Indian mobile payments

(This is the unedited version of my column Come Again that appeared in The Hindu Business Line)

When Google announced its mobile payment services Google Wallet, it created ripples all over the world. And when there was news about Google releasing an update for Android with Google Wallet, I was one of those eagerly awaiting it. Then II realised the update was not for India.

The only consolation I had was that I was already using mobile payments right here in India. I had the NG Pay and Atom apps installed in my Nexus S. I could pay utility services, buy products, recharge my mobile or DTH connections or get train or movie tickets through the two apps. I had also used mChek occasionally, but only for paying Airtel bills. These services used my bank or credit card account for payment.

Another good service was Paymate. Unlike the services mentioned above, I had to ‘load’ the money to my Paymate account or ‘buy’ vouchers and then use my mobile to make payments. I could also gift money to other mobile users. Though the service was slightly confusing at first — I had to log in at the sister site Giftmate to load or gift the money — I got used to it. It was working well, till I changed my mobile number. Though the customer care kept assuring me that the money in the old account would be transferred to the new number, nothing happened. Giftmate (or is it Paymate) still has my money — though not much– but I can’t use it.

Then came Airtel Money. Like Paymate, you have to load money into your Airtel Money account and use it to pay bills and buy movie tickets apart from recharging prepaid mobiles and DTH connections. The additional advantage with Airtel Money is that you can also make payments in shops that have tied up with Airtel Money.

But the surprise package here is our humble Post Office! The postal department, often derided for sloppy service, has a service called Beam that is similar to Airtel Money.

Once you register in Beam, you can load money into your Beam account through post offices or online (beam.co.in) and use it to book train tickets, recharge mobile and DTH accounts, and make utility bill payments. The service has just been launched and will soon include payments for online shopping or at physical stores.

I was sceptical while registering for the service, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the registration process was so easy. I loaded a token amount and found that my account was credited within seconds. Now my respect for the humble post office has gone up several notches!

So, as Google takes it’s own sweet time to bring Google Wallet to India, I am glad that I have my desi wallet services to fall back upon.