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Airtel Digital to buy 10% stake in Tata Group-led Ferbine

HDFC and Kotak Mahindra banks have also picked up 9.99 per cent stake each in Ferbine.

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New Delhi: Bharti Airtel's wholly-owned subsidiary Airtel Digital is all set to buy 10 per cent in Tata Group’s Ferbine Pvt Ltd for Rs 50,000 cash.

With this, the telecom major has joined the race to own a stake in the pan-India umbrella entity (PUE) which has been formed to rival the National Payments Council of India (NPCI).

“The investee company has been incorporated on 18 January 2021 to make an application to Reserve Bank Of India for the PUE license. The main business of the company would be to operate a pan-India umbrella entity for retail payment systems, as would be allowed/ licensed by RBI, subject to approval of the PUE application,” Airtel said in a notice to the National Stock Exchange of India on Friday.

Airtel expects the transaction to buy stake in Ferbine to be completed on or before 5 March, it said in a regulatory filing.

Earlier this week, private lenders HDFC Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank have also picked up 9.99 per cent stake each in Ferbine.

Promoted by Tata Sons, Ferbine was incorporated on 18 January for setting up a PUE for retail payments. After the RBI approves the PUE application, the main business of Ferbine would be entitled to set up, manage and operate new payment systems in the retail space including ATMs, PoS, Aadhaar-based payments and remittance services. 

The Reserve Bank of India had invited applications to set up the NUE in August last year, setting 26 February as the last date for submitting the applications. However, recently it extended the deadline to 31 March, following requests from various stakeholders including Indian Banks’ Association in view of the Covid2019-related disruptions and inconveniences.

RBI guidelines mandate that applicants have at least three years of experience in the payments space, and a minimum paid-up capital of Rs 500 crore to be eligible to apply. The new umbrella entity The NUE is expected to develop systems that able to interact and be interoperable to the extent possible with the existing systems operated by NPCI.

Unlike NPCI, the PUE can be a for-profit entity. No single promoter is allowed to have more than 40 per cent investment in the capital of the PUE, as per RBI guidelines.The promoter shareholding can be diluted to a minimum of 25 per cent after five years of the commencement of business of the umbrella entity. The NUE would also have to maintain a minimum net-worth of Rs 300 crore at all times.

According to various media reports, India’s largest public and private banks including State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, HDFC Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank and Yes Bank are looking to participate in the NUE, along with corporates including Reliance Jio Infocomm.

Global companies like Amazon, Visa, MasterCard, and others like Bill Desk, PayU, Pine Labs, SoHum, Flipkart, and PayTM are also expected to join in the race as part of one or the other consortiums.

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