Paytm's Sharma open to increasing stake in Indian payments firm

By Chris Thomas and Sethuraman N R

BENGALURU (Reuters) -Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma said on Monday he is open to increasing his stake in the Indian fintech firm if there are sellers, weeks after he became the largest shareholder in the company by buying stake from Chinese firm Antfin.

Sharma, also CEO of Paytm, holds a 19.42% in Paytm after purchasing shares from Antfin amid broader concerns about Chinese ownership in Indian financial technology companies.

"Paytm is truly an Indian company. It is a milestone that I'm able to acquire more stake in my company," Sharma told Reuters.

"Antfin has not indicated that they want to sell (a further) stake at the moment, but if they do, I will jump at any opportunity to buy more equity in Paytm," he said.

Antfin's selldown had followed a complete exit by Alibaba in February. Japan's Softbank Group Corp has also been cutting its stake in Paytm through open market deals.

Paytm is focusing on its payments and credit business and is targeting free cash flow of sizable value soon, Sharma said.

Paytm on Monday also launched a $12 "soundbox" device that lets merchants accept both mobile and card payments across networks including Visa, Mastercard, American Express and homegrown RuPay, as it looks to attract more subscribers from its large network.

The soundbox provides instant audio alerts on amounts paid to merchants through an inbuilt speaker.

Paytm competes with players such as Google Pay and Walmart's PhonePe in India, where digital payments gained traction after the country banned some high-value currency notes in 2016. Merchants from vegetable vendors to large retail stores now accept digital payments.

The focus is to add as many merchants as possible and engage with them, riding the popularity of soundbox, Sharma said.

Paytm shares ended little changed on Monday, trimming some earlier losses. The stock has rebounded sharply from November lows after the company reached operational profitability ahead of schedule, but is still about 60% off its IPO issue price of 2,150 rupees.

(Reporting by Sethuraman NR and Manvi Pant in Bengaluru; Editing by Eileen Soreng, Tomasz Janowski and Mike Harrison)