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India weighs more penalties on Paytm, including revoking payments bank license

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is discussing more penalties on Paytm Payments Bank and may reach a decision within days, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch, as troubles mount for the Indian financial services firm that serves more than 330 million customers.

The central bank has internally discussed revoking the payments bank license of Paytm, the sources said, requesting anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to the press. RBI didn't respond to a request for comment early Thursday.

In one of its strongest worded letters, the RBI on Wednesday ordered new curbs on Paytm Payments Bank, virtually ensuring that the Payments Bank no longer operates most of its businesses in less than six weeks.

In 2022, RBI slapped Paytm Payments Bank with penalties after finding that the Noida-headquartered firm had violated rules by allowing data to flow to servers outside of India and didn’t properly verify its customers. RBI said Wednesday a comprehensive audit by external auditors found “persistent” noncompliances and “continued material supervisory concerns” in the bank. The noncompliance, RBI said, warranted “further supervisory action.”

The decision follows the central bank summoning two Paytm officials to its office in recent weeks over compliance issues, one source said.

Paytm said on Thursday that it will stop working with Paytm Payments Bank and explore tie-ups with other banks for many of its financial services. A payments bank license allows the holder to offer basic banking services such as accepting customer deposits of up to $2,400. Paytm "will be working only with other banks, and not with Paytm Payments Bank Limited," the firm disclosed to the stock exchange Thursday.

Shares of Paytm fell 20% within minutes of marketing opening Thursday, hitting the lower circuit that halted trading for the day. Paytm share ended trading at 608.8 Indian rupees, or $7.3, less than two-thirds of its issue price.

The RBI's notice has sent shockwaves through the Indian fintech industry, which has already been hit with several regulatory clarifications in recent years. In December, Paytm said it would issue fewer personal loans under 50,000 Indian rupees ($600) after the RBI tightened norms for consumer loans and publicly expressed concerns about the bad, tiny personal loans.

Macquarie analysts, known for the best calls on Paytm, said: "We have seen RBI take ~15 months time to revoke its ban on digital business activities of the largest private sector bank. However, in this case since the first ban (in March 2022) for onboarding new customers (~22 months have lapsed), RBI has conducted a comprehensive IT audit and continued to identify non-compliance, which in our view indicates that these lapses are quite material.”

One97 Communications, the parent firm of Paytm, owns a 49% stake in Paytm Payments Bank whereas rest is owned by Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma. The RBI gave final approval of payments bank to Paytm in early 2017.