Asia Payments Research

The paramountcy of the SWIFT interbank messaging network to cross-border payments can be measured in many ways, and SWIFT itself likes to do so with its data on transaction numbers and amounts. For instance, as of December 2022, Swift had recorded an average of 44.8 million FIN messages (payments and securities transactions) per day during the year, a year on year rise of 6.6%.

Across Asia’s emerging markets, earned wage access (EWA) has been gaining traction rapidly in the past two years. In a nutshell, EWA platforms allow employees of a company to access a portion of their earned pay before payday. EWA is catching on fast in some of Southeast Asia’s largest emerging markets where per-capita GDP remains relatively low and significant portions of the population are either unbanked or underbanked.

This commentary was written in collaboration with Banking Circle

The majority of cross-border payments are currently carried out via telegraphic transfers supported by SWIFT’s network of correspondent banks. These transfers are often criticized for being slow and expensive. A transfer can take several days to complete, while the World Bank estimates the average cost of a transaction to be about 6% of the transfer value.

It’s all about financial inclusion: That’s why buy now, pay later (BNPL) is continuing to grow briskly in Indonesia, why regulators are maintaining a light touch, why venture capitalists and others keep pouring money into the country’s BNPL firms. Indonesia has an unbanked population of 181 million that is larger than the populations of most countries and many more underbanked people. Interest-free (if you pay on time) installment payments seamlessly integrated into e-wallets could become a dominant form of de facto credit in the country.

The largest U.S. payments firms have had their eyes on the China market for decades, in some cases since the country kicked off economic reforms in 1978. They have waited with the utmost patience to gain access to the colossal Chinese payments and cards market, valued at US$21 trillion in 2021 by research firm Global Data. In recent years, American Express and PayPal have made some incremental progress in the China market as Beijing has gradually permitted more foreign investment in its payments sector.

Defining atomic settlement

Atomic settlement refers to exchanging assets between two parties in a single transaction, typically instantaneously and often without intermediaries. This can be particularly useful in cross-border payments, as it allows for faster and cheaper transactions compared to traditional methods that rely on a more comprehensive network of correspondent banks or other financial institutions to facilitate the transfer.

China’s payments market has been gradually opening to foreign competition in recent years for different reasons. On the one hand, the Chinese government is wary of allowing a couple of tech giants to indefinitely monopolize a market worth US$3.5 billion at the end of 2022, according to Daxue Consulting. On the other, financial services is one sector of the economy in which Beijing wants more foreign investment. It is against this backdrop that we should evaluate the prospects of Airwallex in China now that the Australian-founded and Hong Kong-based firm has secured an e-payments license for the China market.

Japan’s affinity for cash has made it a relative laggard in adopting digital payments, especially compared to neighbors like Korea and China. Japan only broke the 30% milestone for cashless payments in 2021, partially due to the pandemic. In contrast, Korea was almost 94% cashless in 2020, while China was not far behind at 83%, according to the World Economic Forum.

A commentary in collaboration with Banking Circle.

Large banks have long dominated cross-border payments in Asia Pacific thanks to their control of traditional correspondent banking networks and until recently, the lack of viable competitors. Banks have been particularly dominant in B2B payments as the barrier to entry is higher than in the retail segment.

Meta makes almost all of its revenue from advertising. The company has long known it needs a new engine of revenue growth, but it waited too long to introduce payments and explore fintech in general.

In Asia, where fintech growth has generally been much faster than in Meta’s home market of the United States, the company has faced market barriers in some cases and intense competition overall. At this point, it may be able to gain some payments market share in certain Asian countries with WhatsApp Pay, but it will be an uphill climb.

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