pointed out the fine prints, and there are loads and loads of analysis on what it would do to Indian economy, different sectors, and different sections of our demographics.

But in all these discussions that I have eagerly followed, I am yet to come across any comments on one of his promises: that every public sector bank branch would have an ATM by March 2014. This is what the FM said in his budget speech (see section 86)

Financial inclusion has made rapid strides. All scheduled commercial banks and all RRBs are on core banking solution (CBS) and on the electronic payment systems (NEFT and RTGS). We are working with RBI and NABARD to bring all other banks, including some cooperative banks, on CBS and e-payment systems by 31.12.2013. Public sector banks have assured me that all their branches will have an ATM in place by 31.3.2014

I know it is neither as serious a matter for economists as current account deficit nor as interesting for everyone as an all women’s bank branch. It does not impact as many people directly as the tax slabs; neither does it have enough controversy in it to deserve comments from politicians.

Yet, this part of the speech got my natural attention, when I was listening to the speech live on TV. Having been a little familiar with the current numbers—thanks to my twin interests, payment systems and data journalism (lots of my tweets are around these numbers)—I was finding the target a little too ambitious. 

So, I got into some extraction of numbers and a quick analysis of those numbers. And here is what the FM’s promise translates into. 

By the end of March 2012 (that is end of FY 12), India had 67,466 PSU bank branches. That may not be such a huge number when seen in context with Indian population. But the number of ATMs that were attached to some of these branches (called onsite ATMs in Indian banking parlance), were much less. All PSU banks together had only 34,012 onsite ATMs. That number, of course, increased to 36,767 by December 2012.

The public sector banks have, on an average, added a little more than 3500 branches per year in the last five years leading to FY 12. So, even by a conservative estimates, the PSU banks are likely to have not less than 72,000 branches by the end of March 2014—the reference date for the FM for all of those branches having an ATM.

So, going by the current numbers, 35, 233 onsite ATMs need to be added between 31 December 2012 and 31 March 2014 (15 months) for all the PSU branches to have an ATM. That is almost doubling (96% growth, to be precise) the onsite ATM base in PSU banks.

Do you think it is realistic? Especially, when you consider that between March 2007 to March 2012, they have added 23,723 onsite ATMs. And there is no major acceleration considering in the nine months after that—that is between March 2012 to December 2012—they have added only 2755 onsite ATMs.

So, there are only three possibilities. One, I am terribly wrong somewhere. Two, there is something happening inside which we don’t know. And three, the FM has just been carried away without caring too much to be realistic. After all, it is an election budget.

The first possibility is inconsequential. The second possibility calls for a celebration.

The third possibility is  a dangerous proposition. I thought whether the Budget is good or bad in a year, at least the basic arithmetics gets done to put the ends together. 

There is one more probability. Maybe, the FM was wrong but only technically. Maybe, he meant that for every branch of PSU bank, there would be an ATM. What it means is that the number of PSU branches and no of PSU ATMs would be same, irrespective of where those ATMs are located. If we go by that number, the total ATMs (both onsite and offsite put together), they have 63, 739 ATMs. That means in the next 15 months, going by the same estimated number of branches (72,000), they need to add 8261 ATMs, slightly aggressive going by the last five years’ numbers but not exactly unrealistic.

So, the FM’s speech should have read

Public sector banks have assured me that for each of the branches that they have, they will have one ATM in place by 31.3.2014

And that is no less laudable goal to have. Since the FM talked about the ATMs in the context of financial inclusion, how does it matter if the ATM is “in the branch” or anywhere else?

1 Comment

Filed under Banking, Digital Economy, Inclusive India, Indian Economy, Technology & Society

IT-ITES Exports: Are the 12th Plan Projections Realistic?

The government finally placed the draft 12th five year plan before the National Development Council meeting held recently in New Delhi. For all practical purpose, it is the final document and as the Planning Commission points out in its website, the word “draft” only means it is still being copy-edited. So, expect no major change in the document in terms of facts and plans.

While going through the draft document on economic sectors, I naturally stopped at the section on information technology (IT). The specific plans and the language reflect the confidence and comfort that the government has come to find in IT to drive economic growth as well as to help in achieving socio-economic objectives.

