When it comes to UPI apps, it’s PhonePe vs. BHIM

Tyagarajan S February 10, 2017 5 min

This article is written based on the analysis of app metadata made available by Srikanth Lakshmanan as part of his CashlessConsumer initiative. Lakshmanan is a software professional with interests in opensource, opendata, localisation, Internet and volunteers on various online movements.

With 4.2 million transactions in January, UPI-based payments are no doubt growing. From private players to banks, everyone wants in on the action, leaving a litter of UPI apps in the market. By last count there were at least 42 apps that supported UPI-based transactions.

The government is actively recommending the BHIM app with plans to incentivise its use through merchants cash backs and customer referral bonuses. It is no doubt growing in heft (Jaitley claimed 125-lakh downloads during the budget presentation).

But how does it stack up against the other UPI apps?

A view of the field

While private players can support UPI transactions through their apps, it has to be in partnership with  a payment service provider (currently banks). For instance, PhonePe has partnered with YES Bank as the payment service provider. In fact, YES Bank has been the most aggressive in partnering with private players to be the PSP bank that enables UPI services — it powers 8 different UPI apps. BHIM app is the only one enabled by an umbrella organisation (National Payments Corporation of India).

Total installs

While installs aren’t a measure of either success (they can be heavily influenced by marketing spend) or quality (they do not reveal uninstalls or inactives), they do provide us a very broad direction in terms of who is winning in the market.

  • PhonePe leads the pack with more than 100 lakh installs
  • Despite the finance minister’s claims, the BHIM App installs are yet to cross the 100 lakh bucket (according to Playstore stats). It occupies the 50–100 lakh installs bucket along with three other apps: HDFC Bank’s MobileBanking app, ICICI’s iMobile and Pockets apps. The first two apps are full-feature mobile banking apps that now also support UPI.
  • Of the 42 apps, only 3 other UPI apps have crossed 10 lakh downloads: Chillr, SBI Pay (from SBI) and Axis Pay (from Axis Bank).
UPI App Installs
There are 42 UPI apps in the Google PlayStore. Only half of them have more than 1 lakh app-installs.

Play Store rating

Google Play Store ratings (with a significant number of reviewers) provides a better indicator of the quality of the app and how well it fulfils its promised use-case.

  • ICICI’s iMobile and Chillr were the best rated apps at 4.4 stars although iMobile is a complete net-banking app and Chillr is a more comprehensive money transfer app supporting both IMPS and UPI.
  • The UPI app of the largest bank in the country , SBI Pay , has the worst ratings — At 2.9 stars, it is also the only UPI app with sub-3 star ratings.
UPI apps Google play store ratings
Google Play store ratings of apps with more than 5 lakh downloads

App Size

App size is indicative of inclusiveness of the UPI app — especially in a country where a large number of people have budget phones with low memory and download speeds and cost prohibit large app downloads.

  • SBI Pay and BHIM app are the two smallest apps in the play store at a little more than 2.4 MB
    Kotak Mahindra’s KayPay is the heftiest standalone UPI app at more than 14 MB closely followed by Axis bank’s Axis Pay at more than 12 MB.

The size of SBI Pay and BHIM app is likely to encourage their adoption more easily than other UPI apps but the flip-side would be to ask this question: Did these apps compromise on any security / safety feature to shrink the app size?

UPI app size
App size of UPI apps with more than 5 lakh downloads

Local language support

Considering the aggressive drive towards digital-India and adoption of cashless transactions, one would have thought that localisation would be a high-priority feature but very few UPI apps offer support for Indian languages.

  • Of the 42 apps, only 3 apps offer support for Indian languages besides English. Both PhonePe as well as the BHIM app supports 8 Indian languages apart from English.

Feature Richness

The basic features that are a must-have are the “send” (pay) and “receive”(collect) options for money transfers. On top, there are additional features like ability to split payments, use of multiple-VPAs, dual-sim support, QR code handling, in-app QR code scanner, UPI link handling, bill payments using UPI and support for Aadhar payments.

  • PhonePe is the most feature rich app. It supports nearly all of the above features except Aadhar payments. BHIM app support many of the above features but does not support split payments, multiple VPAs and bill payments.
  • HDFC MobileBanking app and ICICI’s iMobile and Pockets app support very few of the above features
Feature comparison of UPI apps with more than 5 lakh downloads

Conclusion

These parameters are in no way the exhaustive list to measure the quality of the UPI apps. Besides these variables one would have to look at the app performance, customer support, product UX, robustness of security and also how frequently the app developers keep the app updated with fixes, features and security patches. Having said that, these provide a good high level indication of what apps are rising to the top. Purely on the merit of this limited meta-data, PhonePe is ahead of its competitors (all 41 of them). It has better features, is rated well by users, offers some localisation and is also the most installed UPI app. However, among the other pure-play UPI apps (ignoring the net-banking apps of ICICI and HDFC), the BHIM app is close behind. It has the backing of the government and offers many of the UPI features. More importantly, with a smaller app size, it seems to be custom-built for larger adoption as the digital initiative moves into the hinterlands.


Update: Edited on February 10, 2017 at 2:15 PM IST to correct an error regarding the number of Indian languages supported by the PhonePe app. While an earlier version of this story put the number at 3, the actual number is 8 and changes have been made to reflect this. Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.