Entrepreneurship Industry News

100 million reasons why startups need to speak local lingo 

Digital payment companies, banks, and consumer internet startups are all starting to offer regional languages to connect better with consumers. 

BENGALURU: Online firms are relying on regional languages to drive adoption as they battle to capture the next 100 million internet users from the country’s heartland. Digital payment companies, banks, and consumer internet startups are all starting to offer regional languages to connect better with consumers.

Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, and Telugu are being widely adopted, companies say. They are offering products in these languages to enter tier-II locations and beyond. “We are present in 12 languages, with Hindi and Tamil being the most popular ones; we feel it has helped consumers connect with the app better and adopt it faster,” said Praveena Rai, chief operating officer of National Payments Corporation of India, which manages the BHIM app.

The country’s largest payments application, Paytm, is also available in 10 languages and the company claims regional language adoption has jumped four times over the last two years since it introduced non-English languages as part of the app. Paytm is most widely used in Hindi, followed by Telugu, the company said.

InMobi’s Glance, which claims to have 30 million daily active users, sees 60-65% of users from tier II and III cities who prefer regional language to consume videos for news, entertainment, fashion, travel, and sports. Regional languages may be an easier way to connect, but for companies, developing these capabilities is no easy task. Quality content is still a problem and curating them is even more difficult, industry insiders say.

Deepak Sharma, who heads digital initiatives at Kotak Mahindra Bank, said that while chatbots can be made to pick up multiple languages, multi-lingual keyboards are not that ubiquitous. “Thus, we see voice as the pre-dominant multi-lingual medium. The Keya voice bot uses an advanced natural language understanding engine with translation capability,” he said. Keya is the bank’s voice bot offering.

Startups that specialize in artificial intelligence like Niki.ai and Active.ai have already started work in this space, but scalability is still an issue. There is also a need for more data in local languages, which can make the AI-bots smarter. But, the availability of such data is still a challenge, industry experts say.

“The demand for local languages in India for financial services is evolving from Hinglish (a mix of Hindi and English) to English plus regional. I would say we are about 12-24 months away before this is mainstream,” said Ravi Shankar, chief executive officer, Active.ai.  Business-to-consumer startup Niki.ai offers an app that allows users to pay utility bills and book tickets in multiple languages through a virtual agent.

Read More: Economic Times