China’s Alipay, WeChat Pay open apps to foreigners visiting country

A customer walks past a sign for Ant Financial Services Group's Alipay, an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., at a Sa Sa International Holdings Ltd. store in Hong Kong, China. Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

Chinese payments giants Alipay and WeChat Pay, long a source of worry among competitors abroad, said they’re planning to open up their platforms to foreigners visiting the mainland.

The apps, which dominate payments across the country and at some businesses have even supplanted cash, required users have local accounts, partly because of regulatory concerns about money laundering and cross-border cash flows. Opening up to visitors may give an incremental boost to spending on the platforms — but for overseas firms, it has big implications, potentially helping pave the way for future adoption abroad.

Already, Alipay and WeChat Pay’s logos are visible in stores and taxis in major cities around the world as the firms focus on helping Chinese travelers there. The expectation across the industry is that the apps will someday use that infrastructure to attract locals in those destinations.

To be sure, the ability to work with credit cards is still pending. In its announcement, Ant Financial’s Alipay laid out a system that will work around current restrictions and can start immediately.

Alipay said it’s letting travelers use a prepaid card service provided by the Bank of Shanghai. That means customers will have to periodically top off that account, which will be limited in amount.

In contrast, Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat Pay intends to let people more directly connect their existing cards to its app. Visa described that plan in a statement of support early Wednesday in China, saying it will essentially enable its cards to work across the world’s second-largest economy.

“This is a great step forward, both for consumers travelling to China and the overall payments industry,” Visa said. “This partnership means that we’ll be working towards an environment where Visa cardholders will be able to use their Visa card in China at the millions of places where WeChat Pay is accepted, instead of having to rely on cash.”

The companies didn’t provide a time frame.

An article from Tencent News noted that Tencent, under guidelines from regulators, has been discussing cooperation with U.S. card-network operators Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover as well as Japan’s JCB to support the linking of overseas credit cards to Wechat Pay.

Bloomberg

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In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

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  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.