The Rise of India Blockchain, Cryptos lagging – Mistake or Opportunity?

It’s an emotional week for Indians – for most of them atleast. It’s a week when India crashed out of the cricket world cup, that they were favourites to win. While I was looking for “India news” to cheer myself and my family up, I spotted an important trend worth talking about.

The rise of Blockchain in India doesn’t come as a surprise to me. It is the third most active innovation ecosystem in the world, next to the US and China. 2018 had $35 Billion of PE/VC investment in the country, and that has risen over the years at a rapid pace. However, with Blockchain, most of the initiatives have a public sector organisation driving it.

Blockchain-India-Infographic

Image Source

Most Indians would admit  that public sector organisations in India are super dysfunctional. So, this is indeed a sign of new times. Perhaps, the state governments are taking inspiration from the centre’s initiatives with payments and other technology innovation. Let us look at the three key trends that we have identified across the states.

  • Land Registry – This is such a critical use case for Blockchain in India. The real estate industry is fraught with corruption, and a system to bring integrity to the value chain is most welcome. Blockchain could add so much value to this space.

 

  • Farm Insurance – I am quite glad that this is a key trend. Less than a year ago, I wrote an article asking for exactly this. A violent storm that hit my home state, affected coconut farms and many farmers lost their 10 years of hard work. A smart contract based insurance mechanism is critical for farmers to protect their livelihoods. In a country that depends on two monsoons for agriculture, a flood or a drought could kill the crops.

 

  • Digital Certificates – There is a saying in India – You can’t go wrong with a food or an “education business”. Education has been commoditized in the country so much that, every year there are 1.5 Million engineers being produced. It is also a market where counterfeit certificates and CVs are not uncommon. Blockchain based digital certificates to maintain the integrity of the education process is yet another useful application.

The map also identifies several other use cases like Organ transplants (as the black market in India is thriving), IP Protection and Cybersecurity. I am surprised that there is no line item for Self Sovereign Identity. India has the world’s largest citizens’ database in Aadhaar. Loading it up on a permissioned Blockchain, and providing citizens the ability to share their data in a controlled fashion would be a major building block.

But that initiative needs to come from the central government. It cannot be a state government driven agenda. Also, despite all these developments, the action from the central government around Blockchain initiatives is missing. The central government needs to intervene to standardise state government based initiatives across the country.

The other elephant in the room is the cryptocurrency ban in the country. I believe, this has pushed India behind its global competition by a few years when it comes to Blockchain innovation. The country has a buzzing startup ecosystem. The centre has taken several steps even in the most recent budget to support innovation.

But when it comes to cryptocurrency, the Reserve Bank of India has taken a very binary approach. I spoke to Lizzie Chapman (CEO of ZestMoney) a few weeks ago on lending fintechs in India. During that conversation, she mentioned that the Indian regulators have been quite collaborative in setting policies for the industry. That approach seems to have been lost somewhere with Cryptos.

The challenge that India has is that of talent. With lack of innovation happening in this space, Blockchain skills will start running out pretty soon. Yes, the big tech consulting firms looking to build Blockchain skills can do so. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to leadership within Blockchain innovation.

The other challenge is global competition. China and other top economies have allocated $ Billions towards emerging technologies such as AI, Quantum computing and Blockchain. China and US fight it out for the top place in the world’s patenting charts across these technologies. India is only in 6th position in the world for the number of Blockchain patents, and without private sector innovation, will soon risk being left behind.

In essence, the centre needs to wake up to this new era in the country. It’s time for leadership at the top, much like they did with payments. They should get initiatives kicked off on Blockchain and its standardisation across states. They should ensure that the regulations are clear for the crypto community.

With just those two steps, the country should be back on the map in a much bigger way with Blockchain. The mistake (crypto ban) could be turned into an opportunity. Onwards and Upwards!! Cheer up India!!


Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Venture Capital investor at Green Shores Capital focusing on Inclusion and a podcast host.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

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FB doing a Tencent – Cryptos mainstream adoption in sight?

We have had a record breaking February in the UK weather-wise. One of the days in Feb saw temperatures go up to 21 degrees Celsius. While the cold has returned a little bit, it seems winter is largely done. I get that sense with cryptos, as large institutions one after another are announcing projects, and it only takes one of them to take off for cryptos to go mainstream.

Messaging applications thinking of launching their own cryptos is nothing new. Telegram and Signal have been at it for sometime. However, it is a bigger deal when Facebook looks at introducing cryptocurrency based payments on Whatsapp. The size of the opportunity for Facebook and their partners when the platform is Finteched will undoubtedly get them out of their issues they have faced over the past 24 months.

The Facebook Opportunity

Facebook has two problems to solve, and both potentially powered by Blockchain.
Facebook’s Blockchain team has been spearheaded by former PayPal president David Marcus since last May. In order to replicate Tencent’s successes, they need to leverage the user base of their apps (FB, Whatsapp, Instagram). Bringing payments to Whatsapp would have have been a good starting point, however Facebook’s attempt at doing that in India (the largest Whatsapp) hasn’t gone too well.

About 1 Billion people in India have a mobile, and about 300 Million of them use Whatsapp. Last year, Whatsapp pay launched in a controlled fashion to 1 Million users in India. They used the government backed UPI (Unified Payments Interface), and during the pilot, they achieved about a Million transactions per month. However, the regulators weren’t happy that the payments engine was on Facebook servers. They wanted the servers to be in India, and despite several conversations there is no solution.

The payments market in India is a $1 Trillion market by 2023, and it would be a shame if they missed the bus.

Facebook is looking to create a stablecoin attached to a basket of currencies. There is a team of about 50 people working on this project. If FB planned to use the Indian market as a testing ground for the crypto-powered Whatsapp pay, they may now have to deal with the crypto currency regulatory ban too. However, if they managed to clear the regulatory hurdle, their growth could dwarf the likes of PayTM, and that would just be the start. On top of it, Indian remittance market boomed to $80 Billion last year. If I could use whatsapp to send money to my mom, that would be awesome!!

The other issue that FB has had is around data privacy. With identity management being one of the key concerns, FB saw record number of millennials leave their platform last year. However, with a Blockchain powered Self Sovereign Identity engine, Facebook connect could redefine it’s position with data privacy as a distributed identity management platform.

How decentralised it (the identity engine) will stay if launched is another challenge. Most federated and decentralised identity management engines have ended up creating a centralised monopoly in the past. With Blockchain behind the scenes, one would expect that to be different.

Will Facebook replicate Tencent inspired successes through Whatsapp? Will FB change perceptions through a genuinely decentralised identity engine? Would 2019 be the year of mainstream adoption of cryptos? Watch this space.


Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Venture Capital investor at Green Shores Capital focusing on Inclusion and a podcast host.

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