As we all know, on November 8, 2016, the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, declared all Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes invalid with immediate effect. The historic attempt to curb black money and counterfeit currencies brought to light just how cash dependent we are, or were, for our daily needs.
As an employee of Oxigen, I’ve been using the Oxigen Wallet app and making payments using digital cash for years. I was blissfully unaware of the widespread effects of this new rule because there are no 500 or 1,000 Rupee notes in digital cash. However, the harsh reality of suddenly not being able to use those denominations was affecting many people around me, including my parents.
I’ve reveled in the convenience of digitized cash and never missed a chance to bring it up in conversations. Earlier, I’d have to quickly move on to talking about something else because of the blatant display of disinterest digitized cash – it wasn’t a necessity. Since the demonetization there’s an entirely different vibe when I talk about the Oxigen Wallet. What can I say, every dog has its day!
The day after the announcement I remember waking up to the incessant murmuring of my usually “Zen” house help. I was late and couldn’t have a conversation to find out what was troubling her. But, I figured it out on my way to work when I saw what I can certainly call “chaos”. Unrealistically long queues outside several ATMs, groups of anxious people having animated conversations, and confused individuals who didn’t really know what was happening.
Over the next few days, people thronged to banks to exchange or deposit their old currency notes. There was impatience and frustration in the air. The evident dearth of cash threatened to bring everything to a standstill, especially for small businesses without a way to accept digital payments. I learnt that they were the hardest hit segment, seeing a 30-40% reduction in sales, because everybody simply needed time to figure out how to cope with the sudden change.
Since Oxigen is a pioneer in the mobile payments industry, I found myself in the eye of the storm. That sure does sound scary, but I began to relish it. Here’s why – hundreds of Oxigen employees were sent out on the streets to educate retailers on how to switch to accepting digital payments and keep their businesses running during and after this transition. I was one of those employees, and I had the opportunity to personally sit down with some hardworking entrepreneurs to learn about the challenges they faced. We discussed things ranging from bank accounts, smart phones and internet connectivity to how they can continue to run a profitable business in the face of demonetization. It was a fulfilling experience because I walked away knowing that, whether or not they decided to become an Oxigen retailer, I had put some of their biggest fears to rest and given them some options in this otherwise clueless situation.
I’ve come to realize that change is never smooth and easy. It can be especially unsettling if you don’t understand the reason behind the change or how to cope with it. While making the change to start accepting digital payments may seem straight forward to those who have grown up with the luxury of technology, it might be a scary proposition for somebody who has always relied on the security and feeling of cash in their hands. There still are millions of individuals and business owners who are allowing their fears and vulnerability to hold them back from adapting to the situation in ways that can be devastating to their – and their family’s – lives.
This exercise has led me to meet some amazing entrepreneurs who overcame tremendous obstacles to make it to where they are now. As I continue to interact with small business owners, I’ll be documenting their experiences and sharing their stories with you because, “Great experiences are even better when they are shared” (Calvin and Hobbes).
Meanwhile, if you know folks in India who might be struggling with demonetization consider telling them to check out Oxigen. If they don’t have a credit or debit card, then Oxigen Wallet can help them digitize their cash, avoid long bank queues, and make purchases anywhere Oxigen or Visa is accepted. If they’re a merchant who only accepts cash, Oxigen can help them accept digital payments from consumers, broadening their potential customer base. All of this can happen within minutes.
Encourage your loved ones in India to share this information with anybody who is struggling with the aftermath of demonetization. You could help somebody you care about get back on their feet.
Ankur has a Master’s Degree in Marketing & Finance from IIT Roorkee. He has over 4 years of work experience building world-class products at Oxigen and TCS, and works closely with the CEO to help translate the vision into products. In his free time, Ankur loves to play tennis, pool, and keep an eye on Oxigen’s competitors.