W Power 2024

NPCI's Praveena Rai: Shaping India's payments landscape

Praveena Rai, chief operating officer of the National Payments Corporation of India, is playing a crucial role in developing India's digital infrastructure

Neha Bothra
Published: Mar 26, 2024 01:05:52 PM IST
Updated: Apr 8, 2024 02:08:23 PM IST

NPCI's Praveena Rai: Shaping India's payments landscapePraveena Rai, chief operating officer of the National Payments Corporation of India Image: Bajirao Pawar for Forbes India

Praveena Rai, 54, has significantly contributed in shaping India’s digital payments landscape. In her current role as National Payments Corporation of India’s (NPCI) chief operating officer, she is responsible for promoting the growth of NPCI’s products and introducing new use cases for its flagship products such as UPI and RuPay. The veteran banker, with over three decades of experience, joined NPCI in 2019 after professional stints at Citi Bank, HSBC Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank.

Uday Kotak, founder and director, Kotak Mahindra Bank, says Rai is a well-rounded professional and has played an integral role at NPCI over the years. “Praveena, Dilip and team NPCI have done a phenomenal job in building India’s digital infrastructure,” he adds.

NPCI says it has seen digital payments volumes surge from approximately 26 billion in 2019 to 140 billion in 2023. Dilip Asbe, CEO, NPCI, believes the organisation has immensely benefited from Rai’s strategic inputs. “She has the ability to spot the gaps and problems that are necessary to address in the ecosystem for further expansion,” Asbe says.

NPCI's Praveena Rai: Shaping India's payments landscapeRai, an engineering graduate from the College of Engineering, Guindy, and an MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad, has built expertise across banking verticals, technology, and marketing. This diverse background has helped Rai steer NPCI to offer secure and seamless digital payments experience to consumers and users for rapid digitalisation in some of the remotest villages of India.

“I think this role is certainly like a culmination of everything that I have done. I’ve been a banker both internationally and in India. I’ve also been a marketer and I’ve worked in the technology space. My current role also reflects the choices I’ve made through the journey which have not been necessarily comfortable ones, because comfortable one is to [continue to] do more of the same,” Rai tells Forbes India.

Over the years, Rai, has proved her mettle in building brands, developing synergies and impactful payments solutions. At NPCI, she plays a key role in fostering collaborations with industry stakeholders like banks, fintech companies, policy makers, and regulators. An important focus area for Rai is to establish processes and structures to drive innovations, which, in her words, can withstand the test of time.

“NPCI is an organisation that was moving from startup to scale up mode when I joined. I truly believe that the way to create long term sustainable growth is to put in place processes around how these are institutionalised,” Rai adds.

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Tom Schickler, CRO, Zafin, a banking software enterprise platform company, says Rai has the ability to foresee market and business trends and is a visionary leader. “Praveena has achieved repeated success by surrounding herself with and empowering great talent. This coupled with a prescience to anticipate market and business trends evidence her remarkable visionary leadership, leaving each business in a much better place and with a foundation for sustainable success. She has delivered results across geographies with unmatched execution capability,” he says.

Rai says she has an inclusive leadership approach and likes to engage and collaborate with her peers to determine the best course of action. “NPCI is an organisation that’s very execution focussed, very agile with a platform for high impact. I get very inspired by teams that work with me. It’s a very passionate group of people and they’re really connected to the purpose of digitising the country and creating impact for the country. So that brings it together… converting that passion and pulling this team together so that we are able to deliver on that promise,” Rai says.

Rai likes to stay calm in stressful situations and when solving critical problems. “I’m usually calm and look at it as a problem to be solved. I believe one can find solutions to most problems, and they don’t necessarily have to come only from ourselves,” she says. “You can reach out to people you know who are good with ideas and problem solving, and people in the industry.”

NPCI's Praveena Rai: Shaping India's payments landscape

She credits her parents for raising her to become a confident and independent woman, and is thankful for the support of her husband and daughter which has helped her focus on her career. Outside work, she looks forward to her time with family. “We go out on hikes and treks. I love the outdoors, I love animals. So that’s the kind of stuff that I end up doing,” Rai shares.

Going ahead, in an age of rapid disruption, Rai wants to continue adding value to businesses and have a positive impact on people’s lives, and mentor young professionals. “It’s a continuous development and learning journey. That should never stop. And we are at a point when the pace of change is so fast that we have to be in step with it. We have an AI sort of innovation lab in our organisation. But I also have our business teams and our own teams run smaller AI projects because it helps everyone learn,” she says. 

(This story appears in the 22 March, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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