While there are lots of plans and initiatives, I thought it is not a bad idea to examine, in particular, the projections that the document provides for achievement by the industry, in a table titled Key Targets for the Twelfth Plan for the Electronics and IT-ITeS Industry on page 268. In this post, I am focusing on just one of the segments listed therein, IT-ITES Exports.

I have picked up IT exports, of course, partly because of my interest and experience in analyzing this segment but it is also because unlike the other major segments, electronics hardware and domestic IT market, the IT exports segment is relatively large and mature and the past experience can give some indication of the future. The other two, being comparatively smaller and nascent, will depend a lot on policy decisions, that will significantly influence how they move.

According to the document, the government expects that Indian IT exports will reach $130 billion by FY 2016-17, from the present (FY 2011-12) $69 billion. That is a CAGR of 13.6%. Is that good? Is that bad? Is that just okay?

Before we examine those questions, let us be very clear about the fact that these numbers are not invented by the planning commission. It has taken those numbers from the respective ministries. And it is safe to assume that IT ministry would have consulted the industry players and industry body, NASSCOM before arriving at this figure.

Back to our original question—is a CAGR of 13.6% between 2012-17 realistic?

Let us start with the past data. Betwwen 2002-07, IT exports in India grew by a CAGR of 32.6%. In the next five years, between 2007-12, the IT exports registered a CAGR of 17.2%. Purely going by those number, a 13.6% growth does not seem too unrealistic for the period 2012-17.

But wait a minute. Before we get into present performance and any other environmental factors for the future, it is important to clarify a technical point. While the government has its own five-year plan periods, and all its numbers are synchronized to those blocks of periods, the industries do not necessarily work that way, least of it an exports industry.

Indian IT services exports industry had its distinctive growth periods. The period between 2003-04 to 2007-08, was the high growth period when, on an average, the exports grew 30% year on year, growing by a whopping 37.2% in 2004-05.  Of course, the industry was much smaller.

IT-EXPORTS3

The growth suddenly fell to 16.6% in 2008-09, when the first impacts of the US sub-prime crisis was felt. This was after a year which saw a 29.9% growth in IT exports.  The next year was worse, in the wake of a severe slowdown, and the growth plummeted to 5.6% before bouncing back to 18.7% in the subsequent year, 2010-11. It slowed down a bit in FY 12 to 16.5%.

Going by the IT industry’s growth, a better figure to take as a benchmark for comparison, is hence, the CAGR for the four-year period between 2008-12. This comes out to be 14.2%, thanks to the elimination of the year 2007-8, which, with a 30% growth skewed the entire figure for the five year period between 2007-2012.  The year 2007-08, in short, belonged to another era.

The indications so far suggest that the current year too will register a similar growth, as the last four years. The revenue of top five IT services companies have grown by just 9% in the first half of the year (see table). Though both TCS and Wipro’s revenues do include a smaller but significant domestic revenue, this gives an idea of what to expect this year. It is difficult to believe that the growth will top 12-13% in most optimistic case.

COMPANY H1 FY 13 (Revnue in $million) H1 FY 12 (Revnue in $million) GROWTH (%)
TCS 5581 4937 13
Infosys 3549 3417 4
Wipro 3056 2880 6
HCL 2193 1965 12
Mahindra Satyam 696 662 5
TOTAL 15075 13861 9

The Gartner forecasts for the global the IT-BPO outsourcing in the next few years too do not paint a very rosy picture. According to the firm, the IT-BPO outsourcing will grow on an average of 4.3-4.4% between 2012-2015 (Jan-Dec).

If the first year of the block in consideration by the 12th five year plan itself sees a growth of just about 12-13% with no great expectations about a huge turnaround in the next few months, is it realistic to expect that the exports will grow by 13.6%?

I doubt.

However, there are some possibilities.

One, let us not forget that many of these growth figures are only partially due to IT industry’s performance and actually have to do a lot with exchange rate fluctuations. By the way, the growth in rupee terms this year, may be far better, topping the 20s.

