Prof. Gaurav Raina, Department of Electrical Engineering, IIT Madras, and Chairman, MPFI.
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Indian Institute of Technology Madras researchers will collaborate with members of the Mobile Payment Forum of India (MPFI) to develop voice-based solutions, especially in multiple vernacular languages for digital money transactions in the country.

This will provide a phenomenal platform not only for the increased adoption of digital payments in India but for research opportunities as well, IIT Madras said in a release.

At present, there are more than 100 million active UPI users every month in India, as per the Government of India’s statistics. These initiatives are being taken up by MPFI towards bringing 500 million active users on to the UPI payment platforms by 2025.

The Government of India, in the last Budget, had allocated Rs 1,500 crore to help drive the adoption of digital payments in the country.

The MPFI is working to identify innovation across three levels; Human behaviour and adoption, Technology (design and safeguards), and policy (a data-centric view), to propel India over the next decade.

IIT Madras, Faculty, Department of Electrical Engineering, Gaurav Raina, is the Chairman of MPFI, which is a joint initiative of the Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology, Hyderabad and Rural Technology Business Incubator, IIT Madras. Taken up in 2006, the MPFI’s mission is to enable mobile payments and mobile financial services by everyone.

Gaurav Raina said, “Digital and mobile payments, and in particular contactless payments, are important not just from an efficiency point of view, but also to mitigate risk against COVID-19. It provides a great opportunity to help yourself and also the ecosystem.”

The role of IIT Madras will also be to provide thought leadership in driving digital payments in India to the next level. Among the key technical areas in which IIT Madras researchers will be working on will be machine learning and artificial intelligence, as applied to the digital payments space.

This will happen in two forms:

  • Making the technology backend more robust and secure, and secondly,
  • At the front end, as more people use digital payments, it will create a useful digital data history and footprint. Then using machine learning and artificial intelligence, one can aim to provide customized financial solutions, and other value added services, which in turn will make it more attractive for more people to adopt digital modes of payments.

Gaurav Raina, as the Chairman of MPFI, is conducting discussions with startups, researchers and companies to set up working groups across the country to attract top researchers to this field. 

The Unified Payments Interface (UPI) apps are already available in multiple languages. The UPI is an instant real-time payment system developed by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to facilitate inter-bank transactions in the country.

The key recommendations of the MPFI include:

Human behaviour and adoption:

  1. The money allocated by the government should not be spent towards behaviour changing incentives / schemes, which are short term and induce only burst modes of desired behaviour. The money should be spent towards educating users about mobile payments, and in particular helping them onboard and also conduct the first few transactions.
  2. There is a need for developing a vibrant multilingual ecosystem for payments in India.  While payment solutions like UPI have picked up very rapidly in the country, there is still a long way to go before there is mass adoption of UPI.

 Technology, design and safeguards:

  1.  At the technology level, there is an opportunity to use voice as a means for authentication and conduct transactions across multiple local languages. Today, to conduct a transaction quite a few steps need to be taken before one gets to the authentication part of the transaction. It will be a significant step towards hands-free transactions, if identifying the beneficiary and the amount to be paid can be done via a voice-based solution.
  2. Open-source designs for PoS (Point of Sale) solutions. Such solutions can be standardised and certified for payments. This will greatly reduce the price of PoS solutions, and one will also have an ecosystem that will develop around these solutions.

Policy, a data-centric view:

  1. The government has the rare opportunity to develop a data-centric understanding of how the economy conducts itself and uses money, which can also be used to set taxes accordingly.
  2. Flexibility and experimentation with Merchant Discount Rates (MRD) so that there are the necessary incentives to invest in digital infrastructure to reduce failure rates and enhance the quality of service.
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