China's bank card market is large. Over 9 billion domestic payment cards will be in use by the end of 2018, a nearly 35% increase from the 6.7 billion in 2016. Even though the market is replete with card providers, the clearing business has been always dominated by the only one licensed clearing institution, China UnionPay (CUP), for both domestic and cross-border RMB transactions. That is, until now.
During the Internet Security Summit in Beijing on August 21st, Ant Financial announced the official upgrade for the security control of its digital payment platform – Alipay. The more secured process is achieved through what is called a 'Delayed Payment' (DP) function.
June 25th 2018, Ant Financial launched its E-wallet cross-border remittance service based on blockchain technology. Customers using Alipay HK can transfer money in real time to another E-wallet Gcash based in the Philippines.
China's tech giants are increasingly focused on positioning themselves as technology providers rather than financial services providers. A recent 3-second blockchain remittance from Hong Kong to the Philippines, was supported by Alipay HK and Philippine's GCash, cleared by Standard Chartered. Caifu Hao, a wealth management platform launched by Ant Financial, opened their AI-functioned investment tools to fund companies. Tencent recently signed contracts with a few banks to provide a financial cloud structure for acquiring and managing growing clients.
Ant Financial was valued at $150 billion recently, making it the biggest unicorn globally. As it completed its most recent $10 billion financing, the company has made it clear that Ant’s future is being a tech provider to the financial industry.
China's banks have lost significant market share to fintech companies like Ant Finance and Tencent, especially in the mobile payment space, which the fintech companies have used as a basis to move into other market segments such as online lending. Banks have been distanced from consumers and there are concerns that people do not need banks any more. Are things really that bad?
On April 7th, 2018, Alibaba announced an investment of 4.5 billion RMB (7.1 bn USD) to Huitongda, showing the intention to develop business in the rural areas of China. They will cooperate on supply source, logistics, technology and life services.
On February 1st, Alibaba and Ant Finance jointly announced that, according to their strategic agreement signed in 2014, Alibaba will acquire 33% of Ant Finance’s shares through one of Alibaba’s subsidiaries.
In China, bar code payments (including QR codes) dominate the mobile payment market. Using a bar code to pay is easy, but comes with risks. In 2017, about RMB 90 million ($14 million) was stolen due to fraud. On December 25th, 2017, the People’s Bank of China (the PBOC) released new regulation to standardize bar code payments. The regulation will come into effect from April 1st, 2018.
On December 11th, 2017, China Union Pay (CUP), together with over 30 commercial banks and payment institutions, launched a new version of its mobile payment APP, QuickPass (云闪付), starting a new battle in the mobile payment industry.
The People’s Bank of China (the PBOC) started issuing the Payment Business License since May 2011 to non-banking institutions. Up until March 2015, the PBOC had issued 270 payment licenses.
Ant Financial is well established as the largest fintech in China. These past two years have been excellent for the company as they reached 450 million users with an average expenditure of 16,000 RMB through the Alipay platform. They recently started to make use of Alibaba’s acquired controlling stake of company Lazada in Singapore, which has given them access to most of the SEA market. In addition, Ant bid for Moneygram in the United States, and funded bike sharing service Gobee.bike’s launch in Hong Kong (being the first bike sharing company of the kind launched in HK). However, the important question here is: what awaits the company in the near future? Three words. Diversification, internationalisation and experimentation.
QR-codes have been a boon for China's 3rd Party Payment providers, but due to QR-Code standardization and the launch of China's Online Settlement Platform for Non-Bank Payment Institutions, more colloquially known just as Wanglian, QR-codes could now be the payment giants' biggest challenge.