Vijay Shekhar Sharma: From architect of fintech powerhouse Paytm to controversies


Sharma launched Paytm – an acronym for ‘pay through mobile’ – offering mobile recharges. He launched wallet services in 2011 but the big push came with the 2016 demonetisation. He took out front-page ads in top newspapers with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photo, calling demonetisation the “boldest decision in the financial history of independent India”.

With fewer currency notes in circulation, Paytm was on a roll.

Sharma made a splash in 2018 by getting USD 300 million investment in Paytm from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Controversies

Paytm was mired in controversies with its Chinese connection following huge investments from Alibaba Group. The Chinese internet firm became the biggest shareholder in Paytm with a 34.7 per cent stake before the company’s initial public offer.

Alibaba group firm Antfin sold around 5 per cent shares to lower its stake below 25 per cent to comply with regulatory requirements at the time of IPO.

To shed its Chinese-owned entity image, Paytm in August 2023 announced that founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma would acquire a 10.3 stake in Antfin through his overseas entity Resilient Asset Management BV which will make him the largest stakeholder in the company with 19.42 per cent stake.

In return, Resilient issued a debt instrument –optionally convertible debentures, to Antfin thereby maintaining the economic interest of Alibaba group firm.

With this transaction, Antfin’s direct stake in Paytm was reduced to 13.5 per cent. Antfin further sold 3.6 per cent in Paytm to bring its shareholding to less than 10 per cent and at present holds 9.89 per cent of the fintech firm.

The company’s market cap has eroded drastically since the time of its listing.

The company’s IPO opened on November 8, 2021, in the price band of 2,080-2,150 per share. The Paytm IPO made history with over 18,300 crore share sale ‘making it the largest public issue in India’s corporate history.

But the company’s stock made a weak debut in the market on November 18 and hit a lower circuit after recording about 20 per cent decline during trading hours. It finally closed at 1,560, down by about 27 per cent, compared to its issue price of 2,150.

Since then, Paytm shares have not been able to cross even half the mark of the issue price. After the RBI’s January 31 move, One97 Communications shares tanked around 40 per cent to close at 487.05 on BSE on Friday.

Billionaire businessman Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway sold its stake in Paytm at a loss of 31 per cent per share in November 2023. Berkshire Hathaway had invested in Paytm for about 1279 per share but sold it for 877.29 apiece.

At present, Cayman Island-registered SAIF III Mauritius Company Limited is the single largest direct shareholder in Paytm with a 10.83 stake followed by Sharma’s Resilient Asset Management BV with a 10.29 per cent stake. SAIF Partners is led by Chinese-origin entrepreneurs with Andrew Y Yan as its managing partner.

Paytm run-ins with RBI

RBI on June 19, 2018, prohibited Paytm Payments Bank from opening any new account and wallet with effect from June 20, 2018, on account of supervisory concerns, which were lifted by RBI on December 27, 2018, with effect from December 31, 2018.

The Office of Banking Ombudsman issued a show-cause notice dated March 6, 2019, for Paytm Payments Bank’s failure to monitor a certain account maintained with it which had shown a sudden increase in the velocity of daily transactions involving immediate transfer to other banks. The actions were found to be in the violation of RBI’s provisions on KYC.

RBI rejected Paytm Payments Services Ltd’s (PPSL) application to operate as a payment aggregator on November 25, 2022. The banking regulator asked the firm to re-submit applications within 120 days after it gets government approval on investment made by OCL into PPSL as per FDI guidelines. The regulator asked PPSL to continue operations with the condition that no new merchants should be onboard.

After completion of 120 days, RBI again granted PPSL an extension but without removing the bar on new merchant onboarding.

RBI issued a show cause notice to PPBL on July 29, 2021 for submitting false information to RBI confirming completion of the transfer of the Bharat Bill Payment Operating Unit (“BBPOU”) by OCL to PPBL on August 28, 2017. The actual transfer of the BBPOU business by the Company to PPBL was completed only by March 31, 2021.

RBI on October 1, 2021, imposed a penalty amounting to 1 crore on PPBL for a contravention of the Payment and Settlement Systems Act, 2007.

RBI imposed a penalty of 5.93 crore on PPBL on October 10, 2023, after it found several non-compliances including banks failure to identify beneficial owners in respect of entities on-boarded by it for providing payout services.

RBI found that PPBL did not monitor payout transactions and carry out risk profiling of entities availing payout services, breached the regulatory ceiling of end of the day balance in certain customer advance accounts availing payout services. The banking regulator found that PPBL reported a cyber security incident with delay and failed to implement device binding control measures related to ‘SMS delivery receipt check’.

PPBL video-based customer identification process infrastructure failed to prevent connections from IP addresses outside India.

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Published: 04 Feb 2024, 07:43 PM IST



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