This Entrepreneur Has Been Working on His Vision of a Cashless India Since 2000 While start-ups struggle to give returns to their investors, this company has already managed to give 3X-5X returns

By Sanchita Dash

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Digital and cashless -- these two terms are almost on everyone's lips in the Indian fintech ecosystem now. Every fintech start-up is aiming to be a leader in both the categories.

But what if we tell you that the seeds of change were planted almost 17 years ago? Well, they were in the mind of Naveen Surya, who was toying with the idea way back in 2000, and eventually went to establish Itzcash - a cashless, digital platform for payments.

In an exclusive interview with Entrepreneur India, Naveen Surya, MD of ItzCash and Chairman, Payments Council of India spoke about how they started, the challenges they have faced over the years and how the fintech space is going to change in India.

Building a Business

He is basking in the success of it all today, but Surya, who is also the Chairman of Payments Council of India, remembered the time he was seated with like-minded people 17 years ago and they spoke about what's going to change over the next two decades in the Indian economy.

"That time, we spoke about how these things might happen, how digital convergence will affect the Indian economy. That's when the idea came about to create a product that integrates channel and payment convergence. It should also be able to use technology to deliver things beyond what we have in a world that would need digital money as a payment option. Payments were one large bucket that we created for corporate and consumers," he added.

2000 vs 2017

The way we operate financially has changed drastically over the past two decades. From functioning mainly with cash to making every transaction through the click of a button today, financial technology products have developed leaps and bounds. So, it is understandable that a company starting with a futuristic vision, too, had to go through a number of innovations to suit the changing needs of the economy.

"We started operations by catering to businesses, and later expanded by becoming a B2C company. Increasingly so, financial services convergence became a part of the agenda. That's how we moved to broader financial services and not just payments. The idea was to create a product for users who don't have access to debit cards or credit cards, which is 90 per cent of our population today. That's how we created a large franchise set-up and became agnostic," said Surya.

Time to Go Global

The platform today has evolved from payments to various other segments and Naveen stressed that they are a unified leader in all the segments. The company recently received an investment of over INR 800 crore from the partnership with US-based Ebix, one of the world's largest insurance exchanges. That has opened up doors for Itzcash, too.

"Today, we focus on three main different segments -- payments, domestic remittances and financial services. While we are currently solely India-based, we are exploring opportunities in the overseas markets, including international remittances and healthcare. The acquisition of ebix has just accelerated the thought process and the intent to go global. I started off as the CEO of a company, trying to become the largest player in the industry we operate in. From focusing on building the company to managing macro-stake holders, today we are a profitable company. We started in the pre-regulation era and our concern was to have a representational body for the entire non-banking segment. The idea was to not just be a BFSI or a Fintech leader, but a complete digital leader," he added.

Payments Council of India

The idea of being a digital leader soon led to the origin of the Payments Council of India (PCI). The council has been crucial in contributing to the developments in the payments space. With almost every possible player in Fintech finding space in the council, they have been instrumental in even interacting with the RBI or the ministry to have healthy discussions on implementation of various guidelines, one of the recent ones being the Watal Committee.

"Being in the payments space, I joined a committee, which was looking into digital payments. The committee already had many prominent players from the space, as members. Then, I had the idea to create Payments Council of India and the committee happily agreed to transition into it. Now, after over four years of functioning, the council has all major players from the payments ecosystem, covering all sub-segments of it. In fact, 95-98 per cent of the entire transaction in the sector flows through the members of this council. Through the council, we work in collaboration with the NPCI. We also interact with the RBI and work towards eradicating the common enemy that is physical cash. The idea behind working with RBI is to reduce risk while increasing growth in the digital payments space," said Surya.

ROI Ready

Not many start-ups in India have been able to give returns to their investors, but they have managed to do so by giving 3X-5X returns to all of their major investors. But their work isn't done here. The under-penetration percentage of fintech in India needs to be reduced majorly.

"I think we, as a country, will get there soon because there are three pillars needed - infrastructure, regulations, and entrepreneurs. We have infrastructure support from the government now because of the latter's start-up initiatives. Policies, too, are changing everyday to be innovation friendly. Lastly, the entrepreneurial spirit is high in India and we will keep finding new models of innovation," he said.

Wavy Line
Sanchita Dash

Entrepreneur Staff

Former Senior Correspondent, Entrepreneur India

In the business of news for 5 years now. Making my way across India thanks to my career. A media graduate from Symbiosis, Pune, I have earlier worked with Deccan Chronicle (South India's leading English daily), T-Hub (India's largest incubator) and Anthill Ventures (a speed-scaling platform). 

Stories, movies and PJs are my thing. 

If you hear 'The Office' opening score randomly, don't worry it's just my phone ringing. 


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