You are shopping in your favourite grocery store, and now it’s time to pay. But instead of reaching for your wallet, pulling out your credit card, entering your PIN or positioning your smartphone camera to scan a QR code, you place your fist on the point-of-sale (POS) machine, touch the POS machine with the middle joint of your finger. That’s it. Your payment’s done—thanks to a ring on your finger.
“The ring is an identifier. It’s like a card but in a different form factor,” says Vijay Khubchandani, founder and CEO, Sevenring Innovations Pvt. Ltd, the makers of 7 Ring, a smart passive wearable finger ring for contactless payments.
While wrist-worn wearables are still grabbing attention, smart rings are slowly sparking an interest in wearable technology across different use cases.
But unlike other smart rings, the 7 Ring, which can be worn on any finger, is not about fitness and health metrics but making payments easier. It doesn’t require a power source and works on NFC (near field communications) technology, a short-range wireless connectivity standard that uses magnetic field induction to enable communication between devices when touched together or brought within a few centimetres.
There’s also an accompanying smartphone app that lets users access and run a digital prepaid wallet in the cloud. The ring is certified and powered by Indian payment network RuPay. The PPI (or prepaid payment instrument) wallet is provided by LivQuik, a Mumbai-based payment solutions company.
There are currently two transaction limits if you use the 7 Ring: When you first activate the ring, you are registered as a “Min KYC customer”, with a monthly transaction limit of ₹10,000. After completing a video KYC via the mobile app, your account gets upgraded to “Full KYC”, with the monthly transaction limit at ₹2 lakh, Khubchandani explains.
The idea was first conceptualised in 2017. But Khubchandani says the covid-19 pandemic pushed the ring’s development. The product is now available in seven sizes, for ₹4,777. “The key inspiration was the Apple Watch,” says Khubchandani, who started the consumer electronic startup Sevenring Innovations in 2018 and has experience in the mobile apps and financial services industry. Today, the angel-funded startup has a team of eight, based in Mumbai and Pune, Maharashtra.
Inspired by the way computing was evolving—going from desktops to laptops, tablets to smartphones, and smartwatches —Khubchandani decided to work on something focused on the next big “real estate” on the human body. “The smart ring concept intrigued me because this was another level of miniaturisation... Unlike a smartwatch, you can wear a smart ring easily to sleep and it is less intrusive,” says Khubchandani.
Another push was the increase in adoption of contactless payments and tap-and-pay across India in the last few years.
A 2022 Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and PhonePe report on digital payments in India says customer preferences have shifted to contactless payments, driven primarily by the pandemic. “The BCG Center for Customer Insight’s Covid-19 Consumer Sentiment Survey conducted in July-August 2020 showed a marked decrease in cash usage among 50% customers, with more than 60% customers shifting to UPI and digital wallets as compared to pre-covid times. Furthermore, 60% of surveyed customers showed a strong likelihood of continued use of digital payments in the future,” the report said.
“That’s when we thought: This is a good category that will grow. It will interest people who want to accessorise but at the same time have some function to their accessory where it’s a smart accessory—a smart ring—that doesn’t require constant attention and charging,” he adds.
There are some other features that make the 7 Ring, designed and developed entirely in India—interesting. Like other rings, it can be worn pretty much everywhere. It is IP68 certified, making it 100% water-, dust- and scratch-proof, and has no battery or Bluetooth. It doesn’t need to be charged (it draws power from the POS machine), paired or synced, and works independent of the smartphone app, which helps you keep track of transactions and other payment-related details.
Finding the right size is an issue with many smart rings. The 7 Ring, says Khubchandani, is based on a simple, fairly accurate paper strip method. “Out of every 100 rings we ship, there are just two-three rings which come back to us for replacement of size,” he adds.
If you misplace your ring, the app lets you disable, or even block, it easily, like credit cards. The ring also uses a unique engineering concept that keeps it safe from skimming, theft of card data, which can even happen wirelessly. As mentioned, unlike most cards where data is transmitted—and a transaction is completed as soon as you tap it on the POS machine—the ring only works if you form a fist and touch the POS machine with the middle joint of your finger.
“The safety feature of the ring, which trumps the card, is that if your fingers are straight, your money is safe. It cannot be skimmed for card fraud,” says Khubchandani.
The one challenge that remains for 7 Ring, which he says is the first of its kind in India, is what is known as “card tokenisation” in the “paytech” industry. In the US and many other parts of the world, users pay through their Apple Watch or other similar wearables using a digital token, which replaces your actual card details with a unique code that resides on the device.
In India, this card tokenisation system was first announced by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in 2019 but limited to devices like mobile phones and tablets. In August 2021, the RBI extended this facility to other devices, such as laptops, desktops, wearables. But it remains to be seen whether tokenisation on wearables in India will take off the way it has elsewhere.
“That is also something, which, as a company, we are still thinking whether people will be comfortable with. Today, when we tell them that the ring is not linked to your bank account, they get comfortable,” says Khubchandani.
Either way, using wearables to pay presents some exciting use cases for the future. A recent Visa report on tokenisation adoption in India says contactless payments, enabled via NFC and wearables, may soon integrate payments into daily life through voice and Internet of Things, and improve Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality shopping experiences.
The power to do so, of course, would rest in the user’s hands.