With over 400 million active users in India, WhatsApp has shown immense potential for small and big businesses and governments alike. Abhijit Bose, WhatsApp India head, speaks with Outlook Business about the platform’s foray into UPI payments and its business model. Edited excerpts from the interview:
WhatsApp is aggressive with UPI, but why is it behind competition?
We have a role to play in scaling UPI-based payments. We are just in the first innings. At best, we might have 100-150 million people, more from cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. Rural India and Tier II and Tier III cities are underserved. If we do a good job, we can help the next 300 million to 400 million people who trust and open WhatsApp every day—the ones who do not have access to digital services and never been able to pay easily—become comfortable [with digital payments]. We are trying to make sure that we have rural banks, large banks, small banks, small businesses and services from the government on our platform.
Is WhatsApp turning into a fintech company?
No. We are the platform that enables fintechs or any other company. The services—pension, insurance or banking—are not us. We are agnostic and because we are encrypted, we have no idea what is even happening on the platform. On payments, we are an enabler for UPI for partnered banks—State Bank of India, HDFC Bank, Axis Bank, ICICI Bank, etc.
Does that mean you will not become a PhonePe or Paytm and will stay a platform that offers API to whoever wants it and whatever they want to do with it?
There are a set of guardrails on how companies use it and who we let on. One cannot misuse the [WhatsApp] API. But generally speaking, if it is a good use case, a reputable company that is using it constructively, then we are open to all. WhatsApp is unique in terms of being probably the most democratic way of digitising and helping enable digitisation. We are not picking and choosing anything. The consumer can be transacting on WhatsApp and have no idea about the thousands of other businesses on the platform because we are catering to make sure that the journey is unique to them. We are democratic and are not making or curating decisions.
WhatsApp is seen as an app which has become popular without a business model. For how long will it continue?
The core DNA of the app was founded on the consumer experience. When we make trade-offs, we make them in favour of the consumer experience. We have never charged consumers. We charge businesses and help services scale and support their customers better. The second way is primarily through small businesses. The way most of those businesses grow is through advertising. If they advertise on Instagram or Facebook and there is interest [among consumers], talking to the business owner on WhatsApp is the best way. If we deliver value uniquely, they will pay us.