Ant Group’s Alipay+ leads Chinese fintech giant’s overseas expansion as consumer spending in home market stays sluggish

When Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong visited the town state’s fintech festival in November, he assuredly got with the programme and purchased his coffee online from popular local chain Huggs by utilizing the Alipay+ QR code.

That order appeared to suggest, in a nutshell, how Singapore has embraced digital transactions and the companies that support them, because the country successfully emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic and all of the disruptions it had caused.

“Covid-19 definitely was a catalyst that pushed us to digitise faster,” said Lee Hao Ming, managing director at Huggs, considered one of the biggest specialty coffee brands in Singapore and an area partner of Alipay+ operator Ant Group. “We didn’t really use QR codes before Covid-19 … Nevertheless it definitely made the entire country get used to scanning QR codes after the federal government put out this app to trace everyone’s movement [during the pandemic].”

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Ant Group’s collaboration with Huggs, which was founded in 2008 and has around 20 outlets across Singapore, was helped by the chain’s presence contained in the same constructing that housed the Chinese financial technology giant’s offices in the town state, in response to Lee.

Alipay+ has been actively promoting QR code connectivity in Hong Kong, South Korea and major markets across Southeast Asia. Photo: Handout alt=Alipay+ has been actively promoting QR code connectivity in Hong Kong, South Korea and major markets across Southeast Asia. Photo: Handout>

“I believe that is where Alipay+ reached out to me,” Lee said. “It was a really natural process once they introduced and shared their technology [with me], and what they’re able to do. We see it as a superb partnership.”

It’s a collaboration that reflects increased efforts by Ant Group, an affiliate of South China Morning Post owner Alibaba Group Holding, to expand its operations overseas via Alipay+, especially in the main economies of Southeast Asia.

Reasonably than construct one other super app, Ant Group developed Alipay+ as a collection of worldwide cross-border digital payments and marketing solutions. It’s designed to serve like a middleman, enabling businesses to process a big selection of local digital wallets and merchants.

That saves merchants from the difficulty of negotiating with different local digital wallet operators, while consumers get the convenience of using their local digital wallets in various countries where stores display the “Alipay+ accepted” logo.

Ant Group’s Alipay+ has seen strong adoption across Japan, South Korea and major economies in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Photo: Handout alt=Ant Group’s Alipay+ has seen strong adoption across Japan, South Korea and major economies in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Photo: Handout>

In November, Ant Group introduced Alipay+ D-store, which helps bricks-and-mortar businesses digitise their operations and marketing with the usage of a collection of tool kits.

Businesses using Alipay+ D-Store enable consumers to easily scan a QR code with their smartphone, which immediately leads them to a digital page to order.

That actually helps unlock more opportunities, while boosting efficiency for local merchants like Huggs in Singapore. “Not all consumers are willing to queue up because they could be in a rush,” Huggs’ Lee said.

Increased business activity overseas – Alipay+ merchant coverage reached 2.5 million as of November – marks a vibrant spot for Ant Group, because it deals with weak consumer spending and a flagging economy in its home market.

“Ant must proceed to seek out business growth poles, laying the inspiration for its increased valuation [when the time comes to go public],” said Wang Pengbo, a senior financial analyst at consultancy BoTong Analysys. “That can be in keeping with Beijing’s policy of encouraging firms to go global.”

Expansion abroad comes at a time when Ant Group’s restructuring is proceeding at full speed. Earlier this month, Alibaba founder Jack Ma decided to relinquish absolute control of the Hangzhou-based fintech giant, which analysts consider as a giant step towards easing tensions between Beijing and China’s Big Tech firms.

By diluting Ma’s voting power in Ant Group, the corporate is anticipated to turn out to be more “transparent and diversified”. Aside from satisfying regulators, that move could help the corporate resume its initial public offering (IPO), greater than two years after its dual listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai was halted by authorities.

Each Ant Group and the China Securities Regulatory Commission, nonetheless, have played down speculation about reviving the firm’s IPO plans.

China’s domestic A-share market requires firms, through which control has modified hands, to attend three years before applying to go public. Shanghai’s Nasdaq-style Star Market requires a two-year wait after such a change, while Hong Kong only requires a one-year stay.

Meanwhile, Ant Group continues its business development initiatives outside China.

In October, Alipay+ announced a partnership with Universal Studios Japan, which operates a theme park in Osaka, that introduced the Alipay+ cross-border digital payments solution to its visitors. Universal Studios Japan now accepts payments via e-wallets from China, Singapore, South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand.

That partnership has come amid Japan’s decision to lift its each day cap on inbound arrivals and a resumption of its visa waiver policy, amounting to a full reopening. “[Alipay +] caught the wave because the world step by step opened up,” Wang of BoTong Analysys said.

A 30-metre-high Christmas tree is unveiled at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka on November 10, 2022. It’s considered one of six Universal Studios theme parks worldwide and was the primary to open outside the USA. Photo: Kyodo alt=A 30-metre-high Christmas tree is unveiled at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka on November 10, 2022. It’s considered one of six Universal Studios theme parks worldwide and was the primary to open outside the USA. Photo: Kyodo>

“Although we’re seeing domestic regulatory pressure easing, the general environment in overseas markets remains to be more friendly,” said Shawn Yang Zi-xiao, managing director of boutique investment bank Blue Lotus Capital.

Shanghai-based e-commerce firm Pinduoduo, for instance, is investing heavily in its Shein-style budget-shopping app Temu, which is wooing consumers within the US. TikTok Shop, which was rolled out by tech unicorn ByteDance within the US last November, is profiting from the hit global short video app TikTok‘s vast overseas user base.

Still, Yang indicated that there has not been widespread adoption of cashless payment systems by overseas consumers, in contrast with China. “They still have a really stubborn habit of using bank cards, which is tough to vary,” he said.

This text originally appeared within the South China Morning Post (SCMP), probably the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for greater than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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