Calling Paytm a Chinese app because of their shareholding is absurd: Sameer Nigam, PhonePe

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"Government needs to pass the data privacy bill and make enforcement strong. They need to take the market's view before coming to a decision," believes Nigam.

Highlights

  • We are not building enough applications for the mass market.
  • Do we know if Paytm is giving out data? Did you know that Facebook is giving your data?
  • These can't be used as reasons to say that Paytm's Vijay Shekhar Sharma is working against India.
In a freewheeling interview with ET Now, Sameer Nigam, founder and CEO of leading UPI app PhonePe, defends Paytm and its founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma and asks people not to vilify the company that they cheered for five years ago.

ET Now (ET): The latest National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) data showed digital payments bouncing back to pre-Covid levels. What trends have you seen?
Sameer Nigam (SN):
We feel that June has been good for us. Digital payments boomed during the first phase of lockdown itself. The offline segment was affected but it is seeing resurgence now. Also, kirana shop transactions are back in big numbers, especially in the heartland. We are seeing transactions back at a normal level across all pin codes.

ET: What plans do you have for other products? EMI repayment was a focus area and you have a partnership with Bajaj Finance. How is it doing?
SN:
That's going really well too, we had a flurry of launches during the Covid pandemic. These allow first time investors to invest based on risk propensity. MF, AUMs have crossed 100 crore. Corona insurance products have sold over 100,000 policies till date and we are seeing an uptick in financial services too. Meanwhile, we are looking forward to mandates coming up on UPI, wallets and cards.


ET: What impact is JioMart going to have, especially since they have a tie up with WhatsApp?
SN:
JioMart is into O2O commerce and works with various categories. They are a potential partner. WhatsApp pay should come in when they can.

ET: You had plans to take PhonePe global. Where are you on that ambition?
SN:
We are evaluating which markets to enter and have partnerships with UPI, Visa and Mastercard. We are charting a landscape but nothing will happen in 2020. This has been a bad year due to the Covid pandemic. PhonePe will venture into different markets, globally from 2021.

ET: What is your opinion about the thrust on Aatmanirbhar Bharat and the recent ban on Chinese apps? Do you see an opportunity for Indian startups here?
SN:
We welcome the war cry. We are not building enough applications for the mass market. I don't think you need to ban Chinese apps for Indians to innovate here. That said, in times of military escalation there is a different problem as they are more concerned about data theft and security of these applications. I am a proponent of data security for sensitive information.
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ET: How are people going to comply when there is no data protection law?
SN:
I think there is an IT Act. The government has said we need FDI, FII money and here I am giving a rare shoutout to Paytm. To say they are a Chinese app because of their shareholding is absurd. They are headquartered in India, have thousands of employees here, people have celebrated the company's achievements for the last five years and now suddenly they are saying Paytm is not Indian because it has investment from Alibaba, that attitude is not right and inconsistent.

ET: You're speaking up for Paytm, a few days after you spoke up for Google Pay. Both are your rivals, why this sudden change of heart?
SN:
I think there are many areas where we disagree but it's time for the industry to start fending for itself as it's too easy to get victimised.


ET: So you are saying that there needs to be a distinction. That one can't say Paytm must be targeted because Alipay has a stake in it and Alibaba has a stake in Paytm Mall because there is concern about what kind of control these investors exercise?
SN:
If we are going to celebrate as a country that Jio has raised over Rs 1 lakh crore, then we should be able to celebrate capital coming in too. Do we know if Paytm is giving out data? Did you know that Facebook is giving your data? These can't be used as reasons to say that Paytm's Vijay Shekhar Sharma or any other employee of that organisiaton is working against India. These are two completely different topics.

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ET: Would you have said this if you were not owned by Walmart and were a standalone Indian startup? Because companies like Mobikwik now claim they are the only truly Indian payments app.
SN:
Mobikwik's largest investor is Sequoia. Can somebody ask Sequoia where their LPs come from? InMobi now claims Roposo is a made in India app but anybody who has been using InMobi have been talking about being a global ad network and their biggest market was China. If India says it wants to go global then we start respecting certain boundaries. We can't go about being opportunistic in dissing investors and investment whenever it suits us. Let us separate politics from policy. Whether I am a subsidiary of Flipkart or owned by Walmart or when I was an independent startup, I am proud of all three scenarios because all three from a government standpoint are very strong. If the law of the land says we want FDI, then we should be happy and proud that we are a hub for investment.

ET: What should be the way forward?
SN:
Government needs to pass the data privacy bill and make enforcement strong. They need to take the market's view before coming to a decision. We need to be clear on whether we are allowing FDI, too many questions and retrospective outlook is hurting our market.

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