On the sidelines of AsiaBerlin Summit 2021, we caught up with Varun Sridhar, CEO of Paytm Money, India’s largest online investment and wealth management platform. Varun traveled from India to participate in the Investors day at the Summit. Varun is an expert in leading financial institutions to digital transformation through intrapreneurship. Prior to Paytm Money, he served as CEO of FinShell India, where he helped launch PaySa, a mobile fintech platform. He was also with BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank prior to that. Here are edited excerpts from our chat with him:
Varun, you are the CEO of Paytm money. And as far as Fintech is concerned, what are the strengths from the Indian ecosystem that you think can be of advantage to the Berlin ecosystem?
If you look at the Indian financial ecosystem and the German financial ecosystem– India has leapfrogged. Maybe it was behind five to seven years back. Today, it is ten years ahead of most economies in the world.
I think the fundamental way we in India transformed was digital payments. When you look at the digital payments stack in India, it is billions of transactions a day, and all of them get executed on a mobile phone digitally. I think the ability to do that has been our founding success. That’s one pillar of what I would call the Indian FinTech ecosystem. Then the second pillar is fundamental things like KYC( Know Your Customer) which is how do you know X transaction belongs to whom and for what purpose. The third pillar is stringent regulations around anti-money laundering and compliance. Built on these three pillars, we created what I would call the foundation of Indian digitization or digital ecosystem. Once we do that, then it’s a question of lending, saving, and protecting. I think these are the pillars of an excellent payment infrastructure, which then got combined with great data availability, digital footprint, and getting captured, all of that protecting a consumer. I think that India got right. We’ve got it right allows us to enable startups and enable innovation to happen because the ecosystem is available at the core of an API.
If I look at Europe, I think the founding blocks need to be made, where a technology leap needs to be taken. But, for payments at least, India has got it right.
How can Germany and India work together?
First of all, I have so much respect for the German economy and German companies in general. If you look at German companies, I think they are great on maybe three axes. The first one is engineering talent and high-quality products. The second thing is automation. The third thing is a long-term vision, which values the goodness of society right now. If you combine all these three, I think India has done exceptionally well in technology if you look at India. India has done exceptionally well in data sciences. If you combine all these forces, India and Germany may have the most incredible opportunity to create the two countries’ bilateral relationship because you have all the necessary elements to make something super special happen.
One economy (Germany) is super solid with great infrastructure; people value work life, love egalitarianism, and sustainability. On the other side (India ) has a massive market of 1.2 billion people. You have great technology, data sciences, talent availability, or combine the two. You are looking at a very formidable economic source, which allows people on both sides to be fulfilling each other. I think it’s a great opportunity for both the Indians and the Germans to look at.
As a part of India’s largest FinTech companies, what are you looking forward to at the AsiaBerlin Summit?
I came here with two very specific purposes– knowledge and people. I think there’s nothing more in the world other than learning something. I saw six startups pitch, and I understood how differently they think about monetizing the product ideas here in Berlin. One of my biggest takeaways is how do I take the topic of “sustainability” back into the Indian startup ecosystem.
What are some things about the Berlin startup ecosystem that you know attracted you that made you take this flight?
I have been curious about the Berlin startup ecosystem for a long time. As someone from Paytm, I came here thinking, what can I learn? You really need to talk to people, and knowledge sharing cannot happen in a digital context. So I made an effort to take this 12 hr flight and be here.
I’m amazed at the engineering talent, especially at the young engineers graduating from school. I think the value system is excellent, and the knowledge is solid. Then I think it’s a question of channelizing the tendency, so that’s one thing that attracts us. The second thing that attracts us is perfection, or the ability to be at 99.9999% accuracy. I think that’s a unique German USP. If you combine top-notch engineering talent with perfection – how can I take part of that back to India? How can I maybe make a German-Indo corridor? Maybe there’s some business to do? Maybe there’s a startup with a fantastic idea in investment banking and stockbroking, etc. So that’s how we’re thinking about this.