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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’ 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.
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.