So, if the rupee gets really stronger against the dollar, the 12th Plan targets may still look achievable. But will it? That is not my area and I would not like to do any guess work there.

The other possibility is that the IT industry actually breaks new grounds and manages to tap the new opportunities such as products/engineering services and they grow significantly. But even in that case, it is difficult to believe that the growth will be impacted much in the 12th plan period.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Outsourcing & Offshoring, Technology Business

Mr CIO: Can You Give Up the Control of Nuts & Bolts to Move to A Business Role?

Yet another report tries to demystify the new CIO. An Ernst & Young report, The DNA of the CIO: Opening the door to the C-Suite (You can download the full report here), claims it provides fresh insight into what is to be a CIO today. The report, the result of a survey among 300-odd CIOs and some 40 other CXOs to provide,  “a perspective on how the CIO is perceived by the rest of the executive management team.”

The report builds a profile of the typical CIO (He is 43 years, male typically), gets into how his role is changing, what comes in the way of his effectiveness, and even provides a toolkit for the aspiring CIO. It even has an interesting video

Getting into the C-suite has been a consistent dream for the CIOs in recent times. A select few have managed to achieve it. Most others are in the aspirational mode. In my five years as the editor of Dataquest, I have been part of many formal (panel discussions, Q&As) and informal discussions with CIOs on various topics: technology, products, hiring, managing, their role, their interests. But invariably I have found the discussion steering towards the role and responsibilities of the CIO, never mind if the topic was BI or cloud or BYOD, not to talk of management issues. The exact nature of discussion would vary depending on whom you are talking. For a very small number, the aspiration is the CEO/COO position. For the rest, it is still, being regarded as part of the top management. The E&Y survey finds that only 17% the CIOs that it spoke to are part of the executive management team. That percentage would be far lower in India.

But that is not surprising. Neither is it a reflection of the CIO’s capability, considering that IT is fairly new to the enterprises as a separate function.

But there is something I find dichotomous. Almost very CIO believes that he is performing a business role and should be part of the top management/board. But when I’ve asked if he (the gender non-neutrality is because I have not asked the question to a single woman CIO yet, my apologies) would be willing to give up the control of IT infrastructure, which he anyway admits is non-strategic, I have rarely (once, to be precise) heard Yes for an answer. I must have asked this question to some 60 odd CIOs.

But will not giving up the nuts-and-bolts which eats up lots of his time, free him to focus more on working with business to assess the need of solutions that the latter needs and formulate a better IT strategy? In other words, while the demand side of IT is managed by the C-suite CIO, the pretty standard supply side is managed by someone else?

Why is the reluctance then? And if the other C-suiters believe that he is helpful only in fixing their laptops (see the E&Y video, linked above), how can they be blamed?

“Unless you can have the end-to-end control,” a few would argue, “you cannot really achieve what you want to.” The looks in their eyes give clear indication that they know I am not convinced. The truth is, most of them are themselves not convinced about this.

If they want to hold on to the servers and networking and laptops, because they think that is where they derive their power from. It gives them the control of a critical infrastructure and hence the organization is highly dependent on them.  But alas, this dependence is the reason why the CEO does not want him in strategy meetings. He should better be in the server room doing the firefighting!

Also, another thing that goes unsaid, is that the control over hardware and networking also gives them control over that budget. That is a huge part of IT spending. That makes them important in the eyes of the vendors. They get chased; get invited to parties and great locations; get featured in the media. Their classmate who joined Infosys after  college may be getting a fatter salary and a few overseas assignments; but he never gets that kind of importance that the vendors give him.

The proposition is simple. If more CIOs want to be considered moving up the value chain, they have to do that by vacating the lowest value tasks that they do. Many of them agree that IT infrastructure fire-fighting is one of the lowest value jobs that they do. So, doesn’t it make sense to just say good bye to that?

Leave a comment

Filed under Enterprise Technology

Why A Hasty Approach May Derail the Direct Cash Transfer Scheme Completely

The UPA government has announced the Direct Cash Transfer (DCT) scheme, with an eye on the elections. As expected, the opposition has cried foul,  terming it “bribe” to the voters.

