Is India’s UPI (Unified Payments Interface) Technology Worth Selling Overseas and to Western Countries?

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The Unified Payments Interface (UPI) was created by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) for purposes of “enabling digital payments and settlement systems in India, is an initiative of RBI and IBA”. As announced in Bloomberg in June 2022, the NPCI is looking to take UPI to overseas markets. This implies that a) the technology has been tested thoroughly and successfully in Indian markets and b) there is currently no real competitor to UPI in overseas markets. At one point, NPCI CEO Ritesh Shukla compared it to a “home-grown alternative to SWIFT”. For those who aren’t familiar, SWIFT is a Belgium-based cross-border payments system operator.

Has the Product [UPI] been Thoroughly Tested in Indian Markets?

Based on our research, yes UPI has been tested both rigorously and successfully in Indian markets.

“We have displaced cash in India to a large extent and are now looking to repeat the success in cross-border corridors. Overseas Indians can use our rails to remit money inwards straightway into their bank accounts, and for the markets where Indians travel frequently, we will build acceptance for our instruments.”
– NPCI CEO, Ritesh Shukla

Not only has the technology behind UPI been proven and tested, but the methodology has also succeeded. At least that’s the quantitative claim Shukla’s making. The World Bank data seems to support the analysis too. Indians overseas remitted $87 billion in 2021; the biggest inflow for any country that was tracked by the World Bank.

Under the RBI’s “Liberalized Remittance Scheme”, all resident individuals (including minors) are allowed to freely remit up to USD $250,000 per year. This is from April-March, for any permissible current or capital account transaction, or a combination of both. Further, resident individuals can avail of the foreign exchange facility, for specific purposes within the limit of USD $250,000 only. The RBI’s “Scheme” was introduced on February 4, 2004, with a limit of USD $25,000 (BusinessDesk, Bloomberg). Since then, the LRS limit has been revised in stages consistent with prevailing macro and micro economic conditions. Notably, the “Scheme” is not available to corporates, partnership firms, HUF, Trusts etc.

Are there Any Notable Comparisons to India’s UPI Abroad (not factoring in SWIFT)?

Of the $87 million in remittances India received in 2021, the US was the biggest source (World Bank). According to the World Bank, US remittances to India accounted for over 20% of the $87 million in 2021.

“Flows to India (the world’s largest recipient of remittances) are expected to reach $87 billion, a gain of 4.6 per cent with the severity of COVID-19 caseloads and deaths during the second quarter (well above the global average) playing a prominent role in drawing altruistic flows (including for the purchase of oxygen tanks) to the country”.
– World Bank Spokesperson, World Bank Migration and Development Brief, 2022

In terms of total global remittances, India is followed by China, Mexico, the Philippines, and Egypt (World Bank). In India, remittances are projected to grow 3% in 2022 to $89.6 billion. This is reflective of a drop in overall migrant stock, as a large proportion of returnees from Middle Eastern countries are still awaiting return (World Bank).

Remittances in low-and-middle-income countries are projected to have grown a strong 7.3% to reach $589 billion in 2021 (World Bank). This “return to growth” is far more robust than earlier estimates. Following the same resilience of flows in 2020, when remittances declined by only 1.7% despite a severe global recession due to COVID-19, according to estimates from the World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief. Lastly, the brief in its entirety can be found here, from the World Bank’s website.

Outside of evaluating the micro-differences to SWIFT, there are no current notable competitors to India’s UPI we could find. Without any doubt, no possible comparisons would come close in terms of size or scale.