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Ria Mirchandani: Building payments for India

The product lead of Whatsapp Payments for India thrives on the challenging and exciting environment of the payments space. Her decisions have led to a 13x growth in user base within a year

Salil Panchal
Published: Feb 15, 2022 03:03:49 PM IST
Updated: Feb 16, 2022 12:37:50 PM IST

Ria Mirchandani: Building payments for IndiaRia Mirchandani thinks the main competition is cash, and not other payment platforms
Image: Mexy Xavier
Styling: Juilee Borse And Nidhi Agrawal

Ria Mirchandani, 28
Product lead, WhatsApp Payments

The payments business in India is a tricky one to operate in. The lure of the vast and rapidly expanding market has seen Google Pay, Walmart-owned PhonePe, Alibaba-backed Paytm, Amazon Pay and Facebook’s WhatsApp Payments working to grab a share of the large pie.

However, since it is UPI-based (the banking system for transferring money on mobile payment apps), the earnings fee on each transaction is miniscule. Ask Paytm, which has been forced to move towards ecommerce and lending, to survive. A majority will need to accept the reality of huge cash burns to survive and grow in India. You mix all this and you get a challenging-but-exciting environment to be in. And that’s exactly what Ria Mirchandani thrives on, as she leads the WhatsApp Payment’s business in India—Meta Platforms’ (formerly Facebook) largest market.

Mirchandani studied in Mumbai, but left for higher studies in the US at 18. A look at her CV may suggest that she runs the risk of being a master of none: Engineering degrees in design, computer science, studies in data science, human migration studies, skills that involve public speaking, marketing, JavaScript and Python programming, and a walking tour guide in San Francisco (she’s done over 30). But that’s not the case. There’s a method to her madness.  

After working with Microsoft during the development of Microsoft Teams app, Mirchandani worked at US-based consumer fintech firm Credit Karma. A headhunter’s call to her in 2020 to join Facebook could not be ignored. WhatsApp had been busy testing its payments platform in India for over two years, but with mixed results. The real product was virtually on the backburner in 2018.
Company policies do not allow for financial or transactional data to be disclosed, but Mirchandani, who is responsible for vision, strategy and execution of the payments roadmap in India, says, “Her decisions have led to a 13x growth in [WhatsApp Payments] user base within a year.”

There have been some jump-for-joy moments in India. The approval from the Reserve Bank of India and the National Payments Council of India in November 2020 for WhatsApp Pay to go live with its payments feature was one. So was introducing the rupee icon in WhatsApp’s chat composer. “It’s a feather in my cap, leaving a mark on the product,” she says.

“The payments ecosystem in India is robust. There is enough for everyone. We can actually help grow the size of the pie,” she say. “I am excited about healthy competition. Cash, and not Google Pay and PhonePe, is our competition.”

Ria Mirchandani: Building payments for India

Regulatory concerns of the past—relating to data localisation norms—have been adhered to and are gone. Which means WhatsApp Payments can focus on scaling up business and introduce some India-centric products in 2022. Mirchandani declines to offer details, but adds: “When businesses come to India, it’s to play the long game. Payments and India are strategic priorities for the company.” So monetisation of the business could be some time away.

“[It is] worth calling out that her passion for financial inclusion is a driver of admiration and leadership… women in tech are particularly good at creating user value and ensuring that users are at the centre of all decisions, something that will be needed in the payments journey,” says Ricardo Fornani, product director (Payments) at WhatsApp, who is based in California.

(This story appears in the 11 February, 2022 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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