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India’s startup rockstar, Paytm CEO Sharma, battles regulatory crisis

2024.02.03 12:07

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Paytm founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma poses with a bronze duplicate of a bull after the corporate’s IPO itemizing ceremony on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) in Mumbai, India, November 18, 2021. REUTERS/Niharika Kulkarni/File Photo

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By Haripriya Suresh, VarunVyas Hebbalalu and Aditya Kalra

BENGALURU/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A rags-to-riches story, Vijay Shekhar Sharma isn’t any stranger to controversy. Now, India’s startup king faces arguably his greatest crisis in a race to avoid wasting his revolutionary digital funds agency that had as soon as counted Warren Buffett as a backer.

Sharma has put up a courageous face whilst nervous buyers plundered $2 billion off Paytm’s valuation after India’s central financial institution ordered his banking arm to cease most of it operations from March 1 for “persistent non-compliances” and “supervisory concerns”.

The ruling threatens vital enterprise disruptions because the financial institution is the spine of his ubiquitous Paytm funds app utilized by tens of millions day by day in a nation the place money was as soon as king.

The take a look at for Sharma, whose early days of life have been one in all hardship and challenges, is to maintain the operations working and restore investor confidence. His newest troubles have attracted loads of media publicity, not least due to his fast rise to turn out to be one in all India’s elite businessmen – at one level transferring into the nation’s top-100 richest membership.

The government has additionally discovered many allies in India’s startup world as he typically talks up their considerations, together with publicly criticising Google (NASDAQ:) saying its practices damage smaller corporations.

Sharma described the regulatory motion in opposition to Paytm as a “speed bump” this week throughout a convention name with analysts. He held out the hope of partnering with different banks and reassured buyers the Paytm app will proceed to work.

The markets, nevertheless, stay sceptical of a fast decision to the regulatory roadblock.

Paytm’s valuation crashed to $3.7 billion after it misplaced $2 billion on Mumbai bourses this week. Since its 2021 IPO that valued Paytm at round $20 billion, the inventory has now tanked 75%, and analysts at JP Morgan say the corporate now might want to “restore credibility” of the enterprise.

Sharma did not return a Reuters request for remark.

HEAT

It’s not the primary time the 45-year-old CEO has grabbed the headlines, and for all of the improper causes.

Recalling the agency’s 2021 IPO valuation which confronted backlash from buyers and analysts when the inventory plummeted on debut, one startup trade government who spoke on situation of anonymity described him as “too bombastic”.

After Paytm’s market debut burned many buyers and critics railed in opposition to lofty valuations India’s market regulator took steps to tighten scrutiny of IPOs.

The firm’s fast rise owed as a lot to Sharma’s ambitions as to a serious coverage shift in Asia’s third-largest economic system in 2016 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi shocked markets by banning high-value forex notes in a single day.

Sharma, who launched Paytm in 2009 providing cellular recharges, instantly noticed the alternatives of the demonetisation transfer that may find yourself reworking the agency because the nation’s premier digital funds platform.

The authorities determination angered many Indians who for years used money as their foremost mode of funds, however Sharma took out front-page advertisements with Modi’s picture, calling it the “boldest decision in the financial history of independent India”.

Today with 330 million pockets accounts, Paytm has garnered widespread acceptance.

Along with its rivals like Google Pay and Walmart (NYSE:)’s PhonePe apps, many Indians use the digital providers for sweet funds as little as 10 rupees (12 U.S. cents) to home items and groceries. Even beggars in India have been noticed utilizing Paytm or different digital QR codes to hunt alms.

Paytm presently trades at 487.2 rupees versus its 2021 market itemizing of 1,950 rupees. In current months, the agency’s massive backer SoftBank (TYO:) pared its stake, whereas different key buyers Alibaba (NYSE:) and Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:) offered their holdings.

UNDETERRED

Hailing from the small city of Aligarh within the nation’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, Sharma, a educated engineer, as soon as mentioned he did not have cash to journey, and used to arrange web connections at houses to make a dwelling.

Years after Paytm’s humble beginnings in 2009, the celebs aligned for him when he raised billions from Alibaba’s Jack Ma and SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son after 2015, and posted common selfies with them.

As India’s regulators took purpose at Paytm this week, many entrepreneurs backed him to emerge from the crisis stronger. Vishal Gondal, his pal and CEO of Indian preventive-health firm GOQii, instructed Reuters the Paytm boss performs finest throughout adversities.

“We all see a little bit of us in what Vijay does,” mentioned Gondal. “The question everyone is asking is – if such a harsh step was necessary?”

In a 2021 interview with Reuters, Sharma mentioned his dream was to take the “Paytm flag to San Francisco, New York, London, Hong Kong and Tokyo.”

Fast ahead to 2024, and that dream might need a struggle on its fingers.

In a be aware on Paytm titled “Is this the end of the road?”, Macquarie mentioned the regulatory motion “significantly hampers Paytm’s ability to retain customers” and restricts it from promoting fee and mortgage merchandise.

Sharma stays undeterred.

“For every challenge, there is a solution and we are sincerely committed to serve our nation in full compliance,” he wrote on X on Friday. (This story has been refiled to repair a typographical error in paragraph 18)

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