Expert’s View: TV Naarayan, Head of Marketing, PayPal, Talks About the Rise of Digital Payments Industry



Until a couple years ago, who would have thought that one could buy vegetables from the local vendor using a mobile wallet?

But here we are, embracing digital wallets with open hearts, in every day-to-day dealings.

Amongst other industries, the digital payment industry is one that is thriving and growing since the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. And the sector is expected to grow 3 folds by 2025!

To get a closer look at the current scenario of the digital wallet industry, and to understand the long and short term impact of the pandemic on it, we spoke one of the leading brands.

In this interview, TV Naarayan, Head of Marketing, at PayPal India, talks about how the payments space has evolved in India and how the pandemic has moved digital payments from a nice-to-have to an essential service.

Key takeaways from this interview:

  • TV Naarayan’s observations on the evolution of digital payments in India
  • How Paypal is using AI & Data Science to understand the customer and their life cycle to pitch them the right solutions when they are looking for it
  • How digital payments have become a measure of safety much like masks and sanitizers now

This conversation is a part of our exclusive interview series with top marketing leaders, conducted in collaboration with ResearchNxt, a leading marketing research company that does in-depth research on trending enterprise technologies.

Here are some extracts from the insightful conversation we had with TV Naarayan.

Netcore: We would like to start this discussion with your journey as a Marketing Leader in the BFSI space and observations on how marketing has evolved in this space with the changing and evolving business models.

Naarayan: The BFSI space is in a constant state of flux and continues to evolve. In terms of semantics, we’re moving from financial services to what we call “FinTech”. About 15 years ago when digital marketing meant creating banners on websites and (having a decent website meant you were savvy), the standard of good work for most organizations was having the lead collection fields in the banner itself- the standard fields being name, mobile number, city, etc. From those days, we’ve moved onto search, programmatic display campaigns, mass -personalization, and much beyond. Today, marketers are not treated as the guys who do only creative work in the nebulous territory. A marketer drives growth by virtue of the fact that they bring a great understanding of messaging combined with tech to drive productive conversations with customers.

Campaigns are analyzed in so many ways because there’s so much data out there. You can segment customers into multiple buckets and serve your audience with relevant messaging that genuinely benefits them and gives them a personalized experience.

One of the big shifts is the change in the way marketers are taking to technology and data. Right from the ad platforms we use to the central data repository that exists internally, we can pick from models that can project what’s ideally suited for a customer in terms of product/service needs. In that sense, it’s no more a blind push of products, it’s a conversation that’s constantly evolving based on how a customer reacts to a piece of communication. Increasingly marketers are looking to talk the language of “Full stack”, “DSP/DMP” and more and that’s a great place to be in. In what could’ve never been predicted about 15 years earlier, a marketer is today supposed to understand technology, manage communication & develop a creative strategy. Even within marketing, this is turning out to be an age of specialists. You can’t have a dentist treat someone for eye-related issues. Similarly, conventional brand marketers may not handle say performance marketing. So, as a marketer, it is more choices to make but it’s also great from a learning perspective.

It’s heartening to see that the models of doing business are also constantly metamorphosing from competing to partnering. If you look at the new business models, marketers have come to accept revenue sharing to be able to grow mutually, partnering on certain shared goals with players who in the conventional context would be perceived as competition. Today the biggest players in the Fintech space partner with start-ups and early-stage firms to develop solutions that are great for consumers. I’ve always been fascinated at how aggregators and banks work together to drive reach. Similarly, how players in the payments space are able to democratize payments across different sections of society.

The pandemic has moved digital payments from a nice-to-have to an essential service.

Netcore: PayPal has been in India for over a decade focusing on the consumer segment and the maturing digital payments market. Please share some marketing initiatives that worked for you in a market with massive competition in this space.

Naarayan: The truth is that the payments space in India is in the early stages of infancy. And yet, there’s been so much innovation that we’re ahead of payment capabilities than most developed markets. At PayPal, we’ve always believed that the race we’re running is a marathon and not a short sprint. India is such a diverse market that marketing tends to feel like running campaigns across multiple geographies. There are commonalities but also vast differences, the cultural subtext of what works in a state may not work in another one.

If you notice, the consumers in India took to digital payments after demonetization but then cash still reigns supreme. The appreciation that digital payments offers convenience and security was probably lost in the game of discounting the price point of goods or services. So, yes, the consumer market has a lot of players in India which is good as the opportunity is hugely untapped, and more players mean deeper and wider penetration and more innovation.

