The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is working with lenders to introduce new features to popularise the central bank digital currency (CBDC), the so-called e-rupee, according to six people familiar with the matter.
Retail CBDC transactions are averaging close to 18,000 a day, way short of the RBI's one million-a-day target by 2023 end.
The features include allowing digital rupee transactions when a customer is offline and linking the e-rupee to India's popular Unified Payments Interface (UPI), three of the people quoted above said.
UPI is an instant real-time payments system that allows users to transfer money across multiple banks without disclosing bank account details.
The sources declined to be identified as they are not authorised to speak to the media. The RBI did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The RBI has been urging banks to make the e-rupee inter-operable with UPI through a QR code, said two of the bankers quoted above.
The interoperability will allow payments to flow via already well-distributed UPI QRs, they said.
The facility, announced in June, has been activated by large banks, including State Bank of India, the country's largest lender.
"Interoperability of UPI QR Code with digital rupee will remove friction ... but this will not drive adoption unless CBDC payments are incentivised," said Sharat Chandra, co-founder of India Blockchain Forum, an industry collective.
The RBI and banks are also discussing ways to allow the use of e-rupee when a customer and a merchant are offline, according to two sources involved in the pilot project.
While the RBI is examining technology proposals, it hasn't approved any of them, said the source familiar with the matter.
Top private lender HDFC Bank is working with a technology firm IDEMIA to build a version of offline CBDC transactions for feature phones, according to two people aware of the plans.
HDFC Bank declined to comment.
CBDC's new and unique use cases such as its offline mode would facilitate transactions without network connectivity, said Akhil Handa, a top executive at Bank of Baroda.
"As new features get added, a gradual pickup in retail CBDC transaction volumes will follow," said Handa.
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