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PPRO catches the UPI cross-border-payments wave

The UK-based payments company’s new priority in Asia is helping Indians use UPI rails to spend overseas.



Tristan Chiappini, PPRO

Payments platform PPRO recently closed €85 million ($92 million) in funding from existing and new investors.

“That 85 million turned a lot of heads, because getting funding at that scale is against the grain for fintech these days,” said Tristan Chiappini, PPRO’s managing director for Singapore and vice president for Asia Pacific.

In Asia, the biggest bet the money will afford is on India, where rising digital means of payment are adding more transactions the fintech is processing.

“We’ve got a surfboard under our arm to ride a tidal wave of transactions,” Chiappini said.

India Stack support

In addition to businesses in Australia, China and Singapore (where the company recently acquired an institutional payments provider license), Chiappini says India is where the fintech is “doubling down”.

India’s numbers are big. Total online digital spending in India hit $81 billion in 2023, according to PPRO. The company predicts that figure will reach $137 billion by 2027. Of those digital transactions, today 80 percent take place via UPI, or United Payments Interface, a mobile peer-to-peer service that’s part of the “India Stack”.

That stack is run by the National Payments Corporation of India, a government agency. NPCI has struck a deal with PPRO to enable Indians to pay for overseas e-commerce products and services using UPI.

Domestically, UPI just requires a sender to input the recipient’s mobile number. The government has also added features such as automatic and recurring payments, account aggregation, and voice-enabled instructions for people who don’t have a smartphone.

PPRO estimates UPI will handle more than 1 billion transactions per day by 2026.

Card declined

The fintech is not the only player involved in extending UPI for spending on overseas services. Other parties include Reserve Bank of India, commercial banks, and the three leading ‘prepaid payment instruments’ (the wallet operators facilitating UPI transactions), PhonePe, Google Pay and Paytm.

PPRO’s business model is to simplify cross-border payments for users of domestic payment rails. In countries like India, which has capital controls, it is often difficult for local people or businesses to use credit cards to purchase goods and services on international platforms. Merchants have to complete arduous KYC and paperwork to be approved.

As a result, card transactions are frequently blocked. These merchants can readily access UPI, however, so PPRO is meant to bridge that domestic infrastructure to global credit-card networks.

Moreover, last year the RBI cracked down on local fintechs providing workarounds, which has made it difficult for global e-commerce businesses such as Netflix or Spotify to process India-based subscriptions. Those companies had to build onshore operations.

PPRO’s business does not usually cater directly to merchants. Its customers are fintechs, merchant acquirers, and banks. In the India case, it does not try to serve every international payment; it prefers to sit in the middle of lucrative corridors, such as between India and the US (that is, to help Indians pay for US tech services like Netflix).

It also helps Indian businesses sell to overseas consumers who are using local fintech payment solutions, be it AfterPay in Australia, Klarna in Europe, or Grab Pay in Southeast Asia.

From P2P to ecommerce

Chiappini says the UPI cross-border functionality should be live by this summer. It is a one-way service, helping Indians spend on ecommerce overseas.

Over time, he thinks there will be opportunities in the region for fintechs like PPRO to enable cross-border ecommerce payments among local markets. This would ride on top of bilateral deals by governments to link their domestic real-time payment systems.

These nascent arrangements are uneven and just for low-value P2P payments. That doesn’t represent a challenge to correspondent banking using Swift messages, nor to credit cards. And it doesn’t address the growing demand for spending on international e-commerce services, such as SaaS offerings for businesses or digital subscriptions for consumers.

Getting there is a long-term prospect. For example, Singapore has linked up its PayNow infrastructure to UPI and to Thailand’s PromptPay. But people in Bangkok and Bangalore can’t use this to transact with each other. This limits e-commerce among participating countries.

Chiappini says a lot of the excitement around linking Asian markets’ domestic payment rails is going to fade. “It’s like open banking five years ago: a lot of hype that ended up being disappointed. Same with using bitcoin for payments.”

That’s another way of saying, payment fintechs expect there to remain plenty of big waves in cross-border payments for them to surf.

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