One of the great ironies about China for multinational firms is that they feel they have to be there, but the gatekeeper doesn't always let them in. This paradigm is especially evident in the financial services sector, where foreign firms control less than 2% of the market 18 years after China entered the World Trade Organization and promised to dismantle trade and investment barriers.
If your competitors are there, do you need to be there? Mastercard thinks so. Along with Visa and American Express (AmEx), it is trying to gain a foothold in China following Beijing's announcement in 2017 that U.S. credit-card companies could apply for licenses. In late 2018, Beijing approved the first such bank card transaction clearing license when it signed off on a joint venture between AmEx and Chinese fintech firm Lianlian.
Years ago, traditional POS machines only provided basic processing that were more convenient than cash transactions, but provided little help when it came to sales analysis. Smart POS started gaining traction in 2014 and grew rapidly as merchants juggled many different payment channels. A smart POS can process QR code, bank card, Quick Pass, as well as analyze business data, maintain membership details and combine online–offline sales. In December, UnionPay and Alipay both launched new acquiring products.
Double 11, the biggest e-commerce shopping festival, had another amazing result in 2018. On November 11th 2018, total online sales in China reached RMB314.2 billion (USD45.2 billion) in one single day.
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.