India’s financial services firm Paytm raises $1B

Paytm said on Monday it has raised $1 billion in a new financing round as the Noida-headquartered firm, which once dominated the local mobile payments market, attempts to fight back giants Google, Walmart’s PhonePe, and Facebook.

The company said the new financing round was led by U.S. asset manager T Rowe Price. Existing investors Ant Financials (contributed $400 million), SoftBank Vision Fund (contributed $200 million), and Discovery Capital also participated in the round, which valued the company at about $16 billion — higher than any other local startup and some of the high-profile Asian startups such as Grab and Gojek.

Paytm founder and chief executive Vijay Shekhar Sharma said the firm will use the fresh capital to court merchants as Paytm looks to expand its presence among small and medium-sized businesses. The company will also work on expanding its financial offerings such as lending and insurance to users. Paytm, which also offers its mobile wallet service in Japan, has amassed 15 million merchants, he said.

The big buck comes as India turns into the newest payments battleground for major global giants Google, Walmart, and Facebook . According to Credit Suisse, the digital payments market in India will be worth $1 trillion in the next four years, up from about $200 billion currently.

According to industry estimates, more than 100 million people in India today use mobile payments services. Paytm led the local market in peer-to-peer mobile payments in 2017. The service among other mobile wallets such as MobiKwik and Freecharge saw their daily usage skyrocket after New Delhi invalidated much of the cash in circulation in the country.

At an internal party, Sharma told ecstatic employees that “nobody can beat Paytm. India finally has its own technology giant.” But in the following months, a score of companies including Google and Samsung entered the payments market in India, leveraging an infrastructure called UPI built by a collation of banks and backed by the government.

Google Pay and Flipkart’s PhonePe today lead the peer-to-peer payments, according to industry figures. Google Pay has amassed over 67 million monthly active users, the company revealed earlier this year. Flipkart’s PhonePe is valued at $10 billion.

Paytm, in the meantime, has focused on expanding to other categories such as e-commerce platform, games, and ticketing business. The company is also aggressively trying to onboard merchants across small cities and towns in India.

Engaging with merchants is one of the few ways a payments firm in the country can currently make any money. At a fintech conference in Bangalore last week, Sajith Sivanandan, Managing Director and Business Head of Google Pay and Next Billion User Initiatives, said Google Pay currently did not have a business model in India. Answering a question from the audience, he said, local payments bodies “need to find ways for payment players to make money” to ensure every stakeholder has incentives to operate.

If those challenges weren’t enough, WhatsApp, which has amassed more users than any other service in the country, is expected to roll out its payments service to all of its 400 million users in the coming weeks.

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