Asia Behind the Idea Paytech

Behind the Idea: Alipay+

Success in expanding a business into China and Southeast Asian countries requires an innovative approach to tailoring payments in order to build out new revenue streams.

By the year 2025, there are predicted to be 2.6 billion mobile wallet users across Asia. This is market-changing news that should compel merchants and payments providers all over the world to shift towards digital commerce. They must take advantage of this growth.

However, mobile wallets can be disparate. It’s with this in mind that Alipay+ recognised a gap within the global payment infrastructure. The vast mobile wallet market could prevent businesses in other countries and regions from being able to fully take advantage of these native mobile wallet users in Asia, who, in many instances, desire a range of European goods.

Pietro Candela, head of European business development for Alipay+
Pietro Candela, head of European business development for Alipay+

Providing merchants in other markets with the ability to accept digital wallets is just one part of the challenge, though. The complex myriad of payments preferences and marketing schemes, e.g. paying via QR codes and using online promotional codes, are highly compelling factors for Asian consumers.

Therefore, Alipay+ set out to provide European merchants not only with the ability to offer familiar payments methods via one interface, but also tailored marketing solutions to truly allow merchants to cater to Asian customers in a meaningful way.

Elaborating on this, Pietro Candela, head of European business development for Alipay+, sat down with The Fintech Times: 

Tell us more about your brand and its offering

Alipay+ is a unified global mobile payment and marketing solution that connects merchants with users through their favourite mobile or digital payment methods. We connect global financial partners across all regions.

This includes banks, wallets, and acquirers so consumers can conveniently use their preferred local payment methods and transact seamlessly in different markets, all while enjoying marketing solutions and value-added services offered by merchants.

Alipay+ was developed by Ant Group, the owner and operator of Alipay, a leading digital open platforms and is a combination of two brands. Alipay is our legacy as it’s where we were able to be a pioneer of mobile payments, mobile finance and mobile lifestyle services. We were part of the transformation of China into a truly cashless economy. In China, we currently serve almost one billion users.

The PLUS is about our globalisation approach and incorporates our partners. We want to bring the beauty of our innovations to new customers, collaborating with financial and business partners, within an innovative open mobile ecosystem. PLUS also means we offer other services beyond pure transactions for our merchant partners and users.

What problem was your brand set up to solve?

Initially, we wanted to solve the issue of mobile payment fragmentation. This was as well as relieving the pain point of cross-border payment acceptance for merchants. But it goes beyond just payments. Completing transactions inside an app, instead of on a plastic card or NFC touchpoint, allows users to enjoy an augmented experience before, during and after their payments.

For example, it’s possible to get geo-localised promotions in real-time, verify the forex rate of a cross-border payment before the transaction, as well as experience a much more seamless shopping experience. Today it’s already happening in Asian restaurants, where by scanning a QR code on the table, users can order from a menu, and pay without any language barrier in a timely and simple manner, and it’s the direction of travel for digital-first shopping in other markets too.

Since launch, how has your brand evolved?

Our European brand has evolved from Alipay to Alipay+ – Alipay is focused on Chinese users only, who are in the habit of using the Alipay app for everything.  Global merchants can display our logo so Chinese consumers know they can use the app, as well as increasing sales by engaging customers even before their arrival in their online and offline stores.

Alipay+ extends these opportunities to other regions. Today, Alipay+ is already actively used by hundreds of millions of non-Chinese Asian users. They get promotions or pay instore and online, leveraging the existing merchant network of Alipay. We want to get to a point where all of these users can use Alipay+ to shop and engage with European merchants when they travel and once they’ve returned home.

What has been the biggest challenge or most ‘tricky moment’ to overcome?

Alipay had been initially designed to help Chinese tourists have a better travel experience. Alipay+ expands this concept to a global customer base with a different business model. It was not easy to decide when and with which brand to launch such a new proposition. Particularly during a moment when the pandemic did not allow people to travel. We looked at the travel bans from the pandemic as a unique opportunity to also focus on the global online shopper. So, today we have two aspects that sustain our offer: the online and the offline.

What are your biggest achievements or ‘proudest moment’ so far?

We are very proud of the work we have done in Asia. We decided to invest in some local wallets by helping them expand their value proposition. In most cases, they have become market leaders with the same offering as Alipay in China. We also connected them under the ‘Alipay+’ umbrella in order to create a vibrant and interconnected Asian payment APM ecosystem.

Personally, I am proud of many of our local European collaborations. We have been able to build partnerships with big and small financial institutions, merchants, agencies, tech companies, and others.

One of my favourite examples from these was with a non-profit entity, Duomo Veneranda Fabbrica in Milan. It manages a cathedral that is one of the best of examples of Gothic architecture in the world. They gave us prominent signage on the side of the cathedral that welcomed travellers from China in Chinese stating: ‘in faraway places you still find an old friend’. We received many heartfelt comments by travellers when they saw it.

How would you describe the culture of your company/brand?

We have a strong culture as a digital-first company. Even though our parent company, Ant Group, was started 18 years ago, our senior leaders always remind us that we are still a start-up. This start-up mindset is crucial when it comes to our global project, being substantially different to our historical positioning.

What’s in store for the future?

We foresee more opportunities coming from mobile. The future is all about growth and speed of transformation. Mobile strategy is a must for all B2C businesses. Even more importantly, based on our experience in Asia, mobile helps everyone live in a better world. This is through the combination of physical experiences intertwined with mobile solutions.

This is true not only for younger generations, but also for small individual businesses, the elderly, the disabled, rural communities or less well-off people, who find many cases where mobile usage helps them to improve their lifestyle and become more included in the modern economy.

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