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New guidelines on recurring payments may send SaaS companies out of India, say experts

Oct 2, 2021, 13:27 IST
Business Insider India
The image was published by AgileCRM, which offered customer relationship managements (CRM) software for sales and marketing automation. AgileCRM
  • The new auto-debit guidelines for recurring payments kicked in from today, October 1.
  • “The current RBI guidelines place more friction in recurring payment,” said Upekkha’s Thiyagarajan Maruthavanan.
  • Industry experts believe that this move will push more SaaS companies to move overseas and chase international clients.
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The new auto-debit guidelines for recurring payments kicked in from today, October 1, but the Indian software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry expects this new regulation to have a much deeper impact on their businesses.

Before getting into this, it is important to understand what the guidelines really say. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to do away with automatic recurring payments by adding a layer of authentication for transactions. A user will have to manually mandate such transactions every month, dropping the idea of recurring payments altogether.

Now where does the SaaS industry come into play?

The Indian SaaS companies — which are poised to meet a fifth of world’s software demand and pocket a revenue of $75 million in the next four years — are worried that this would lead to default or delayed payments, impacting their revenue.

Suresh Sambandam, founder of work management software company Kissflow, in a conversation with Business Insider, explained that any small ticket-size SaaS companies in India — whose payments range between $5 to $500 a month — go through a credit card-enabled payments system that is recurring in nature.

The latest step, which adds an additional layer of authentication, is going to introduce default in payments, a lot of paperwork and a lot of human involvement to follow up with customers on past payments. “Earlier it was a smooth transaction and now it's overcomplicated,” he added.
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Thiyagarajan Maruthavana, partner at Upekkha Value SaaS Accelerator, told Business Insider said, “In the last 15 years, while the global SaaS market grew manifold to $200 billion in revenue, the domestic SaaS market failed to take off due to lack of easy collection of recurring payments. Many global SaaS startups and corporations have dialled back their India market plans in the last 5 years due to this issue.”

“The current RBI guidelines place more friction in recurring payment,” he further added.

Both Sambandam and Thiyagarajan reiterated that this move will push more SaaS companies to go after international clients as well as headquarters. “However it does not impact the SaaS industry from India as these Indian SaaS companies had already moved away from serving the domestic market to the global market. The guidelines impact only a handful of SaaS businesses that focus on Indian customers. These companies will now be forced to move their geography focus elsewhere,” Thiyagarajan said.

Ankur Bansal, co-founder of BlackSoil Capital, in a previous conversation with Business Insider, had highlighted that SaaS business margins are really high and they are even higher from customers based out of the US or Europe.

This is why most SaaS companies — such as Zoho, Freshworks, Postman, MindTickle and others — usually go after clients in international markets. This, in turn, also increases their valuation in the eyes of the investors significantly.
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These companies, along with many others, do have a portion of their customers coming in from India as well, which is going to get impacted now. The latest move will leave Indian SaaS companies with little reason to actually operate in India.

What do other experts have to say?

Anand Jain, cofounder and chief strategy officer at CleverTapTwitter

“Recurring services don’t need the friction of executing the payment on a recurring basis — that friction makes business, especially SaaS business, tougher… The requirement for banks to provide at least 24 hour notice before a recurring payment is executed also ensures that unnecessary payments or buyers’ guilt are reduced. The only challenge I see is that this will need better help and training by financial institutions for their end users in setup. But India is getting much more savvy with these things.” Monish Darda, cofounder and chief technology officer at Icertis, said.

“These are a matter of habit, for instance, when RBI made 2FA [two-factor authentication] mandatory, we all thought that it would dent online transaction volumes. While there was some inconvenience felt initially, digital transactions (one-time password et al) have grown manifold in recent times and are set to continue to grow. In fact, the safety net provided by these checks and balances will only bring new users to the fold. Having said that, this will [be an] inconvenience [to] merchants and customers both for pre-existing debit mandates, since the card issuers will have to revalidate the mandates now.” — Shishir Mankad, managing partner and head of financial services at management consulting firm, Praxis Global Alliance said.

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