In the bustling heart of India, amidst the clinking chai glasses and vibrant spice markets, when the Government announced Demonetisation, a revolution was brewing in the background. “Paytm Karo!” became a magical mantra that made Paytm synonymous with digital transactions. But Paytm’s journey wasn’t a walk in the park. Imagine a land where cash reigned supreme, pockets bulging with crumpled notes. This was Paytm’s battleground, a landscape ripe for change. Armed with a smartphone app and audacious ambition, Paytm challenged the status quo. It became the Robinhood of payments, robbing the inconvenience of cash and handing out the freedom of digital transactions. It empowered the chai wallas and kirana stores, transforming them into mini-payment hubs. For the tech-savvy youth, it was a game-changer, a seamless way to recharge phones, pay bills, and shop online. Paytm’s magic wasn’t just in its technology. It spoke the language of the people, resonating with their aspirations. Its marketing campaigns were catchy, its rewards enticing, and its user interface was as welcoming as a friendly neighbour. It embraced new technologies like QR codes and UPI, making payments faster and easier than ever. Today, Paytm stands tall, a testament to India’s digital transformation. However, RBI’s latest announcement is bringing an end to this journey, at least, that’s what it seems currently!

What has the RBI instructed Paytm?

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has instructed the subsidiary of Paytm i.e. Paytm Payments Bank Limited (PPBL), to cease accepting further deposits, top-ups, or credit transactions into its operated wallets or accounts effective from February 29. This directive extends to its prepaid instruments for FASTags and National Common Mobility Cards (NCMC) as well. However, existing customers will still retain the ability to utilize their current balances for accessing services. Notably, the payments bank, which holds more than 330 million wallet accounts of the parent company One97 Communication (OCL), stores transactional funds within its wallets. Furthermore, PPBL has been directed to refrain from conducting any banking services such as AEPS, IMPS, etc., bill payments, and UPI transactions. Additionally, it has been mandated to close the nodal accounts of its parent company and Paytm Payments Services by February 29. Nodal accounts, utilized by businesses as financial intermediaries, hold funds from participating banks on behalf of consumers and subsequently transfer them to specific merchants. Moreover, the regulatory body has stipulated that the subsidiary must settle all pipeline and nodal account transactions by March 29, with no further transactions permitted thereafter. With no immediate resolution in sight, researchers suggest the regulator is indirectly revoking Paytm’s prepaid instrument license.

Why did RBI take action against Paytm?

The genesis of this crackdown can be traced back to the early days of Paytm Payments Bank (PPBL), which obtained its banking license in January 2017. Despite an auspicious beginning following the 2016 demonetization, the bank encountered its first regulatory hurdle within a year of operation. Breaches of licensing conditions, including discrepancies in day-end balances and non-compliance with know-your-customer (KYC) guidelines, led to the RBI temporarily halting the opening of new accounts in June 2018. However, despite assurances of compliance, PPBL faced another setback in October 2021 when the RBI uncovered false information submitted by the bank. This led to a monetary penalty of INR 1 crore and raised concerns about the bank’s integrity. Further investigations in late 2021 exposed lapses in technology, cybersecurity, and KYC anti-money laundering compliance. Of particular concern was the lack of segregation between PPBL’s servers and physical space and those of other entities within the One 97 group, the bank’s parent company. In response to these findings, the RBI imposed supervisory restrictions on PPBL in March 2022, halting the onboarding of new customers and mandating a comprehensive system audit by an external firm. However, subsequent audits revealed a lack of substantive action taken by the bank to address identified issues.

