The WeChat super app is perhaps the best example of a made-for-China digital ecosystem that struggles beyond the Great Firewall. It's essential in China for communication with colleagues and friends, ride hailing, day-to-day purchases and online banking. WeChat puts all that and more at your fingertips - and it's not like you have a choice anyway. The competition is blocked. But outside the Chinese mainland - where there are lots of other messaging apps - WeChat's only good for one thing: keeping in touch with people back there.
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.
Singapore is an ascendant digital finance hub, in 2018 attracting $365 million in fintech investment. That investment was double the amount raised a year earlier. Despite its small size, the city-state is still the No. 5 fintech market in APAC by funds raised.
Japan is the world's No. 3 economy and known for its tech prowess, yet the Japanese people prefer cash over other forms of payment. Just one in five transactions in Japan are cashless. Some analysts say that Japan can learn from its giant neighbor China when it comes to cashless payments. In less than a decade, China has gone from cash reliant to nearly cash free. In 2017, nearly half of the world's digital payments were made in China.
It wasn't so long ago that China's tech firms were panned as second-rate copycats. The best example might be Baidu, the search giant that is often less effective than Google in Chinese-language searches.
Tencent's WeChat messaging app changed the equation, establishing a mobile-internet ecosystem that is the envy of its global competitors. WeChat has over 1 billion monthly users (mostly in mainland China) and is the No. 5 most used app globally. Its payment platform has expanded to 25 countries. Thanks in part to WeChat business Tencent had a strong third quarter in 2018. Revenue reached $11.7 billion, up 24% over a year earlier, while profits rose 20% year-on-year to $3.4 billion.
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.
Mobile payment adoption is accelerating in Thailand as the finance sector moves to digitize. Like its Asean peers, Thailand is keen to use digital finance to boost an underdeveloped banking sector. Without the entrenched incumbents of developed economies, Asean countries tend to view digital finance as a greater opportunity than threat. Even highly advanced Singapore has embraced fintech, with an eye towards becoming Southeast Asia's fintech hub.
In Japan, cash is still king. Indeed, the Japanese have a fondness for physical currency that has ebbed amongst their neighbors. Cash accounts for 80% of transactions in Japan, compared to 40% in China and 10% in South Korea.
Facebook is reportedly developing a cryptocurrency that will be backed by the U.S. dollar for the Indian remittances market. Known as a "stablecoin," the digital currency will allow users of Facebook's WhatsApp messaging app to transfer money. Stablecoins have many applications besides remittance, including peer-to-peer payments, the purchase of goods and services online, and trading of digital currency. Facebook's digital currency is at a nascent stage and won't be released for some time, according to a December Bloomberg report.
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.
On September 18th 2018 the MAS launched the Singapore Quick Response Code (SGQR). Within the next year, 27 different mobile wallet providers including PayNow, NETS, GrabPay, Liquid Pay, and Singtel Dash will incorporate the new standardised code. The SGQR is the first of its kind globally and represents a significant change to the e-payment landscape. Interoperability is seen as a key infrastructural requirement for mobile payments and will have several impacts on new and incumbent firms in the market.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Previously, WeChat has been the world's dominant chat & payment app with over 1 billion WeChat users worldwide, spread over 15 countries; 200 million of which use the app's payment function. Could WhatsApp's December 2017 release of a payment enabled WhatsApp app in India find similar success?
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.
China Telecom and China Mobile, two of China's leading telecommunication companies, were approached by the Chinese government under a proposition to enter the Philippines telecommunications market.
With Bitcoin recently hitting an all- time high of $14,000 USD on December 7th 2017, many have been asking questions about whether the cryptocurrency’s price will continue to rise in the future or if it is simply a speculative bubble waiting to burst. The currency has risen by over $13,000 USD since the 1st of January 2017, a remarkable, and for some unfathomable surge considering it has no tangible assets or value at its core.
Singapore’s PayNow and Thailand’s PromptPay are set to link their national digital payment systems, thereby making it easier to send money between the two countries.
It is quite obvious that Alipay is the largest mobile payments platform in the world, with approximately 400 million registered users. Third-party payment platforms play an integral role in Chinese consumers’ everyday transactions because of the multi-faceted services offered, such as ecommerce and mobile payment transactions.
According to iResearch data released in September 2014, the Gross Monetary Value of China’s third-party online payments reached 1,840.66 billion Yuan (USD $299 billion), with year on year growth of 64.1%.
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.
China’s Transsion Holdings, one of the major mobile phone manufacturers in the world and second largest smartphone vendor in Africa is known for owning mobile phone brands TECNO, itel and Infinix. It was the first Chinese smartphone manufacturer to explore the African market and have a smartphone plant in Africa.
Today, its mobile phone brands have experienced tremendous success with itel being the second largest handset vendor in India with approximately 8 million sold handsets within only 8 months of its launch. Whilst, Infinix is successfully winning over the Nigerian and Kenya smartphone market through 'Infinix Mobility' which reported that it sold over 4 million devices in Africa within a 16-month period.
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.
Hike messenger, a popular phone messaging service app in India, has recently decided to introduce payment services on its platform.
On the last day of March 2017, Wang’lian (Internet Payment Union) started its trial operation after one year of preparation. The first group of companies that have joined the platform include: Wechat Pay, China Merchants Bank, Bank of China, and Chinabank Payment. The platform will effectively cut the 3rd party payment networks of Ant Financial and Tencent, and is likely the most important payment industry development this year, and it may not bode well for China's dominant digital payment companies.