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We continually strive for 100% uptime and transaction success, which is fundamental to our team’s mission: Ramkumar Venkatesan, CTO, Cashfree Payments

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In an exclusive interaction with Express Computer, Ramkumar Venkatesan, CTO, Cashfree Payments, discusses the company’s recent achievements and strategic initiatives in the fintech sector. From obtaining the RBI payment aggregator licence to pioneering innovations like the flowWise router and AI-driven customer support enhancements, Cashfree Payments is driving significant advancements in digital payments and cybersecurity. Venkatesan highlights their commitment to continuous innovation and readiness to expand globally, underscoring Cashfree’s pivotal role in shaping India’s digital economy.

How has growth been in terms of new acquisitions and market capitalisation in the recent years?

Recently, Cashfree Payments was among the first few fintech companies to obtain the new RBI payment aggregator licence. This achievement highlights the extensive efforts our teams have made to ensure our technology is secure and compliant. We received the licence in December, and since then, our business has grown significantly. In just the past few months, we have onboarded thousands of merchants who were waiting for us to obtain the new RBI licence. Our traffic has increased by about 30% in the past quarter alone, which is excellent for a company on a growth trajectory.

In terms of product leadership, we are the number one in the disbursal space, holding a market share above 50%. We also lead in the payment aggregator space. Additionally, in our third vertical, the verification or ID suite, we have made remarkable progress. In the last couple of months, we released about 12 new ID verification systems. Typically, it takes a few months to develop just one system, but our team adopted an innovative approach to expedite the process. As a result, we were able to release 12 new ID verification systems in just a couple of months. 

These have been the significant changes in our Cashfree Payments product suite in the past few months.

How do you position yourself against your competitors in terms of technology and innovation?

We pride ourselves on continuous innovation, being the first in India in both the disbursal and payment aggregator spaces. Recently, we launched a cloud-native router called flowWise, an industry first in India. Some of our customers have specific data requirements that necessitate their data staying within their particular cloud or not reaching the payment aggregators. To serve these customers, we introduced the cloud-native flowWise product, a unique offering in the industry. We are seeing significant traction and interest from prominent names.

Additionally, we have a cloud-based version called the SaaS flowWise, which is also gaining substantial traction. We see ourselves as leaders in the disbursal and payment aggregator markets and expect to achieve the same leadership in the flowWise or router market. We are also leaders in the verification suite. While other companies might operate in just one of these spaces, we encompass multiple startups under the same umbrella, with each being a market leader in its respective field.

Are the different products of Cashfree Payments branded separately, or are they all part of the same entity?

The entities are the same, and the product suite and customer base that it addresses are different, but we also see the need for this sort of full stack suite of products in different spaces. Starting from the onboarding journey, with more complaints coming in, people need technology to solve their onboarding issues and have an audit of all the checks that have been done. Then comes the verification and risk management of who you are onboarding onto your platform, who your customer is, and ensuring compliance with KYC norms. 

From there, things get easier as you start to transact with these customers. This is where a payment aggregator product (PG) comes in. You may also need to pay money to your vendors, and sometimes even to your customers in case of refunds. That’s where disbursals come in. 

This entire journey of onboarding a customer, ensuring they are risk-free, maintaining compliance, and then integrating them into your business is covered. We offer a full stack fintech solution, which is why we call it a fintech operating system (FinTech OS). It’s an all low-code, no-code solution, so companies can go live with our products very quickly, in a matter of days.

Can you discuss your recent digital transformation journey and any digital initiatives you’ve undertaken in the recent past?

We are a product company, so we develop products for our customers. Another aspect is that we also have an operations side to our products. For example, when we handle payment gateways, the money comes into our accounts, and then we have to disbursal it to the merchants. We support over a hundred payment methods, making it easy for our customers to accept money from any bank or method they prefer. However, this involves a lot of backend operations, such as procuring terminals from different banks and networks.

We have digitalised this entire process. This means that on day zero, you can go live with your terminal. It’s not like the old days where you would put in a request, and then we would start paperwork with the bank, going back and forth with approvals. The whole journey is digitalised, enabling day zero onboarding with the right terminals.

