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Ever since the Indian banking regulator allowed WhatsApp to launch its payments feature early this week, several have been hailing this as a move that could help the popular messaging app become a super-app in the country just like China’s WeChat.China’s eCommerce player Tencent started a messaging app in 2010, and later around 2013, extended the platform to its users for making digital payments to take on behemoth Alibaba’s payment app Alipay. Fast forward to 2020, WeChat has become the country’s super-app with users relying on it for making P2P transfers to buying food, rides, clothes, flight tickets so on and so forth. In short, it is multiple apps in one app.Failure of WeChat in IndiaWeChat, which entered the Indian market in 2012, wanted to replicate its super-app success in India too but failed miserably even though digital payments in the country started to kick-off around 2014-15 with Alibaba-backed Indian payments app Paytm ramping up its marketing activities. Besides, demonetization in 2016 helped boost digital payments, and several apps, including Paytm, PhonePe, Amazon Pay, Google Pay, Citrus Pay, and Mobikwik, entered the fray.There have been several theories around the failure of WeChat in India. First, many experts feel that India is not China and that the consumption pattern and behavior differs. Second, India is still a cash-dominated economy, and consumers are not heavily dependent on a single app. Third, Indian consumers are experimentative and are not loyal to any particular app. In short, discounts, offers, and an excellent user interface and experience are all that matters.Indians do not believe in one-app strategy Coming back to the argument, whether WhatsApp can become a super-app like WeChat in India. The answer we got is a big ‘NO’. IBS Intelligence spoke with several industry experts who are of the view that bundled-services are challenging to take off in this highly competitive market where technology is fast changing. Besides, some apps have already mastered payments to the country and are evolving.“I don’t think WhatsApp can become a super-app. Besides, I don’t want to hazard a guess on something that has not launched yet,” said a founder of a leading payment app without wishing to be quoted. The messaging app has over 400 million smartphone users in India and around 2 billion users globally.The banking regulator, Reserve Bank of India, has permitted WhatsApp to roll out its UPI-based payment feature in phases to around 10 million customers initially after the later agreed to comply with the laws of the land, including those involving data localization. For the uninitiated UPI or unified payment, the interface is an instant and real-time mode of money transfer among various bank accounts done through a VPA (virtual payment address), e.g., [email protected] or [email protected] so on and so forth.Mandar Agashe, Founder of FinTech Sarvatra Technologies, said, “No doubt, WhatsApp’s entry will be game-changing. There will be a great convenience factor, but it has lots to catch-up though it is the most used app. It will be interesting to see what all features WhatsApp adds to its platform.”He further argued that while banking apps are the most secure mode of payments, they are not the most common mode for making small-ticket transactions. But players such as Google Pay and PhonePe have cracked the market in the P2P and P2M (person to merchant) space also.To this, Navin Surya, Chairman Emeritus of Payment Council of India, and also the founder of digital payment app ItzCash, said, “WhatsApp has the potential to drive and make P2M transactions as high as P2P and lead the same within the ecosystem. It would drive real cash transactions to digital.” However, he did not want to comment on whether WhatsApp can dominate the segment and kill the need for other apps.It wasn’t only WeChat that tried or WhatsApp that aims to be a super-app. A player such as Hike, founded by Kavin Mittal and backed by Tencent, also made an attempt that backfired. Hike, with over 100 million users, offered messaging, news updates, digital payments, and cab bookings all bundled into one app. However, in early last year, Mittal announced its plan to unbundle the services.Another Indian app JustDial, which started as a hyperlocal search engine in 1996, launched payments last year to become a go-to app for all needs. Softbank-backed Paytm, which started as a P2P payments platform, launched a chat service called Inbox. However, these added features have not taken off. PhonePe and Google Pay instead have the maximum market share in payments, while WhatsApp dominates the messaging space, and Paytm has the lion’s share in the merchants’ payment space.Gaurav Tiwari, a FinTech expert who has led various digital payments initiatives at HDFC Bank and Reliance Jio, was of the view that Indians are value-conscious consumers and will always keep looking for options providing the best value.“While cashback and offers provide value for some, for many it could be ease of use, ease of access, language, data connectivity, etc…,” Tiwari said. He added, “…as technology is evolving each day, there would be someone along the road who will come up with something disruptive and extraordinary tomorrow.”Arguing on the concept of super-app, Tiwari added that Google has the potential to become one but it has been running each business separately and has not attempted to consolidate them all. Besides, all the experts were of the view that while in China, the consumers do not have many options, but Alipay and WeChat, India has plenty.By Priyanka PaniPriyanka is a Senior Regional Correspondent (Middle East and Asia) at IBS Intelligence.