Talking About Money

Here in the US, the rise of Square payment systems has helped every small shop and flea market merchant accept digital payments. It's quick and simple. But what about the rest of the world? Especially in countries where mobile data is unreliable and people are quick to get scammed? Enter the payment "sound box". Adnan Bhat at Rest of World has more on this innovative solution.

Eventually, a fellow vendor suggested he subscribe to a “sound box” — a nifty internet-connected device that reads out payment confirmation messages. “Earlier, I had to wait for five to 10 minutes after every transaction to get confirmation,” Ali told Rest of World. “I can now focus on other customers while the payment is being made. I have installed two sound boxes … one from Paytm and the other one from PhonePe.”

The sound box device — first introduced by India’s largest fintech company, Paytm, in 2019 — has been a runaway hit among small Indian businesses. Neighborhood mom-and-pop stores (kiranas) and street vendors, who had traditionally shied away from paying for tech services, have warmed up to the sound box. The smart device — essentially a speaker bearing the logo of the fintech company facilitating the transactions — comes with a built-in SIM card. Most sound boxes can read out payment confirmation messages in English and multiple Indian languages, such as Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, and Punjabi. In Indian cities and towns, sound boxes can now be seen across diverse businesses — from kiranas and clothing stores to produce carts and shops selling smoking products.

Rest of World

Just like how Square and other payment systems have sprung up everywhere, they are now a major business in India. One of they companies, Pytm, took in over $150 million in a single quarter according to Bhat's reporting. Competitors have entered the space and now PhonePe which does the same thing has caused a race to the bottom on how much merchants pay. It is now less than 1/3 the cost for the subscription.

I think it's fantastic that these boxes are everywhere, which ensures people aren't scammed, they provide quick and easy payments to consumers, and merchants are able to do business in the best ways possible for them.

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