Disrupting the FinTech segment with its innovative offerings, Freecharge is aiming to target organized and unorganized merchant space in India.
Fareed Jawad, Vice President and Principal Product Architect, Freecharge speaks with Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com about the company’s priorities and what kind of innovations it is set to bring to the Indian market.
Please share with us some of the key priorities for Freecharge today. What role is being played by technology in realizing these priorities?
For us, consumers and merchants, both are equally important.
We are well on our way to becoming the digital payment OS of the country through creating an ecosystem of partnerships. We want digital wallet to be beneficial for both merchants and consumers. Along with online merchants, Freecharge is aggressively working with offline merchants as well for the quick adoption of digital payments. We launched Freecharge Go which has already made our wallet ubiquitous in the online space.
For offline merchants, we have developed ‘On-the-go-pin’, with which merchants can easily start accepting digital payments without having to invest additional money in the infrastructure. We are also experimenting with alternate form factors and interaction protocols to enable frictionless yet secure transactions.
To further expand our wallet presence across India, we launched ‘Chat and Pay’, a first-of-its-kind service on our app for consumers and merchants. It is an engaging and secure way of enabling social payments both for Person-to-person (P2P) and Person to merchants (P2M). It allows customers to pay and chat simultaneously with family, friends and merchants. The service enables merchants, small or large to accept digital payments in less than 1 minute after registering on the Freecharge App. Going forward, merchants will also be able to upgrade their payment limits of INR 10,000 with necessary KYC verification.
We are working towards coming up with much more solutions for customers and merchants to make digital payments acceptance all pervasive in India.
What according to you are some of the business critical technology trends redefining the FinTech space?
There are several interesting technology initiatives being taken up in the FinTech space. A lot of them are around enabling the offering of financial services on the mobile platforms especially around making the mobile become the point of transaction for payment services.
The ability to offer financial services such as investments, insurance and the ability to offer credit at the point of purchase are also being developed. Designing services that work under low latency to support mobile speeds are a key focus area of a lot of the technology being developed in FinTech today.
Solving for a better authentication experience within the bounds of regulation is also gaining ground. Convergence technologies that allow similar form factors to be used for either online or offline transactions are also being developed and trailed. Use of data and heuristics to determine eligibility for certain financial services, mitigate fraud and tailor the customer experience contextually are already available and have become popular.
Newer technologies have the potential to disrupt the traditional realms of financial services with their enormous hardware costs end to end and this is being played out from payment acceptance points and devices to highly available downstream switching infrastructure.
What role does innovation play towards driving customer loyalty and stickiness in this space?
Our goal is to make payments seamless, frictionless and reliable for both consumers and merchants. We believe that by building a consumer experience that is swifter and safer, and a ubiquitous acceptance network, we will be able to move consumers away from cash to digital payments.
To get consumers to adopt digital payments the experience needs to be better than cash – swifter and safer! And initially more rewarding. We know that once the consumer tries, they stay. At Freecharge about 75% of our users have retained users. Our biggest technology advantage is our superlative User Interface (UI).
We have also invested in building technology that allows for intelligent transaction routing, deep downstream integrations, and support for newer payment methods. We are also innovating in our capabilities to detect and minimize fraud.
What kind of innovations can we expect from Freecharge in near future?
Freecharge’s aim is to provide seamless, frictionless and reliable transaction experience to the consumers and hence technology plays as one of our greatest aid. Our platform is enabled with the latest in tech, HCE NFC BLE, and QR code, and various new technologies we are exploring areas which will make transactions faster for our customers. A number of new technologies are being road tested.
We are also equally focused on building a solid payments infrastructure on top of which both online and offline transactions can be supported. These assets allow us to support customers and merchants alike in a flexible, secure and fast manner. We want to enable a number of high-frequency use cases including low-value payments by allowing others to also ride on our platform.
Most of the today’s mobile Apps have become great examples of how to optimally utilize computational resources and SDN and virtualization play an important role here. Please share your thoughts here.
Market scenarios, customer needs, and technology landscape are changing at much higher pace today than ever before. On the other hand time to market has shrunk. It is a matter of survival for businesses today to not only adapt to these changes but also do it at a rapid pace.
Software-defined infrastructure, cloud, and virtualization provide essential end-to-end infrastructure solutions at a speed, scale, and elasticity that is unparalleled. In the fast moving environment of today, they have become vital enablers allowing businesses to focus on their core business and quickly innovate and respond to changing business needs in an efficient manner. Adoption and penetration of software defined infrastructure and cloud are only set to rise with all data points from industry research and forecasts also pointing towards the same.
Also, the same infrastructure enables fast reaction in critical times of big load and minimizes downtime as well. What is your strategy to handle the big load and minimize downtime?
Freecharge’s existing infrastructure is built to scale and allows us to handle significant increases in transaction volumes. Freecharge has built a number of alerting and monitoring systems that help determine if there are issues either upstream or downstream. Our strategy includes keeping loads to a manageable level by sizing ahead of time based on forecasting etc. Downtimes are minimal with high availability solutions that are implemented.
What is the overall user base that Freecharge has today?
As a policy, we do not share user base number as we feel it is a vanity metric. Freecharge has hit 1 million transactions a month in February and since then growing at a rate of 15% every month on transactions.
The year 2015 was around spreading awareness and educating customers about wallets. In 2016, we see the rate of adoption rising and the need to strengthen awareness to smaller cities and towns. Freecharge aims to reach 7 million transactions a day by the end of 2016.
What are your growth plans?
We are focused on removing friction and building reliability in every transaction. We believe that we need to create an ecosystem for digital payments that will build a habit for consumers to move from cash to digital payments. This goal is very much in sync with the Government’s ambition of a digital India and RBI’s vision of a less cash economy.
To this end, we launched our wallet last year and we have seen a massive growth primarily driven by high user retention and loyalty. We believe that now we need to create the same experience across many used cases. In the coming months, we are focused on addressing the needs of all merchants in this country – offline and online.
We plan to dramatically increase the availability of digital payments to all merchants, universally, big and small at a single touch of a button, in a manner that makes all payments swifter and safer. India has about 100 million organized and unorganized merchants, and we want to get to at least 5 million of them over the next 18 months.