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Idea Cellular announces its payments bank aspirations

Following Airtel and Reliance Industries Limted (RIL), telecom operator Idea Cellular has said that it has submitted an application to the Reserve Bank of India to form a payments bank. Aditya Birla Nuvo Limited, the promoter group and largest shareholder of Idea Cellular, will hold 51% equity in the payments bank while Idea Cellular will hold up to 49%.

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In a filing with the Bombay Stock Exchange, the company added that the proposed payments bank will be named “Idea Payments Bank Limited”.

Note that Idea Mobile Commerce Services, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Idea, has a prepaid payment instrument (PPI) licence from the RBI. The company also said that once it gets a payments bank licence, the business carried on by the PPI Issuer will be folded into such Payments Bank.

Earlier in November, Idea Cellular  launched its mobile money service ‘Idea Money. Similar to other mobile money services, Idea Money allows Idea subscribers to conduct various transactions like prepaid mobile recharges, DTH recharges, utility bill payments and postpaid bill payments among others.

Partnerships with banks

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It’s also worth noting that Idea had an earlier partnership with Axis Bank and had launched Idea MyCash, its financial inclusion platform offering banking facilities including money transfer on mobile. We wonder if there will be a more strategic alliance between the telecom company and the lender.

Remember, the Reserve Bank of India’s guidelines for payments bank say that 25% of the funds in a payments bank can be invested in timed deposits in scheduled commercial banks . Considering this, Airtel  and RIL which have partnerships with Kotak Mahindra Bank and State Bank of India respectively might have an edge on managing their funds.

We’ve also pointed out earlier that Airtel and SBI had come together to form a joint venture for financial inclusion but the partnership fell through after the Reserve Bank of India expressed its apprehension and said it felt allowing a telecom player ‘to form a JV with a bank may lead to the back-door entry of a non-banking entity in banking. Current RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan reiterated this in a speech last February and said that the banking regulator has made a consciously adopted a bank led mode for financial inclusion despite the potential for mobile banking as a delivery channel.

Other applicants

Other players who have confirmed an application for payments bank include digital payments companies such as Paytm, MobiKwik and FINO PayTech. The RBI also said that it has received 41 applications for a payments bank licence and two External Advisory Committees (EACs) will evaluate the applications received for setting up of payments banks. The EACs will be chaired by  Usha Thorat, former Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India and Dr. Nachiket Mor, Director, Central Board of the Reserve Bank.

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