The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have put lives, business, and the economy on the whole into a tailspin. India’s GDP is expected to have contracted by nearly 11 per cent this year. Unemployment, a challenge in a country where over 90 per cent of jobs in the informal sector, has seen a sharp uptick.
During this time, both the government and conventional financial institutions have made valiant efforts to stabilize the economy and secure the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of at-risk Indians. The extension of food and financial security schemes has gone some ways towards addressing the needs of those most severely affected. Moreover, the stimulus package has enabled the country’s financial institutions to hold the line.
Despite these efforts, there are still immense gaps in implementation and reach, meaning that millions of Indians are left out from relief and lending opportunities. Financial institutions, in particular, have registered a steep contraction in lending over the past year. RBI data, for instance, indicates that lending to MSMEs — the businesses that need liquidity now the most — has contracted by 7.6 per cent this year.
Indian FinTech companies have the opportunity to enable transformative change
This is a complicated situation and full economic recovery will require effective partnerships, synergy, and communication between the public at large, the private sector, and the government. In the interim, though, next-generation fintech and digital companies are offering a viable path forward through digital transformation. In the current situation, cryptocurrencies, in particular, have immense potential to enable financial inclusion, generate returns, and help stimulate economic growth.
Following the reversal of the RBI’s ban on cryptocurrency transactions, crypto has seen significant growth in the Indian markets. Estimates place daily crypto trading volume in the country at roughly Rs 30 crores. While this is a fraction of the size of more mature cryptocurrency markets, India’s large, young, increasingly tech-savvy population signposts immense opportunities for the future of this asset class. This is reinforced by the fact that the vast majority of current Indian crypto traders joined the market after the overturning of the RBI ban: growth has seen a steep increase over the past two years.
Moving beyond crypto trading
Individual traders aren’t the only ones contributing to this growth. Major Indian banks, from HDFC and ICICI to SBI, are all once again getting onboard with crypto, enabling traders to fund crypto wallets from bank accounts. This is a small step, but a critical one on the path towards greater formal acceptance within the financial ecosystem.
Crypto affords India a wide range of benefits in the current market environment. The bull market for Bitcoin and mainstream altcoins like Ethereum provides traders with an opportunity to augment income in these uncertain times. Both day-trading and longer-term investment opportunities afford Indian traders significant long-term return on investment. With greater bank acceptance, the next step is to educate the millions of potential investors in Tier II and Tier III cities and rural areas, leveraging the significant gains in digital and smartphone connectivity over the past few years.
DAOs and decentralized investment
Trading isn’t the only crypto opportunity for the Indian economy. DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) are a paradigm shift in the investment space. The original “The DAO” operated as a management-free fully transparent investment organization based on Ethereum, functioning much like a hedge fund, but without the possibility of a centralized management layer taking counterproductive decisions. Investment isn’t the only use case for DAOs.
By tying crypto to a range of other asset values, next-generation, depreciation-free smart currencies are now possible. DAO-enabled smart currencies could play a transformative role in getting the economy back on its feet, free from externalities such as current inflation and depreciation. The opportunities are ripe and Indian fintech firms at the bleeding edge of crypto have the potential to achieve them.
Crypto isn’t a new occurrence in the Indian market. However, after the reversal of the 2018 RBI ban, crypto assets have taken on new significance. The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed digital transformation in all sectors, leading to long-term shifts like work-from-home and universal basic income. The Indian financial sector could see similar transformative change through the wider adoption of cryptocurrency and crypto and blockchain-based finance systems.
by Pranay Sanghavi, Co-Founder, MahaDAO
MahaDAO is a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) that mints ARTH (a decentralized algorithmic currency) valuecoins.