The pandemic has moved digital payments from a nice-to-have to an essential service- right from ordering groceries to say watching movies on an OTT platform. And this is where I think payments will see a new baseline in terms of growth. The fact that customers in India can buy confidently from the largest and also the smallest merchants from across the globe with PayPal is a testimony to the faith reposed in us. Also, our focus is on offering a safe and seamless payments experience to our consumers. We have a base that’s very loyal to us and they see us as a trusted way to pay across the globe. Our segments start with the young digital natives who pay with PayPal for gaming and ordering food to the ‘silver tech’ generation to whom digital is still new but essential in these days. What’s great is that we see such unique use cases from the working professional who uses PayPal to upskill himself on an edutech platform to the business segments like SMBs and freelancers who wish to target audiences in other countries.

At PayPal, our focus is on becoming a champion for SMBs- helping small businesses and freelancers leverage the global opportunity. It’s a shining example of #SupportLocal. Over the years, we’ve literally built the freelancing economy or the Gig economy enabling freelancers to sell their goods and services to a global consumer base.

We see SMBs and mid-sized merchants shifting their focus to a digital-first one and hence thriving even in these very trying times. Very recently, we launched a “Spotlight” campaign” where we’ve showcased and supported SMBs that’ve overcome challenges and built successful businesses even during the pandemic. We’ve been able to create awareness for these businesses and help and inspire other businesses.

To us, it’s not a one size fits all and hence understanding the customer and their life cycle through data is what helps us pitch them the right solutions when they are looking for it.

Netcore:  Considering the scale at which you are operating, I am sure you would be leveraging AI/ML and data science to optimize your marketing and personalize user experience. Please share some use cases where you have implemented personalization at scale.

Naarayan: PayPal has revolutionized the way customers across the globe pay for anything from food to fashion. As we evolve and become more efficient, and AI learns to better emulate human intelligence, businesses benefit from the increased process and operational efficiencies. AI and ML are being utilized to gauge risk and assess fraud cases. Here, analytical tools are used to collect evidence, and data is analyzed, wherein AI tools learn and map out user behavior and seek patterns that can be used to identify potential fraud attempts. Over time, AI systems can learn and adapt to wean out undiscovered cases and refine fraud and risk detection capabilities to better protect consumers.

In as far as marketing is concerned, we do a lot of tests and learn. Our teams believe in the champion-challenger concept where we put several hypotheses to test and then scale what works best. Right from having separate experiences for prospects and customers, we are able to leverage ML to be able to show what makes most relevance to them. Another example is how we are able to showcase the right product to the right customer segment depending on their evolution with us. For example, let’s say someone whose hobby is baking cakes may want to test waters. They are most likely to start with PayPal via email payments or PayPal. Me which is a customized link to receive payments. At this stage, they may be new and not an established business in terms of scale. In fact, they may not consider themselves a business. However, as they mature and start seeing the scale, we are able to offer them solutions that will help them grow. To us, it’s not a one size fits all and hence understanding the customer and their life cycle through data is what helps us pitch them the right solutions when they are looking for it. The same logic holds true on the retail consumer side as well.

Digital payments are looked at as a measure of safety much like masks and sanitizers since it helps conform to the social distancing norms and removes the risk of handling currency.

Netcore: In times of the COVID-19 crisis and even long after it, do you think digital payments will overtake the most used payment mode, i.e., cash in India? How is Paypal helping the customers and merchants adopt this shift?

Naarayan: COVID-19 is what we can call a ‘Black Swan’. The spread of coronavirus has turbocharged the world of digital payments. For merchants, moving online is existential and it is how they will stay in business. So, for all the pain it has caused, I do think that COVID-19 will fundamentally change the way we look at payments.

Payments will definitely have a new baseline in terms of growth. In many ways, the earlier generation used to write out cheques or use demand drafts. Today, you ask the millennials what they are and they’ll only give you blank expressions. So, payments is evolving. But it’s not going to be an overnight journey where, once things become normal, people will suddenly stop using cash. That will depend on a lot of factors – data connectivity (which is improving as we speak) in remote places, educating the masses on benefits of digital such as safety & fraud controls, smartphone penetration, the ability for payment companies to manage risk and offer customized experiences, etc. If anything, we’re seeing the older generation (or silver tech generation) also take to digital these days. That’s a welcome change.

Digital payments are looked at as a measure of safety much like masks and sanitizers since it helps conform to the social distancing norms and removes the risk of handling currency.

At PayPal, we believe in enabling businesses to go online and grow by reaching a diverse set of consumers across the globe. The fact that an SME can take their business global with PayPal is a great validation in itself. What can beat the joy of seeing a young website designer or artist making a sale to someone in the US or UK. That to us is truly #SupportLocal!

And that’s how we ended our chat with Naarayan. We couldn’t agree more that PayPal did play an extremely significant role in enabling SME and freelancers to spread their wings globally.

The roots of digital payment services are penetrating deeper and wider into people’s lives as you read this. It needs no mention that as the scale of operation grows, so does the need for a better and stronger customer experience. Investing in an AI-powered growth marketing platform is the only way going forward.

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