By October 2023, the RBI imposed a substantial monetary penalty of INR 5.39 crore for continued non-compliance with KYC norms, citing failures in identifying beneficial owners, monitoring payout transactions, and lapses in video-based customer identification processes (V-CIP), among other concerns. The regulator’s scrutiny also unearthed serious KYC and AML violations, digital frauds, and money laundering risks within PPBL’s operations. Thousands of accounts lacked proper KYC documentation, with some linked to suspicious transaction patterns raising red flags for potential money laundering activities. Additionally, concerns were raised about the co-mingling of financial and non-financial businesses within the One 97 group, violating licensing conditions and RBI directives. The reliance of PPBL on the IT infrastructure of its parent company further raised apprehensions about data privacy and sharing practices. Furthermore, a pattern of non-transparency from the bank’s promoters exacerbated regulatory concerns. False compliance reports and undisclosed financial dealings with the parent company highlighted a lack of accountability and integrity within PPBL’s operations. And thus, with no other option left, RBI finally decided to take serious action against Paytm. Currently, RBI has not specified any further directions about what would happen after February 29.

What will be the impact of the directive?

As the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) imposes stringent restrictions on Paytm Payments Bank (PPBL), the future of Paytm and its associated businesses faces unprecedented uncertainty. Industry insiders speculate that the RBI’s actions may signify the impending revocation of the bank’s license, hinting at a potential end to Paytm’s banking endeavours. However, the repercussions extend beyond just the banking sector. There are broader concerns regarding Paytm’s regulatory standing, suggesting potential repercussions for its lending partnerships. In response to ongoing challenges, Paytm management has announced a temporary halt on originating new loans, emphasizing a need to address current issues. Amidst regulatory scrutiny, Paytm’s vast merchant network, comprising approximately 3.93 crore merchants as of December 2023, faces significant disruption. Many of these merchants rely on QR codes provided by Paytm Payments Bank for payment processing, necessitating a transition to alternative banking partners by February 29. The company will find it hard to retain merchant customers amidst the upheaval. Furthermore, the transition poses challenges for Paytm’s customers as well. While user-facing UPI payments may remain unaffected, the RBI’s directive to cease nodal account operations raises concerns regarding the seamless processing of payments. Paytm has to swiftly establish alternative nodal accounts to ensure continuity in its payment services. Additionally, the sudden halt in banking activities poses liquidity challenges for Paytm, with customers holding an estimated deposit balance of INR 3000 to 4000 crore across wallets. Paytm must facilitate withdrawals and fund utilization seamlessly to uphold customer trust and regulatory compliance.

Should RBI give leeway to Fintechs?

The world of fintech, short for financial technology, is abuzz with innovative startups and growing companies using technology to disrupt traditional financial services. These players, as defined by McKinsey, typically start without a banking license and partner with established banks to offer services like checking, savings, and loans. Some eventually graduate to full-fledged banks by acquiring a charter. Paytm, however, stands apart. Instead of solely relying on partner banks, it operates its in-house bank, Paytm Payments Bank (PPBL). This unique structure, with Paytm’s parent company holding 49% and founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma owning the remaining 51%, raises complexities in security, data privacy, and regulatory compliance. RBI’s crackdown on Paytm highlights the ongoing debate around regulatory oversight in fintech. While some view strict enforcement as crucial for economic stability, others fear it stifles innovation. The RBI’s approach can be seen in two ways – the ‘ban highways to prevent accidents’ philosophy, prioritizing broad restrictions even if they hinder progress, or as targeted intervention where RBI is acting like a traffic cop, focusing on specific wrongdoers to deter widespread misconduct, reflecting  ‘punish one driver to deter all’ approach. Examples from various domains, like ticketless travel in Germany or the Powell Doctrine in the US, show that stringent enforcement can promote compliance. While seeming harsh, it might be a pragmatic solution in resource-constrained environments.

The way ahead

Paytm’s case now becomes a test case for this balancing act. Can it address regulatory concerns and remain innovative? The outcome will have significant implications for the future of fintech in India and beyond. Overall, we are in for a treat – RBI doesn’t seem to be backing out of this battle, while Paytm has become habitual to emerge winner out all kinds of situationship. This battle is far from over. We will have to wait and see who writes the final chapter in the saga!


  1. The Hindu – The Paytm Payments Bank debacle
  2. Business Standard – How RBI ban on Paytm impacts you and your finances from 1 March
  3. India Today – Lakhs of non-KYC accounts, 1 PAN: Decoding RBI crackdown on Paytm Payments Bank
  4. Image by pch.vector on Freepik