Grab nabs Paytm engineering head to be new payments CTO

Grab has appointed Vikas Agrawal as chief technology officer (CTO) of its mobile payments unit GrabPay. His arrival is the latest in a string of hires and acquisitions that the company has made as it moves beyond ride-hailing to build its credentials as a payments platform.

Agrawal was previously a senior vice president at Indian digital payments firm Paytm, where he led a team of 200 engineers. Prior to joining Paytm in February 2016, he was co-founder and CTO at ecommerce startup Fashionara.

He will be based in Bangalore, where Grab has a research and development facility.

Grab group CTO Theo Vassilakis highlighted Agrawal’s tech leadership at Paytm at a time when India has been attempting to reduce its reliance on cash.

“Vikas has steered some of the world’s largest epayments platforms through rapid growth, including during the critical time of 2016’s demonetization of higher value banknotes in India,” he said. “We believe Southeast Asia has the same potential for epayments in the next 12 months.”

Pushing payments

Grab has been investing heavily in the development of its mobile wallet of late, as it seeks to diversify beyond its core ride-hailing business.

Over the past year it has introduced GrabPay Credits – an in-app currency that users can top-up with to pay for rides, or transfer to each other – and GrabRewards, a loyalty scheme which recently paired up with Singapore Airlines’ frequent flyer program.

More recently, Grab has rolled out QR code mobile payments in shops, restaurants, and hawker centers in Singapore, representing its first major play outside of a transportation context. The company said it wants to extend GrabPay for merchants to other Southeast Asian markets next year.

This new emphasis on payments has been driven by M&A – such as Grab’s US$100 million-plus acquisition of Indonesian ecommerce platform Kudo earlier this year – and a flurry of hires.

Former Euronet senior executive Jason Thompson became head of GrabPay in April, while Ongki Kurniawan – previously Line’s national manager in Indonesia – joined as managing director for GrabPay in the country in September. Vassilakis was appointed group CTO last month after serving as development manager for Microsoft’s Azure cloud service in Seattle.

There has been something of a revolving door within Grab’s engineering function as far as executive roles are concerned. Prior to the arrival of Vassilakis, the group CTO post had apparently been vacant since the departure of Facebook alumnus Wei Zhu in 2015. Wei later sued Grab in a dispute over stock options. Grab’s former vice president of engineering Arul Kumaravel quit in August due to personal reasons.