Alphabet Inc.'s Google plans several big moves into digital payments in India, a country with a huge first-time internet user population that serves as a test-bed for innovations in smartphone technology.
The U.S. search giant will start a service called Spot it hopes will get more merchants to adopt online payments, helping early partners including MakeMyTrip, home services marketplace UrbanClap and food delivery brand Oven Story set up branded shops using Google Pay. It's also pushing digital tokens for mobile commerce, a feature the company will roll out with Visa Inc. for several Indian banks in the coming months, Google executives said.
The effort is part of Google's broader push into one of the world's fastest-growing internet arenas. The Mountain View, California-based company will also open a research lab focusing on artificial intelligence applications in fields like health care and education, and it'll offer public Wi-Fi to villages in three regions. Google will take any lessons learned in India to the more than two dozen countries where it offers digital payments.
"When you build for India, you are building for the world," Google Pay's India head, Ambarish Kenghe, said in a phone interview ahead of a "Google for India" event in New Delhi on Thursday.
Google's commitment is to make the internet accessible and inclusive, said Caesar Sengupta, vice president of the company's Next Billion Users Initiative and Payments. Aside from voice searches in Hindi, the Google Assistant will soon support eight more local languages. Translations will be added in the coming months. And Google's speech-based Bolo app, intended to help children read, will also be available in five additional Indian languages with expanded content.
But it's in Indian payments that Google is making the biggest splash, joining other foreign players such as Facebook Inc.'s WhatsApp and local firms like Paytm in Asia's No. 3 economy. Google Pay has grown threefold there over the past 12 months and now has 67 million monthly active users who made transactions worth over $110 billion during the period, Kenghe said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has been a big proponent of mobile technology as a way to connect the hundreds of millions of mostly rural residents and merchants underserved by a rickety traditional bank and credit card infrastructure. Google Pay for Business, a new app launching in India, is designed to ease India's 60 million small businesses into the online commerce realm, letting them experiment with newfangled features such as video verification, Kenghe said.
Credit Suisse estimates that the Indian digital payments market will touch $1 trillion by 2023 from about $200 billion currently. Cash still accounts for 70% of all Indian transactions by value, according to Credit Suisse's analysts, and neighboring China is far more advanced with a mobile payments market worth more than $5 trillion already. That leaves room to grow.
"The speed of adoption and growth has defied our expectations," Sengupta said. "Our product is getting better every two weeks, backed by field researchers observing people in real-life environments in their homes and shops," he said. "We will keep refining to ensure it's the right product and service."
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