How the humble QR code may usher in the cashless society, starting in India



Clay Shirky, in Here Comes Everybody, writes

“Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.”

QR Codes are a good example. This post describes:

  • QR Codes 101 including who controls QR Codes and why QR Codes matter
  • Why India QR is a game-changer
  • QR Codes for Bitcoin payment
  • Fintech and the new government infrastructure investment

QR Codes 101

A Quick Response (QR) code is a machine-readable code made up of black and white squares read by the camera of a smartphone or other device reader.

QR Codes originated in Japan in 1994 to track vehicles during the manufacturing process. Now you see them everywhere – such as URLs in print ads, boarding passes, Bitcoin public keys. The key is the ubiquity of the smartphone camera that can read them. There are specialized QR Code readers (think of boarding pass readers at airports), but the key is the ubiquity of the smartphone camera that can read them.  The reader can be held by a consumer or an employee working retail. For example, that is how Swiss Railways check a ticket that you bought with your mobile phone.

Who controls QR Codes?

A Japanese company called Denso Wave invented the QR Code technology and owns some patents and trademarks, but has chosen to waive its rights to a key patent and offers a free license as long as users follow the standards.

Details are at

The mass adoption is creating an ecosystem of companies offering services such generating QR Codes, such as this company with pricing starting at EUR 5 pm.

Why QR Codes matter

They are simple and free and can go on any form factor, from mobile phone to paper or plastic. So while they are technically boring, their mass adoption makes them interesting.

QR Codes for Bitcoin Public Keys

If you want somebody to send Bitcoin to your account, just go to and key in your Bitcoin public key address and then put that QRCode wherever you want like your website or business card.   Yes it really is that simple and simple can change the world.

Why India QR

News: On Feb 20 2016, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) launched the IndiaQR (or in Hindi BharatQR), a common QR code jointly developed by all the four major card payment companies – National Payments Corporation of India that runs RuPay cards along with MasterCard, Visa and American Express. It will also have the capability of accepting payments on the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) platform.

MasterCard  is promoting the standard through ‘Masterpass QR’.

Customers make payments by scanning the QR code and entering the transaction amount. The amount gets transferred directly from the bank account without the need of a swiping machine.

This replaces credit card Point of Sale devices with anything that can generate QR Codes (which is a dirt cheap capability). That is an important benefot but the reason this is so disruptive is in one word – interoperability.

Before rail gauges were standardized, trains could only run on tracks from that train company.

Currently, QR Codes can be processed on closed systems, such as mVisa, for Visa cardholders, or via mobile wallets such as Paytm, as long as both parties have a Paytm account.

The key to interoperability is the standardisation promoted by the Indian government and codified in the  Unified Payments Interface. This enables Mobile wallet interoperability (read this post for why this is so critical).

Banks and Card networks are on board

On launch day they had 15 banks signed up for IndiaQR (household names if you live in India such as Axis Bank, Bank of Baroda, Bank of India, Citi Union Bank, DCB Bank Ltd, Karur Vysya Bank, HDFC Bank Ltd, ICICI Bank Ltd, IDBI Bank Ltd, Punjab National Bank, RBL Bank Ltd, State Bank of India, Union Bank of India, Vijaya Bank and Yes Bank). Visa, MasterCard and Repay (India specific credit card network) have been integrated and American Express is in the final stage

Paytm has said it plans to invest Rs 600 crore (about $90m) in the next 10 months to further enhance its QR code-based payments solution.

Another mobile wallet contender, MobiKwik, is also backing the standard

The new digital national infrastructure investment

This is an example of how governments can create digital national infrastructure. In ye olden days, infrastructure meant roads and railways and airports – think post war America. In that arena, India can at best play catch up. However in the digital arena, India can lead. The press release mentioned an “insignificant cost” for this QR initiative. It was really the role of government to create interoperable standards that matters. This another example of why we believe India is the country to watch in Fintech. 

If you want to see these insights before your competitors, join over 16,900 of your global peers who subscribe by email and see these trends reported every day. Its free and all we need is your email.








    • Thanks Kevin, I appreciate the kind words. I put links in the post. Do you mean an app on your phone that can read QR codes?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.