Sonu asked me today, “Bhai, ek crore rupya kaisa lagta hain?” What does one crore looks like? That is supposed to be BIG money here.

And his questions triggered me into thoughts. Seriously, how does one crore looks like? Or say 1 lakhs? I don’t know – money changes form. And face as well. Long back money was a hunted down animal, a loaf of bread or anything you were willing to trade for something else. Later, it was copper, gold, and now its paper. Increasingly, the paper form is also vanishing and the electronic form is taking prominence. If I visit a bank today and ask them to show me my money, the best they will do is type in a few numbers, turn the computer screen towards me and say, “Here look at it, there is your thousand bucks”. “Yeah! Thats right. But I want to “see” my money.” There will be a surprised look on their face if I say that. I guess there will be a day in future, when the only place you will see a paper currency will be in meusuems – where we find gold coins today. (An interesting history of Indian currencies is online at RBI Museum. Follow the links on the left pane once you are in).

Did the old kingdoms and countries ever wonder that one day gold will no longer be the form of money? Maybe if one was futuristic, he would have thought that money will change form, from gold to some other metal, maybe even paper. But now it seems to have lost form all together. Money is bits encoded on a plastic card.

I find encoding money in digital form is as great a step in financial engineering as electricity was in physical engineering. With the advent of electricity, one form of energy could be transmitted miles across and converted into another form required there. Today I can transfer money from India to miles across to an account in US at just the click of a button and use it a form required there – paper, gold, certificate or agreement. Nothing could be more parallel! The electronic face of money makes it possible.

Apart from what we already have, there is one transaction I would like to see facilitated by the electronic currency. If we can transfer money from one account to another, through net banking, atms, cards and even emails then why not have it transfer between and from mobiles phones as well. If we can have PayPal, then why not a Pay2Mobile!

The possibilities are huge – especially for India. Even today in rural India, swipe cards and atms are a rarity. Physical money carries risk – gets mutilated, can be forged, gets stolen or damaged in fire etc. What a boon will mobile money be for India. For ex,

– I can walk into any shop, buy stuff, and dial a number – transfer money from my mobile to the shop owner’s, thats it! No matter wether the shop was an upscale computer shop in Delhi, selling ultra modern smartphones and disks, or a traditional kirana shop wayside the bus stand in Lakhimpur selling only panmasala and cigrattes.

– I could be sitting in a restaurant with my friends, and someone says, “Lets watch Mughl-e-Azam tonight. Its showing at Wave”. I just send an sms and lo! we have just booked ourself six tickets of the latest blockbuster in a nearby multiplex. We never even moved from our seats.

Given the increasing mobile density of India, I think its time someone seriously looks into the possibilites of mCommerce. Some 5 years back it was touted as the next BIG thing. Wonder why it vanished suddenly from the scene? Reliance, Bharti, Tata Indicom anyone listening? Of course the RBI and the FM would first need to put a policy in place. And cellular companies will need to get a banking license to treat prepaid cards or postpaid bills as ‘money’.

Sam Pitroda already holds a few patents for a mobile wallet. Bharti plans to venture into it. There are a select few countries where this is possible in a limited way. But it is not as seamless as Debit/Credit Cards. Lets see if Bharti or Reliance can pull it off.

I wonder how transactions will be done in future, say 50 yrs from now. Maybe, instead of a plastic card in our wallet that communicates with our bank accounts, we will have chips embedded under our skin. The moment you walk towards the checkout area of a shop, the computers would scan rfid of all the items in your cart, and deduct the total from the chip. So maybe all we will need to do is pick up an item and walk away – electronics takes care of the rest! No cards, no swiping, no checkout lines. 🙂

But till that cardless future, I am willing to do with the pay2mobile. 😉