WhatsApp plans to expand banking services in rural areas of India

WhatsApp banking India
A woman in a traditional dress doing household chores in rural India. Photo by prabhjits

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp plans to team up with more Indian lenders to expand banking services in rural areas and for lower-income individuals, the messaging platform’s country head said on Wednesday.

WhatsApp, which counts India as its biggest market with 400 million users, has already tied up with banks including ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank, allowing them to communicate with customers via automated text messages on its business service.

“We now want to open up with more banks over this coming year to help simplify and expand banking services, especially to the rural and lower-income segments,” Abhijit Bose, WhatsApp’s India head told a fin-tech summit via a webcast.

WhatsApp will also expand pilot projects with banking and other partners to cover financial services such as pensions and insurance.

“Our collective aim over the next two to three years should be to help low-wage workers and the unorganised, informal economy easily accesses three products – insurance, micro-credit and pensions,” Bose said.

Apart from its partnerships with banks, the US company has also been running its own payments service in India with limited users for more than two years, waiting for regulatory clearances on issues such as data localisation, ahead of a fully-fledged launch.

WhatsApp has said it has complied with India’s requests to store customers’ data locally.

It hired Bose, the co-founder and chief executive of Indian mobile payments firm Ezetap, in late 2018, a move signalling its ambitions in the payments space.

Parent Facebook’s $5.7 billion investment in Reliance Industries’ digital unit is expected to give WhatsApp an inside track on payments for the Indian conglomerate’s retail business, which aims to serve tens of millions of small shops across India.

(Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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