PhonePe Multilingual support & UPI Localization

PhonePe Tamil Interface
PhonePe Tamil Interface Home Screen

PhonePe adds Tamil support

Canara bank launched its UPI PSP app with Hindi support. PhonePe just added Multilingual support (Hindi and Tamil) in its recent update, making it probably the first banking mobile app in Tamil. Thumbs up.

Localization is key factor is getting smart phone tech adopted by the next 30-40 million and utility apps which want to scale, will have localization at its core, beyond just user interface translation.

While the basic interface in PhonePe is localized and is a good start, it’s just the beginning. Entire localization of UI, localization user experience, translation quality, translation of support material, last but not least, customer support in user language are crucial elements in solving localization puzzle and gaining user adoption.


PhonePe Tamil Interface - Bank Accounts Screen

  • Some early bugs.
  1. Translation of Savings – ‘சேமிப்பு’ has an extra Indic vowel, one which is used only in computers and has no meaning in real world.
  2. Translation of “Retrieve bank balance” cant be lost in space.

There are fewer developers / companies knowing localization and rest just translate strings, jeopardizing the entire benefits of localization because of not understanding localization and its importance properly. Snapdeal which ventured into localizing e-commerce seems to have avoided further push and now sports only English interface after its re-branding, probably because localization did not deliver business results. May be no one probably told / they didn’t hear that their localization was google translate version of web pages.

Fix it from Stack, Build Local First

While I might have other problems related to economics of UPI, technically, UPI, being a software platform, can drive through / demand innovation / mandate features from platform participants.  UPI (along with other India Stack platform products) has great potential to steer the banking industry towards “Local First” , something which almost all banks including public sector ones have missed the bus / cared rarely in the past. Fewer vernacular versions language banking websites (forget net banking etc) than the total number of banks that operate in the country.

Instead of encouraging localization as an extra achievement, this has to be mandatory feature built into the stack, which aims to serve a large multi lingual country. UPI [not just that, any Digital (India) good ideally] must be supported in every language / script that’s printed on the currency note that every Indian uses.

1. Glossary

The primary necessity for effective localization for a new tech, is a tech glossary. FOSS / Linux operating systems had/have this for long and there are efforts like FUEL[1] which aims at standardization of localization. The problem is increasingly tough as the tech penetrates. So standardizing sooner will be lot easier than later. Part of this will ensure localization is built into the stack, not thought as some afterthought market-demand project where developers struggle. Consistent terminology also helps user seamlessly switch between PSP apps. Legal, Terms and conditions, platform information must also be translated.

2. Localized apps

Ensure all official apps by PSPs / third-party integrators like payment gateways, web hooks, net-banking interfaces where UPI transactions appear, printers where passbooks are printed should support local (at least for UPI). The bare minimal being localization of apps. But it must go deep into the stack, where all possible user interactions (including MPIN generation / authentication) are localized. The push has to come from stack level, because leaving localization to choice, we all know how many developers, project managers, executives will volunteer and invest time / resources.

3. Local banking support

To my understanding none of the UPI apps are supporting input of Indic texts on transaction metadata. I tried a couple of apps, I didn’t report bugs, because i thought it could be a stack level issue. UPI also has text-based support / dispute resolution, I am not sure if I can type my UPI problem in say Tamil and if PSPs will respond to me in Tamil (PhonePe responded me saying they don’t support Tamil at this moment). This should also be pushed from stack level. Banking customer support in local languages, must be made mandatory, just like mobile phone customer support, if goals of financial inclusion has to be met effectively.

4. Using Indic VPAs, Security

Aside from glossary, supporting Indic VPA is next big step. This might take time as standards / processes are evolving. This is essential considering realities of India. I hear some of you dismissing this as an insane suggestion, given that people (existing non-English speaking Indian internet users) already use English Email addresses. But for payments to reach the 40-50 million base and beyond, this needs to happen. Cellphones made it because it was number driven. Indic VPA, much like Indic email addresses / domain names, needs a some work to happen, especially related to phishing, regulated use of invisible Unicode control characters etc all of which are crucial for safety, particularly in sectors like banking.

5. Involve community

From a product / platform perspective, involve volunteer driven localization communities for glossary development, localization feedback. Several projects, online platforms have such volunteer driven language communities (Facebook, Google, Mozilla, Wikimedia, Fedora, Ubuntu to name a few have successful localization communities).

Parts of this post was emailed to IndiaStack – UPI folks. Hoping for local first banking experience soon.

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