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The Long Road To A Cashless India: Are Indian Fintech Startups Ready?

— By INC 42 | December 6, 2016, 11:21 am

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In the seventeenth century, Sweden became the first European nation to print paper money. Come the 21st and it looks like it could be one of the first ones to do away with cash completely. As per a 2013 paper from the MasterCard Advisors analysis, on "measuring progress towards a cashless society" 59% of transactions in Sweden are cashless.

Be it taking a bus ride, buying a magazine or chewing gum or buying street newspapers sold by homeless people, digital payments are accepted everywhere in Sweden. From cash free hotels to cash free bars to even toilets that accept digital payments, cash is slowly being banished altogether. And believe it or not, even from banks.

Take for instance the April 2013 incident at Stockholm's Ostermalmstorg branch of Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken when an armed robber burst into the bank demanding cash. Only to be told calmly by the employees that there was no cash in the bank or the vaults as it was a "cash-free" location!

While Sweden, with its population of 10 Mn and sophisticated IT infrastructure is rapidly moving on to bash cash from ATMs, things here in India are a far cry from the same. The recent demonetisation drive might add some impetus to the cashless way of living for Indians who still primarily transact in cash, by an overwhelming majority of 90%, what is helping the cause is the breed of mushrooming fintech startups. These startups are finding ways to ensure hassle-free, seamless digital transactions for millions of Indians, but they have to face their own set of challenges in the form of regulations, mistrust, infrastructure roadblocks among others.

Inc42 spoke to some of the players in the fintech space-both startups and investors-to get a comprehensive view of the impediments that stand in the growth path of digital payments uptake in India.