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Cash vs Digital Money: why going cashless is going to be tough in India

At the end of a panel at “Startup India Standup India”, adequately named “Disruptive Power of Technology in Financial Inclusion”, the panelists, which included Paytm CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Eko Founder and CEO Abhishek Sinha, and Ispirt’s Sharad Sharma, pledged to make India a cashless economy. That was January 16th, 2016, and nearly 10 months later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, put disruption into the financial payments space, with the move to remove (and gradually recycle) 86% of the cash in the Indian economy. The government’s narrative surrounding demonetization has changed frequently since then: first it was an attack on black money, then about addressing funding of terrorism, but the latest pitch, for a move that reportedly has seen people die, is that it moves people towards a cashless economy; what Venkaiah Naidu, the Union Minister for Urban Development and Information and Broadcasting, also referred to today as a “Cultural Revolution”, entailing, to quote him, a “behavioural modification”. But how ready up are we to go cashless? How affordable is it for people to go cashless? Our contention here is that there is no parity between Cash and Digital Money: a rupee paid by cash is far more convenient for a user, and affords less costs, as compared to a cashless system: Infrastructure Issues 1. Number of citizens on mobile: Not all Indians are mobile, leave alone connected. The latest figures from the Indian telecom regulator TRAI show that, as of 31st July 2016 (pdf): India had a teledensity of 83%, with Bihar,…

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Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

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