Another slow process is handling refunds and disputes. While none of us want them to happen, they do. Our goal is to provide a great customer experience even when dealing with these issues. In the past, especially in India, you might have seen signs in shops saying “no refunds” or “no exchanges.” That was the norm for a long time. Now, we are on par with the rest of the world. If something is not up to the mark, customers can demand a refund.

Processing refunds used to take a lot of time, causing anxiety for customers. Now, we’ve used AI, specifically GenAI, to make these conversations smoother and faster. This helps us quickly understand the customer’s problem and communicate effectively with the merchant or partners to reach a resolution. As a result, we are proud to say that 95% of refunds are now processed within a single day. Gone are the days when getting a refund was a lengthy process; now, it can often be done on the same day.

These changes have revolutionised our operations behind the scenes, not just the product you see on the app or the page. We are using the latest technologies to enable this digital transformation.

In what ways are you leveraging GenAI in your operations?

This is an area where we found we can reduce the time. The other thing is customer support has become a bread-and-butter use case for many corporations. So, we’re utilising that. From minutes, now you get the first response in seconds. Even the resolution time is cut down. Similarly, GenAI can converse with our end customers, handling all the mundane questions right there. There might be a few exchanges to get all the data not initially presented in the ticket. For instance, if I were to log a ticket saying my cable TV isn’t working, I would just state “TV is not working,” not specifying what troubleshooting steps I’ve taken, like restarting the cable TV box. That’s what the vendor would ask me, requiring two or three questions to gather all the necessary information. So, we use GenAI for this purpose. 

Now, all the information is available to our customer care agents and team members who can focus on their core tasks. They can work on finding solutions tailored to each problem. This approach allows us to significantly reduce the time once we’ve launched the chat box. 

It’s currently in English; our customers are merchants. They are capable of using it, but our focus is also on having this system available in local languages. If we were to develop a B2C product, the demand would be much higher. However, in our case, we’re specifically looking at this aspect.

In terms of storage, are you focused on on-premises solutions or the cloud?

We are completely on the cloud.

How do you position yourself in terms of preparedness for evolving security threats and changing RBI regulations?

Yes, we acknowledge that we can never claim to be completely prepared, but we approach security with utmost seriousness and passion. Every day, we witness major organisations suffering breaches and data losses, and sometimes encountering threats that aren’t disclosed publicly. If such incidents can affect prominent entities, we must maintain constant vigilance. Our approach to addressing security challenges is multi-faceted: we invest in advanced technology to secure our cloud infrastructure, automate processes wherever possible through software, and ensure that cloud deployments are configured correctly.

Within our organisation, we emphasise a proactive security stance. Our DevOps and SecOps teams focus on integrating security early in the development cycle. Before any code change is committed, rigorous security checks are conducted right from the IDE stage. Moreover, every significant change undergoes a thorough security review. We have a dedicated team known as the Central Paranoids, whose role is to adopt a sceptical mindset, constantly asking critical questions and ensuring that all potential risks are addressed. Only after their thorough assessment and approval can products proceed to further development stages.

We recognise that centralised security alone isn’t sufficient. Hence, we’ve implemented a decentralised approach with local security advocates in each team, referred to as the local paranoids. They collaborate closely with the Central Paranoids, addressing team-specific security concerns, proposing solutions, and promptly responding to emerging threats within their domains. This distributed model ensures that security responsibilities are shared across the organisation, enhancing our overall readiness against potential attacks.

Despite our comprehensive measures, we understand that security threats evolve continuously. Therefore, we remain committed to updating our technologies, knowledge base, and response strategies to effectively mitigate emerging risks.

Do you have any plans to establish an SOC, or are you satisfied with your current infra?

Yes, we will have an SOC. It’s very, very important to us, so we’ll definitely be having one.

How does Cashfree Payments’ DevOps culture contribute to achieving agility, scalability, and efficiency in product development?

