For a person who made the colour yellow synonymous with the telecom revolution that India has witnessed over the last two decades, the bell never stopped ringing. If telephones were to make large parts of India mobile, Sam Pitroda was clear that they needed something that would make their pockets mobile too. This was at a time when the world already knew a lot about cashless transactions through credit cards and alike. But for the father of the telecom revolution in India, mobility had to go beyond cards and therefore the ‘mobile wallets’.
And, in his book—The March of Mobile Money: The Future of Lifestyle Management—Pitroda and his co-author and colleague, Mehul Desai highlight how they grouped together three players from entirely different backgrounds-telecom companies, banks and merchants-to create an entirely different playing field. The concept of the digital wallet that the book introduces is seen by both Pitroda and Desai as an idea that will break down financial walls, changing the very concept of money in the process.
Linking the mobile money concept with greater financial inclusion, Pitroda is clear that this was the machine that could bring to fruition the Indian Government’s aims in this direction. The key concerns, of course, remain issues that mobile money in itself has little to do with: security and digitisation of data, the issues that need a separate set of regulatory mechanisms in place. But, as he notes, if properly put in place, mobile money can give the millions of people at the bottom of the pyramid, who are globally considered unbankable, access to banking and that too at a much lower cost.
This ‘disruptive technology’ as Pitroda himself terms it is seen as changing the nature of money itself, with people spending more and more ‘bits and bytes; on mobile phones. It is also a mechanism that will simplify the lives of millions of people, significantly reducing the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ the world over. The questions that Pitroda and Desai feel technology will answer in the days to come and the answers to which will silence most critics are: what will happen to the physical interaction between consumers, the banks and merchants; will such a process reduce transaction costs or will it add another layer; and will it expand the market.
For this, Pitroda and Desai are clear that what is needed is a common platform that brings all the three players together in a reliable and scalable manner. And, this is where the authors point out that user-based technology comes into play. But both Pitorda and Desai are clear that there is a slow tectonic shift taking place, one that is altering the very concepts of payments, money and banking. And, this shift is having a significant impact on the social, cultural and economic lives that we, in India, were only getting used to.