That is politics. And not really the topic of discussion here. In fact, this piece is not even about the economics of it. Economists agree that it is more efficient to pass on the benefits to the deserving directly through cash transfer than indirectly through subsidies. In any case, the government has been talking about it for quite some time. The Budget Speech in the last two years have referred to it explicitly. Many studies internationally have shown that they have, by and large, had a positive effect.

The points that I raise here are not about the politics or economics of DCT but the implementation hurdles that remain. Because even with this limited rollout, it could be the world’s biggest such project. Rushing in to implement may create problems that could shake off people’s confidence on the scheme. This could lead the opponents to project it as a faulty idea per se.

So, here are some of the issues.

1. What about those without the bank accounts? India has less than 25% of people in rural areas, who have access to bank accounts. How will they get the benefit? Does it mean that some of them—those who have bank accounts—will get it and others will not get it? That will be as anarchical as it could be. And the backlash could be severe.

2. How will subsidies and DCT co-exist, even if for a limited period? The government says that the scheme will be fiscal-neutral as it will replace subsidies. Practically, how will that happen, especially in fuel (kerosene), food, and fertilizers? Till all the people are in a position to get the benefit of DCT (today, those who do not have Aadhaar or bank account will not be able to get it), the government cannot touch the public distribution system. Which means it cannot effectively cut  subsidies. So, the mechanism has to be in the point of contact (ration stores and the like) to ensure that some beneficiaries do not avail both the benefits, which is next to impossible, as of now. So, the government will continue to run both for the foreseeable future. And surely, it will not be fiscal neutral.

3. What are the alternate channels of supplies? While it is good to say, on paper, that by getting the money directly, the beneficiaries, can opt to buy the products from anywhere, no one is clear what is that anywhere. In many areas, no alternative supply and distribution channel exists. So, how will cash help them?

4. How do you ensure that the money is spent on those products and services for which is intended? How does the government ensure that the money is spent on the products and services that intends to subsidize? In some countries, these subsidies are conditional and are given to women. There is no such plan in India. So, in many families, where men spend a lot of earnings on alcohol and such things,  more cash means more money to get drunk. The possibility is very real in India.

The issues raised here are not meant to argue against the implementation of DCT.

But the fact remains that changing the entire subsidy regime requires a lot of thought and preparation. The government started on the right note by appointing a task force to suggest the ways and means of implementing this.

The task force, headed by Nandan Nilekani, Chairman, UIDAI, submitted a detailed report, recommending creation of what it called a Core Subsidy Management System (CSMS) to implement the new subsidy regime.  The task force foresaw the gap that exists in the payment system reach and recommended this

Since it may take a while for the payment systems in the country to gear up for direct transfer of subsidies, an intermediate step may be considered where the subsidy difference is transferred to wholesalers/retailers in the first phase, and only later on to customers.

But the government has disregarded it and has announced DCT right away. Also, there is no news on where the rollout of CSMS has reached.

With all its good intentions, the government will have only itself to blame, if the whole idea backfires.

Leave a comment

Filed under Digital Economy, Inclusive India, Indian Economy, New Governance, Policy & Regulation, Uncategorized

Why Indian Software Product Companies Need More than Ideas and Funding

There has been a lot of discussion around why India, home to some of the world’s largest IT services firms—and often dubbed as an IT superpower—has not been able to produce even one large independent IT product company.  Companies which have built some products have either remained small, closed down, sold themselves off, or have switched to services to sustain themselves.

Some of the reasons that have been offered as explanation are as follows.

Indians are not good at innovation. This is the most superficial explanation that you hear, usually from those outside the IT fraternity, with a limited understanding of this industry. This is flawed because of two reasons.

One, it makes an inherent assumption that building products require innovation while providing business solutions as services companies to enterprises do not require  innovation.

Two, by labeling Indians as not good at innovation, it fails to explian how Indians have built extremely successful product companies in the United States and how they have excelled in product management and other so called innovative functions in large non-Indian technology companies.

Indians are risk-averse. Well, there is some truth in the statement. The services business worldwide, because of various reasons, is  fragmented and that gives a chance to smaller companies to remain small and still make money. Usually, not so with product companies.

