India’s $34 billion market for gold is changing.
The buying and selling of gold has traditionally been done face-to-face. But now smartphones, e-wallets and some investment programs are bringing new buyers into the business.
Digital payment systems have grown in popularity in India since the government stopped producing large-value bank notes in 2016.
Now, there are computer software applications that let smartphone users buy, sell or keep gold, even in small amounts. The Reuters news agency reports that a private company keeps gold purchased or sold electronically in secured storage vaults.
Online gold purchases have been growing worldwide for years. But they are a new idea in India, where jewelry and pieces of gold are often kept by individuals or given as gifts.
“In India, the action is really starting now. The digitization of the economy will certainly lead to the digitization of gold,” said Somasundaram PR. He is managing director of India operations for the World Gold Council. He believes the digitalization of gold will grow in the coming 12-24 months.
The World Gold Council estimated total Indian gold demand at 727 tons in 2017, and thinks it could rise to 800 tons in 2018. In China, the country using the most gold, demand was 953.3 tons last year.
It is difficult to estimate how many buyers are entering the market because of software apps or the internet. One digital payments company reported that in the first six months after it began offering digital gold last April, it processed about $18.4 million worth of sales. That represents a small part of the Indian gold market.
With most purchases made in the traditional way, demand for physical gold is not slowing.
Indian buyers are also interested in competitive pricing and the ability to purchase gold in small amounts.
Gold-based offerings, such as Gold Accumulation Plans, let users buy and store gold in amounts as small as 0.1 grams. Many young people like these plans, along with other online investment programs.
In the past, everyone who wanted gold had to wait until they had saved a large amount of money to make a purchase. Joe Jacob, a 29-year-old businessman, recently bought 5 rupees worth of digital gold as a “trial investment.” He said that buying digital gold is easier and safer than having gold physically in his home.
Security experts said that because the gold is guaranteed to physically exist in a secured place, there was little risk of dishonest sellers.
And digital wallet providers believe interest will grow.
A company called Paytm is at the top of the crowded e-wallet business in India. It announced two new gold gift and savings plans this month.
Gold purchases traditionally increase around the time when many marriage ceremonies are performed, experts say.
Nitin Misra, senior vice president at Paytm, confirmed the rise. He confirmed that “about 40 percent of sales” happen during the “off-season” for buying gold in India.
He said more than half of the company’s users were repeat buyers, and 70 percent were younger than 35.
The company said last year it planned to sell $200 million worth of gold during the 12-month period ending on April 1, 2018. But its reported sales appeared to fall short of that number.
A competitor, e-wallet provider PhonePe, said the market will grow by 35 percent from 2015 to 2020.
Bangalore-based businessman P Vinoth says he likes to buy jewelry and other gold-covered objects from stores. He says e-wallets now offer another way to make purchases.
He used to invest in exchange-traded financial programs, he said, but “now I am using Paytm gold.”