Harinder Takhar

First India, now Canada for Paytm

What began as a mobile recharge and utility bill payment app in India has grown into a full-stack financial services company with the aim of bringing more than 500 million Indians into the mainstream economy. Now for his next trick Paytm Canada CEO Harinder Takhar wants to let Canadians pay their bills from their smartphone.

Paytm began as a provider of B2B value adds to carriers in India, but in 2008-2009 the company launched a few experiments, including looking at methods of paying through mobile devices of all kinds. It was first a consumer service before expanding into banking, lending insurance and payments, Mr. Takhar said. Those steps took, to the point where Paytm was processing 20 million transactions every day.

Harinder Takhar

After expanding to Canada, which he described as a natural fit for the company, Paytm went back to the lab to develop new products for a new market, Mr. Takhar said. Using artificial intelligence, they thought of a marketing platform where every person saw something different based on their unique needs. That opened up completely new avenues.

“Internally we always thought about projects where people in Canada could send money back home to family in India,” Mr. Takhar said. “But the people using the service are diverse, as Canadian as you can get.

“When we figured out we have the opportunity to be a local domestic player that speaks to all Canadians that is always more valuable than filling a niche.”

One of Paytm’s strengths is its fraud prevention capability and that grew from necessity, Mr. Takhar said. Because many of their transactions in India were for low sums, that left them with little revenue to buy an existing solution.

So they built their own.

“We were forced to sit back and build our own,” Mr. Takhar said. “Because we had the constraints there was no choice.”

The solution gets more accurate as those 20 million daily transactions are processed and analyzed to identify patterns, Mr. Takhar said. That is important when your service accepts payments from several different devices. As the database of payments made from each unique device grows that can be analyzed, and they can also look for patterns between different devices.

“We agree if there are more dots on the paper it is easier to make a pattern,” Mr. Takhar said. “And because of our data we are able to find more dots.”

Paytm also had to be resourceful when seeking technical staff in India, he added.

“Back in 2014 this was such a nascent field. All companies at our size look for the people who can learn. If you can learn to learn you are the type who can work in the system.”

Paytm has a robust marketing plan, which includes regular communication with users about product improvements and the addition of new billers. They also have regular cash back promotions where in designated periods users get a percentage rebate. Trip and prize giveaways are common and those paying at least $500 using their bank account or Paytm cash earn access to special offers including percentage discounts at select retailers. Paytm users also generate points based on the dollar amount of bills they pay through the app.

Selling the merits of an app like Paytm to consumers is a different process in India than Canada, Mr. Takhar said.

“In India because there are no landlines, bad roads make travel difficult, people rely on their cell phones. While in Canada because those delays don’t exist we need to promote the advantages more.”

When recruiting bill issuers, Paytm started with the most popular ones, Mr. Takhar said, selling them on the app’s potential as not only a payment but also a marketing channel.

Both consumers and companies see the future, Mr. Takhar said.

“Tomorrow the digital channel is the ultimate channel that everyone is going to use, we are doing more of our life on digital.”

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