After the success of TCS, Infosys, and Wipro, many smaller companies in India positioned themselves along similar lines and started offering services using cheaper manpower. Since the demand was high, they managed to survive, without taking too much of risk. Since the major investment often were done after winning a contract, it was fairly de-risked. The presence of large number of such companies in India has given an impression that Indians do not take risks and and follow something that is tried and tested. But let us not forget that it is because a few companies took the risk initially, others could cash in on the wave.

In any case, while the statement does manage to explain, to some extent, why too many companies have not entered the product business, it still does not explain why those who have, have not been able to succeed much.

There is no ecosystem. Most of those who have tried their hands in creating products believe that India does not offer a supportive ecosystem. They are not exactly off the mark.

India does not offer any major incentive for creating IP. The demand from local market is not very strong, unlike in some other countries. Further, the services branding is so strong that few VCs/investors back a company which wants to play long term in products. If many of them do invest in some product start-ups, it is for quickly selling to large technology companies.  They are always pushing the start-ups for maximizing revenues in a short time, not always a great way to create long term value.

All these factors have created some hurdles for product companies, feel those who want to change this. I think they are right.

But to be sure, it was the same scenario when services business started. Indian government has always been late to step in, if at all. The local demand was absent. And there was little funding. In addition, there was no skilled manpower. But Indian companies started at the low end by tapping the Y2K opportunity and slowly climbed up the value chain.

So, while it is true that a supportive ecosystem would absolutely help the growth of India as a product hub, it is difficult to believe that itself would kickstart the product revolution.

Indians are not good in marketing. Many believe that Indians, in general, lack in marketing capability and products require far more marketing skills than services, which survives on cold calling and sales efforts.

I am not sure whether I agree with this statement.

Some Indian marketing ideas now serve as global case studies. Further, assuming, for a moment, it is true I believe, it is too tactical a thing to offer as a reason for  lack of product success stories from India. Indians are not exactly known for following systems, processes and standards. But Indian IT services companies lead the world in quality, standard practices, and creating systems and processes. Something like this can always be learned.

There have been laudable efforts in recent years such as NASSCOM Product Conclave and the formation of ProductNation. I am sure they cam surely address some of these gaps such as lack of ecosystem, help the companies in marketing and market the idea that India has everything to offer world class products that it has already done in a few areas such as banking. In core banking, for example, a majority of top providers are either Indian or have an Indian genesis.

I have my own reason to offer. Again, I would like to clarify that I offer it as yet another reason and would not claim to be the only/principal reason. I call it lack of user/product centricity.

If we look at history, we would find that while India was the place that was home to great ideas/abstractions/philosophies/sciences—such as concept of zero, algebra/geometry, astronomy, Ayurveda. Our neighbor China has always been known for inventions and discoveries of tangible things—such as magnet, tea, paper, silk.

Is it just co-incidence? I don’t think so. Our domination in modern days—India in services and China in products—stems from the same differences that existed a few hundred years back.

And you can tell this from your experience. During one of my flights from San Francisco to Seoul (some time around 2005-06), I met the owner of a  small Californian garment manufacturer, who had outsourced to a unit in China. He had come to India once to do preliminary survey but went back a little confused. What he told me can be a pointer to possibly what we do not have. I will not use the word “lack”. It is just a different way of looking at things.

He told me when he went to China and started talking to prospective partners, the discussion steered towards the type of garments he manufacturers, who they are meant for, quantity of manufacturing and so on. He was perfectly comfortable with those  queries.

In India, he was asked questions about how many people he would like to employ, what is the cost of production there, what is the saving that he is expecting, even before they asked him about his users/products. He did not have clear answers about many of those questions and left confused.

When I met him, he did not have any concrete plans for India but he had not given up on the idea. He had hope that he would come back one day. For some reason, he believed, Indians could do it better. The only tangible reason I could gauge from the conversation is this: if they are designing so well for Bollywood, they can do a great job!

I think we all have faced similar situation. If you talk of a new business idea, the discussion here steers more towards business models, funding, marketing challengers. Rarely do we go into things like users and and the actual products!