Developers are responsible for creating all these products. So now the question is how can we empower them to produce more? We’ve discussed the uniqueness of Cashfree Payments, as well as innovation and the speed at which it occurs. They can only move quickly if the DevOps culture supports them in doing so. Therefore, they are at the forefront—the essence—of the DevOps culture. They should encounter no obstacles when bringing their ideas to fruition. The great thing is, they’re deeply passionate about constructing all of this. They don’t just want to build something; they aim to build the best product possible. They’ve made significant strides recently. Over the last quarter, we’ve completely automated the entire process from code in the IDE to production. Many companies attempt this, but often end up with only partial success or encounter stumbling blocks along the way. Our team, however, has excelled in this regard. I can confidently say that everything is now automated, and they continually refine it, shaving off minutes and seconds at every stage. This relentless pursuit of efficiency is ingrained in how we operate. Even if a single person identifies an improvement, it can be seamlessly integrated into our process.

We’ve developed our own proprietary language to define our entire DevOps pipeline. This means that any improvements made by one team can benefit hundreds of engineers across the organisation. The second key stakeholder in our DevOps culture is the customer. They play a pivotal role in our DevOps roadmap and all our discussions. How can we ensure that changes reach them faster? Furthermore, despite speed, how do we maintain crucial customer metrics such as uptime and transaction success rates? We continually strive for 100% uptime and transaction success, which is fundamental to our team’s mission. How do we achieve this? Previously, you might have experienced scheduled maintenance notices, typically conducted at night. However, with the rise of 24/7 e-commerce and event-driven transactions, we’re exploring innovative ways to perform large-scale infrastructure upgrades, like Kubernetes or database upgrades, with zero downtime. We aim to minimise or eliminate scheduled maintenance altogether, continually setting higher standards in this area as well.

How do you foresee contributing to the Make in India initiative, and are there any plans for expansion outside of India?

So, Make in India, as you know, we are the number one in the entire world among all fintech players. Cashfree Payments have played a pivotal role in enabling this achievement. Every product we develop integrates with various digital public infrastructures such as UPI, ONDC, and Account Aggregator, which are crucial for verification processes and more. We have products across these domains that contribute significantly. 

An important point to note is that whether it’s edtech, healthtech, Government tech, or any other sector, fintech is essential because transactions are fundamental to goods and services. We play a critical role in driving innovation across these sectors. For instance, in insuretech, there is a growing focus on settling claims within a day, which wouldn’t be possible without fintech and related verification technologies.

Moving to our expansion plans, our CEO has publicly expressed our ambition to leverage our strengths and innovations developed in India for global markets — Make in India, make for the world. We aim to expand into approximately 15 different countries over the next few years. Specific timelines will be announced in due course.

Do you have any planned initiatives to enhance the Indian startup culture?

Recently, we held a meetup focused on SRE. We believe we’re making significant progress in our respective startups. Our concern now is how to effectively disseminate this progress to benefit other companies. While some may prefer to keep innovations internal, we strongly advocate for sharing within the entire ecosystem. Going forward, we plan to organise more meetups covering SRE development, including front end, back end, and data science.

Additionally, we are committed to open sourcing many of our tools and solutions. This will enable other startups to leverage and adapt them to their needs. Knowledge and software sharing are integral parts of our strategy at WRO.

Do you perceive any technological limitations that hinder your ability to implement ideas effectively?

I think we have a lot of choices on the other side, right? For every solution, there are typically five to ten strong contenders, so we rarely feel something can’t be done. However, the challenge lies in making the right choices, especially in startups where such decisions are frequent. It’s an ideal environment for people who enjoy decision-making, experimentation, and adapting to outcomes.

With numerous problems, let’s say N problems and M solutions, the combinations can be quite complex. Those involved need to evaluate these options, conduct various proofs of concept (POCs), critically assess the benefits and shortcomings of each, and then decide how to proceed.

I don’t think there’s any significant technological limitation right now. I feel like we’re really spoiled for choice these days. Compare it to 20 years ago, where even having an idea faced high barriers from big players. Now, entry barriers are minimal, which is why we’ve seen such steep growth in startups recently. Factors like cloud computing and upcoming 5G networks have eliminated many past challenges. Problems related to optimising networks, computing resources, and displays are fading away. Moreover, with the rise of AI, the focus has shifted towards generating and executing innovative ideas rather than technological limitations.

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