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Asian Ambitions

Earlier this month I met three new exciting payment startups at the flying fintech circus Money 20/20 Europe in Copenhagen: Android Pay, Samsung Pay and Alipay who all announced their expansion into Europe and their expected launch in the UK later this year. 

Android Pay is actually an updated version of a Google Wallet, which was not very successful. The director of Google’s Emerging Platforms, Spencer Spinnell, disguised the value that his new payment system will bring to Europe with a lot of technical shoptalk and corporate blabla.

Next in line was Elle Kim, Vice President of Samsung Pay, obviously proud of the new payment service from her company: “6 months ago we were a hardware company and now we have 5 million users and have processed 500 million dollars”. To be honest: I’m not exactly blown away by the mobile giant yet, but I may eventually be because Samsung that controls the hardware and builds security into the phone, is planning to conquer the World and Europe – and they have been quite successful so far.

After the two presentations, I still didn’t fully appreciate the burning need for yet two more gigantic players in the payment industry, and it was as if Sabrina Peng, president of Alipay International, had read my thoughts: ”Europe’s merchants don’t need more payment solutions, she said. They need more customers and Alipay will bring these customers to Europe! Last year 117 m Chinese travelled the world and they spent 165 billion dollars; most of these people prefer to pay with Alipay,” said Ms. Peng, whose company processes 175 million payments per day and has more than 450 million active users on the mainland. “If the European merchants will accept Alipay we will provide them with new affluent customers”.

I don’t think many hotels restaurants and luxury shops would object Sabrina Peng. She speaks no fintech jargon and her message gets across. In February, Uber announced that its one million drivers soon will accept Alipay despite the fact that Alipay has its own competing car-hailing service and has invested in Uber’s toughest competitor Lyft. With a view to almost half a billion customers who bothers to put on airs?

Forecasts indicate that the Chinese wanderlust will inflict 234 million people by 2020 and as the leading payment solution Alipay is key to future revenues from Chinese travellers around the world. Alipay is not just another payment solution it’s a lifestyle app, and as we know if your shop is not on the mobile screen Chinese customers will ignore you.

Taking 117 million Chinese on tour is like moving an entire country, which is what inspired Alipay to their new global dream. They wanted to bring their platform to the world, not just China, and according to Shanghai Daily Alipay has even higher aspirations with a “vision of targeting 2 billion people within the next five to ten years, not only in China but other countries too.”

That has to involve me and the readers of this column as well. I like people with a vision and a dream and after Ms. Peng’s presentation I interviewed Alipay’s business development director Alice Zhan to ask what she was dreaming about. ”Do you mean me, personally? Hmm, I dream about seeing the whole world with Alipay! And it’s funny you are asking, because our founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, says its important that we all have a dream. Everyone should have one because what if it is realised?”

Ms. Zhan gives me her business card and I see that Alipay resides in Canary Wharf on One Canada Square on Level 28. ”8 is a lucky number for the Chinese”, she says, ”and 28 means double luck. I have actually moved to another address in London where the street number 128; that’s just as lucky, she laughs, “but that’s a coincidence”.

Ah, you can’t fool me, Alice. The Olympics in Beijing started on 08.08.08 at precisely 08:08.08 PM and Jack Ma’s roadshow before going on the New York Stock Exchange started on the 8th of September. Eight is pronounced “ba” in Chinese and Alibaba’s ticker on NYSE is (BABA) read: 8 8. Veeery lucky. I like the Chinese. They bring a breath of fresh air to Europe and remind us to re-invent ourselves and not take anything for granted. But don’t make any mistakes. They are not here to give anything away. Right now Alipay keeps its half a billion customers with an iron grip – even when they are away from China. And with a dream of 2 billion customers I’m quite sure they are out to get our money as well when they are well established outside the mainland.

So I think, even small European financial institutions should join the Chinese on the international scene with our own bright and bold dreams and work just as hard to get luck on our side. What if our new dreams are suddenly realised?

by NILS ELMARK 

Consulting futurist, BankingLab.london

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