Frog Design, owned by Aricent, a company with Indian genesis, opened a development center in India, but decided to open its design studio in China. The reason was the same.

This is also what separates an application development for a client and a product development. While the technology and development process are similar, in a typical ADM project, the client briefs the specification. The same is the case with outsourced product development, where Indians have succeeded significantly. In a commercial product, the firm has to do its own user research to decide the features.

One may debate on whether a Steve Jobs of way of deciding for the user or a Nokia/Samsung way of detailed user research is better, but the commonality in both is that the user is foremost in the minds of the designers. Without that, creating a great product may only happen as an accident, once in a while!

Many would argue that B2B product development is different. I would disagree. While B2B means the user research cycle may be a little shorter, it  nevertheless requires the same user centricity that  any B2C product requires. You are finding about the user and designing accordingly. You are not designing to a specification.

The difference is subtle but crucial.

Leave a comment

Filed under Emerging Opportunity, Technology Business, Uncategorized

Whatever Its Algorithm, Klout Must Fix Its Basic Technical Issues

There has been a lot of debate about Klout, its score and its relevance. While some are addicted to it, many others dismiss it outrightly. Most of the criticism has been about the way it measures influence or its algorithm;  its non-transparent mechanism; and its scant respect for individuals (you have a Klout score the world can see and all your information with Klout, even if you have never heard of it).

There has been some good articles on what exactly is wrong with Klout. Here are a few. Why I quit Klout, Why You should too… and The Problems with Klout. You can find plenty of such posts and articles and you may tend to agree with many of those concerns. Others argue that it is still experimenting and should be given some time before it is dismissed. This is especially true about the criticism Klout draws about its presentation of the topics of influence, which sometimes are more than funny. I myself am supposed to be influential about  games. I still cannot figure out ABC of games that my six year old son plays so dexterously.

But, most of the criticism about privacy, transparency and efficacy of its algorithm are subjective. The disastrous measurement of topics of influence, which many argue, is a proof of non-efficacy of its algorithm, can probably improve as it is something that is a first in the world.

But what I cannot digest at all is that something that claims to measure the influence of the entire populace of the world is struggling to get some of the basic things in place.  I am talking of its interface with Facebook. While Twitter updates and interactions get updated in 48-72 hours (And you think that is too slow?) the Facebook interface is pathetic. And I am being polite. Sometimes, it takes a FB interaction 7 days to show up as moments in Klout, sometimes it takes 10 days, sometimes more. As of today (9th November), my last FB interaction that shows on my interaction page is of 25th October and that shows on my moments page (which presumably goes to make up the Klout score) is of 23rd October.

What is more, it is not a complete list. Anywhere between 20-50% of those interactions never show up. After I double-checked that they were public interactions, I wrote to them and they admitted that, it was a problem. “We are working on this issue currently and hope to release improvements soon,” I got the reply on 9th October. That is exactly a month back. I am not being judgmental on the time they are taking. But what I am absolutely worried about is that in the meantime, they continue with presenting the score to the world, which by their own admission, is not based on correct data. One can keep arguing about the algorithm. But there is nothing to argue if your data captured itself is not accurate.

In the same mail, they tried convincing me that it is only display of moments  that is an issue and the FB interactions are still being captured for calculating the Klout score. When I wrote back refuting this claim, I got a single line reply that they are investigating it and “have taken note of your account”. This was on 10th October and nothing has happened. In the meanwhile, I have tried disconnecting and reconnecting Facebook and still have faced the same issues.

The problems that potentially arise from this are multiple. One, the Klout score is based on only partial and haphazard data of users. That puts a question mark on the basic offering itself: the score.

The delay also is an issue. If there is a uniform delay in Twitter, FB, and other networks, one can still justify it saying it is a delayed feed. But imagine trying to create score from your activities and interactions on Twitter on 1st, on FB on 15th and Google Plus on 30th and combining them to create a score. What will that denote? And how will you relate that to any offline/online events? It becomes a useless number.

