Mumbai: India’s first integrated omnichannel financial services platform ‘Airpay’ is expanding in India and abroad and contributing towards the success of Digital India. With over 400 employees, Airpay, a profitable company, has now partnered with the Government of India’s Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) with its alternative e-commerce model, Airpay Vyapari. ONDC aims to bring a revolution in the field of digital commerce, similar to the revolution in the field of digital payments with the introduction of UPI. ONDC, launched in April 2022 by the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, is a decentralized indigenous market place. Commerce Editor Vishnu Bharadwaj had a detailed discussion with Sulabh Tandon, Chief Business Officer (CBO) of Airpay, regarding this partnership and Airpay’s plans. Here are its highlights:- How many shopkeepers have joined the ‘Airpay Merchant’ network so far and what will be their benefits by joining ONDC? So far, our network has connected more than 5 lakh shopkeepers with small grocery, paan, general stores and other businesses across the country, whom we call ‘Airpay Merchants’. These ‘Airpay merchants’ provide banking and financial services to over 60 million customers in 561 districts and over 7,000 villages across 36 states and union territories in India. Joining ONDC will provide an additional source of income to these small businessmen. New self-employment opportunities will open. This will open the doors to a wider and deeper India and a bigger vision for its customers. On the other hand, by accessing ONDC through Airpay Vyapar portal, ‘Airpay merchants’ will be able to increase sales of their products across the country and buy goods at the right price. Due to which their earnings will increase further and they will be able to become strong. Apart from ONDC, where else is Airpay supporting the government for Digital India? We are also tying up with various state governments. In this sequence, we have tied up with the Government of Rajasthan for e-Mitra. Under this, all public services of the state government are being made available online on the Airpay app. Apart from this, we have entered into an agreement with Bhopal Milk Federation and are making all its milk farmers digital. Being digital, they have started getting their milk money on time. All round development of India cannot be done without the development of rural economy. What is the contribution of Airpay in this direction? It is true that the India growth story can be successful only with the inclusive development of both cities and villages. Today people living in urban India are buying and spending online. Means they have become digital, but for the development of large population concentrated in rural areas, they also need to be made digital. Rural India is still not comfortable with digital transactions and we have felt the challenge. Hence, we have created an alternate payment model and built a strong network of Airpay merchants. Through this network, we are empowering this new class of micro-entrepreneurs and self-sustaining business owners to provide formal financial products to their underserved customers. Also read: What are the challenges you see in increasing digital penetration in rural India? Lack of digital literacy is a major reason why people in rural areas of the country still prefer cash. Trust in the Internet is low. Besides, lack of adequate banking infrastructure is another reason. Also there is a lack of merchant card machines at local grocery stores. The high cost of these machines is also a deterrent. Therefore, a lot needs to be done to increase digital penetration in rural and semi-urban areas. We intend to work in an alternative model, where rural India feels safe and comfortable. People need someone to trust to provide a helpful experience for their transactions and purchases, be it buying mobile phones online or paying bills. That’s why we’re building assistants (Airpay merchants) into our alternative model, to help people become a more active part of the digital economy. How does Airpay plan to expand overseas? Having established ourselves as India’s fastest growing integrated financial services platform, we are expanding to countries in Africa and the Middle East. We expect revenue share from our strategic overseas business to reach 30 per cent by 2025. Airpay recently launched operations in the African country of Tanzania and will partner with the Ministry of Labour, the Office of the President for Economic and Investment to help bring about a digital revolution in Tanzania. We have also opened offices in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Apart from this, talks are on for expansion in 3 more African countries.