How Meta’s Global Team Derailed Whatsapp India’s Payment Ambitions

Meta’s global team derailed WhatsApp India’s payment ambitions, as everything had to go through the global headquarters. This led to the departure of senior executives Abhijit Bose, Manesh Mahatme, and Vinay Choletti from the organization last year.

When WhatsApp was given the approval to run Unified Payments Interface (UPI) in India, the expectation was that it would blow the competition out of the water. In March 2022, when WhatsApp did a small campaign for a week, the company did 8-10 million transactions a day and was signing up more than 1.6 million users a day on its platform without spending anything on marketing. That was the reception. However, it was flattering to deceive.

In April 2023, WhatsApp’s UPI payments did 15 million transactions recording a total value of Rs 1,300 crore. This represents a volume and value market share of 0.1 percent and 0.09 percent, respectively, in the ecosystem.

The WhatsApp Pay India team was held back by parent Meta’s global office at Menlo Park. From banking relations to design and experience to marketing budgets, everything had to go to the global headquarters. This frustrated the WhatsApp India team and led to senior executives Abhijit Bose, Manesh Mahatme, and Vinay Choletti leaving the organisation last year. The payments division in India does not have any country head as of now.

Missed opportunity

Ahead of the launch, top National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) executives and a few bankers were discussing how to manage the anticipated sudden bump in payments seamlessly without incidents. While initially, everyone feared that WhatsApp would take over the market in no time, it was not to be. In fact, it was one of the major reasons that prompted NPCI to come up with the 30 percent market cap for third-party UPI apps.

Considering that three UPI apps had cornered close to 95 percent of the UPI market share, NPCI was hoping that WhatsApp could dent the leadership enjoyed by the existing players. A lot of people in the ecosystem wanted WhatsApp to succeed. But by the end of 2022, NPCI top brass was disappointed that it is not going to happen in the near future.

WhatsApp was also probably hurt by a staggered launch given to it by NPCI, fearing domination by the chat app. It started with a trial among a small group of users. Then, it was allowed to open up the payments platform to 20 million users and then 40 million and 80 million users, and so on. This probably prevented WhatsApp from going aggressively into the market and announcing its entry into payments as it could not have onboarded everyone even if it wanted to. By April 2022, it could onboard 100 million users, but the momentum was lost.

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