While many dismiss Klout, I am still of the opinion that it should be given a chance. But rather than trying newer things and fancy toppings, it must get its basics right. There is no excuse for basic technical issues. I would say proceeding further without getting its data integrity right will be a dangerous path for Klout.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Digital Economy, Social Media

RBI’s Payment Systems Vision 2012-15: Moving Beyond Regulation

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has released its Payment Systems Vision 2012-15. This is the central bank’s fourth such document. It published the first one in December 2001, detailing the payment system vision till 2003. Subsequently, it has continued publishing it every three years—in 2004 for 2005-08, in 2009 for 2009-12, with the latest one coming a couple of days back.

RBI had actually released a draft in June 2012 for comments. Based on the feedback, it has made some changes and released the final document.

A vision document by a regulator/policymaker achieves two great purposes.

One, it gives some clarity to the stakeholders on the direction of policy making, without the fear of flip-flops that we have seen in a few sectors such as telecom.  The actual rollout speed may be a little faster or slower, but it is not a guesswork.

Two, by making the vision clear to all, a good regulator can carry all stakeholders with itself to pursue a shared dream. That is progressive policy making.

This progressive yet cautious stance, that has won RBI appreciation worldwide, has helped India achieving significant success in converting a significant part of transactions to electronic transactions, though cheques still remain the biggest mode of payment, as far as volumes go.

It is interesting to examine how the vision has progressed. In its 2005-08, the vision was “the establishment of safe, secure, sound and efficient payment and settlement systems for the country”. So, it wan an intent, more than anything else.

The next vision document (2009-12) became bolder when RBI asserted that it wanted to “to ensure that all the payment and settlement systems operating in the country are safe, secure, sound, efficient, accessible and authorized” . It was now no more an intent; it was a mandate it gave to itself as a regulator. It promised the nation to make it happen.

Also, with the UPA government focused on aam aadmi and social inclusion,  financial inclusion as an idea was taking strong roots among policy makers. That thrust saw RBI adding “accessible” to its Payment Vision. It was sort of a passive intent towards inclusion.

That passive intent has become a proactive stance in the current vision statement as it adds the word “inclusive” to the vision. Financial inclusion initiatives have progressed a lot between then and now.

But that addition was along expected lines. What is more noteworthy are the addition of interoperability and compliance.

When RBI released the draft vision in June, the mission statement read something like this: To ensure payment and settlement systems in the country are safe, efficient, interoperable, authorised, accessible, inclusive and compliant with international standards.

There was a separate vision statement (a long-term goal perhaps): To proactively encourage electronic payment systems for ushering in a less-cash society in India.

But the final vision document released recently integrates the above goal to the vision statement itself and the final statement reads:

To proactively encourage electronic payment systems for ushering in a less-cash society in India and to ensure payment and settlement systems in the country are safe, efficient, interoperable, authorised, accessible, inclusive and compliant with international standards.

That is not surprising. In May this year, the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee released a white paper on black money, that stressed on the need to move to electronic payments to curb the circulation of black money. Since then, RBI has taken a few measures such as slashing of debit card transaction charges that would help more and more people turning to electronic transactions.

However, RBI realizes that a less-cash society is still more of a dream than a vision and it is worded accordingly: to proactively encourage. But by making it part of the main vision, it is ensuring that it is a dream that it will pursue. It is not  daydreaming.

Some of the major visions that the document lists are

  • efficiency and effectiveness enhancement in the payment systems (a continuous process)
  • standardization, portability and inter-operability (a new objective)
  • development of infrastructure and integrated payment system (RBI has been pursuing this for some time)
  • managing risk in payment systems (has been an overall objective)
  • compliance with international systems (though RBI has taken a number of steps, this is for the first time that it has been inserted to the vision)
  • promote access and inclusion (A major driver of RBI’s economic policies, but has been inserted to Payment Vision for the first time)
  • payment systems literacy and visibility (goes with RBI’s thrust on increasing financial literacy)
  • new products and innovation (something that  has been dealt with RBI in various forms of late)
  • moving towards a less cash society (a dream worth pursuing)

With this Vision Document, RBI has played more as a visionary economic policy maker than just a smart and progressive regulator.

Leave a comment

Filed under Digital Economy, Indian Economy