Nepal’s e-conomy rapidly goes digitalPandemic propels Nepal to a mobile wallet economy
There are an estimated 4 million digital wallet users in Nepal now. They have graduated from ATM debit/credit cards to e-banking and mobile banking to the M-wallet movement.
A smartphone with a mobile number with Internet access is the only tool one needs to make payments quickly and conveniently.
If you have not jumped on the mobile wallet bandwagon already, or if you have dipped your toes but want to know more before diving into the digital payment lifestyle, here is a quick recap of the top five e-wallet platforms in Nepal.
Nepal’s first online payment gateway (outside of e-banking) was launched in 2009 and has grown to become the top choice when it comes to mobile wallets. eSewa got the first player advantage in the fintech sector, having accumulated more partners and built many tie-ups so that users can treat it as a true one-stop-shop for regular payments.
Water, electricity, TV and other utility bills, school fees, movie tickets, flight or bus tickets, insurance premium payments, important fees to be paid to goverment bodies, or mobile balance top-ups, eSewa is the go-to app for it all. Transferring funds from one user to another is just a few finger taps away, making it easy for Nepalis to lend or borrow money, casually purchase inexpensive goods and even help family and friends financially. To ensure cyber safety, eSewa has enabled biometric security (fingerprint verification) as well as MPin and password features. That said, the app does store its users’ personal data to regularly enable transactions, as do all such apps.
Fast-forward to 2017, Khalti gives eSewa a run for its money, as it were: quickly rising to become Nepal’s second most-preferred e-wallet, thanks to a strong, creative technical team, Khalti set the new standard of a digital payment app with a smooth, simple UI/UX along with a web application to match.
Khalti is a step ahead with easy onboarding of new merchant accounts, a real-time dashboard and automated reports, salary distribution and other e-banking options for companies, easy website integration for e-commerce sites, and innovatively pitching itself as a marketing strategy for lesser known businesses that need online visibility.
Having tied up with over 40 banks, Khalti is no small fish and is in the market for the long haul. Besides being convenient and offering the same services as eSewa (or similar features), Khalti makes itself known for being not only customer-friendly, but business-friendly to boot.
IME Pay is a relatively new player in the digital wallet market, but being associated with one of the biggest remittance companies, IME Remittance, it is not minor. IME started late but caught up fast by launching aggressive, widespread marketing campaigns across media and brand-building tactics like sponsoring major Nepali TV shows that receive thousands of viewers every day. With attractive cashback offers and a strong sales network, IME Pay is catching up with the rest.
However, a lack of transparency and information for customers along with occasional technical issues confirm that IME Pay has some ways to go. This is a classic case proving a key business lesson: investing time and effort in consistent product development and improvement is more valuable for long-term loyalty than spending on marketing and dramatically increasing sales.
A fintech platform that is a subsidiary product of the corporate giant Prabhu Group, comes with its perks. PrabhuPay lets users pay various utility bills as well as transfer funds within the PrabhuPay network. The app is simple and easy to use, but customers have mentioned issues with KYC form updating, lack of partnerships with popular banks and the much-missed feature of peer-to-peer money transfer that other mobile wallets offer by default.
Following the footsteps of IME Pay, PrabhuPay smartly partnered with ‘The Voice of Nepal’ to become the official voting and payment partner boosted its popularity and brand status. With a few upgrades on the mobile app, bug and glitch fixing, and a significant push in tie-ups with partners, PrabhuPay can keep up with its competition.
With other digital wallet platforms entering the scene, such as QPay, a promising entrant that entices users with high cashback offers, and iPay, a Muncha.com product that is best suited to online shoppers: Nepal’s fintech sector is moving at a rapid pace.
The Covid-19 crisis catapulted this trend, with users forced to use digital payment methods for necessary money transfers during the lockdown in 2020. With smartphones becoming increasingly affordable, widespread Internet penetration across the country, thanks to mobile data services, and the younger generation rooting for a cashless economy, urban Nepal has quickly moved from a cash-dependent economy to become digitally savvy.
However, lack of education and literacy also implies lack of digital literacy. Besides, banking fees and lack of access to banks are major reasons why the less developed rural and semi-rural areas of Nepal are far from ready for digital payment systems. The Nepal government is working towards digital adoption by digitising government transactions (online tax payment options), launching the National Payment Gateway, and establishing many products like ConnectIPS, ConnectRGTS and Electronic Cheque Clearing (ECC).
But nationwide restrictions imposing a one-time transaction limit of Rs5,000, daily limit of Rs10,000 and monthly limit of Rs50,000 force the masses to heavily depend on physical cash and cheque payments. With digital literacy awareness, initiation for new users from the private players themselves and incentive-based strategies built for disadvantaged people, Nepal’s fintech market can grow.
The future is here. We know a healthy digital economy can be corruption-free, convenient and empowering for Nepalis across all income strata.
Saniaa Shah writes this fortnightly column, Tech-Away for Nepali Times.