We tried to avoid it for a while, then postponed it a bit more, but now it’s inevitable. Welcome to the third of this month’s news round-ups, this time featuring the latest payments and eCommerce developments in China.

So let’s shine the spotlight on the A-players and their latest moves, among others: Alipay, Ant Financial and Alibaba. And remember why Chinese players are no longer the elephant in the room at European events, but the A-force to be reckoned with!

Alipay hits 700 million active users

This represents a 40% increase in active users year-over-year. The company also revealed that this summer, it processed 2.6 times as many in-store overseas transactions, as compared to the same interval in 2017. Furthermore, Asia dominated the list of Top 10 countries and regions in terms of summertime transactions via Alipay. It is worth mentioning that Hong Kong ranked first, followed by Thailand and South Korea.

As recent data indicate, the number of Alipay transactions in Russia climbed over 5,000%, as many Chinese travelers visited the country for this year’s World Cup. In addition, countries in Northern and Western Europe, including Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, registered double-digit growth in transaction volumes via Alipay.

Alipay is Ant Financial’s mobile payment and lifestyle platform, which managed to process a record breaking 256,000 payment transactions per second at the peak of the 2017 Singles’ Day Shopping Festival.

Ant Financial ramps us fintech ambitions

Most recently, Ant Financial has revealed plans to open up a full range of technology products and services under a new brand, Ant Financial Technology. The aim is to support the growth of financial institutions.

Under the new brand, Ant Financial’s technology products and services consist of 5 product portfolios, namely financial transaction technologies, financial security technologies, financial intelligence technologies, interaction technologies and blockchain applications.

Ant Financial, which is valued at USD 150 billion, has been moving away from consumer finance and payments to focus on technology services. It operates several products including Alipay, Ant Fortune, a wealth management app, Zhima Credit, a social credit scoring platform, and MYBank, a private online bank.

China UnionPay aims for European expansion

As Payments Cards & Mobile reports, the group will join forces with a UK company in October to start issuing virtual prepaid cards for UK corporate clients to give to their staff for use via a mobile wallet when travelling in Asia. As part of the second phase of the initiative, UnionPay-branded credit cards will be issued in other European countries as early as December.

“In Europe we want to target local customers in the domestic market, not only people travelling to Asia” –  Zhihong Wei, head of UnionPay in Europe

China UnionPay has been claiming for some time that they are the world’s biggest payment card issuer. The company has issued 6 billion cards, which is more than Visa and Mastercard combined, while its cards are accepted by over 41 million merchants and 2 million ATMs in 170 countries.

China UnionPay`s intentions to pursue European expansion and challenge Visa and MasterCard through branded cards in the UK are clear. But how will its 2 big rivals fair in this quickly evolving industry? It remains to be seen.

The AI story in China

After setting itself on a 10-year trajectory to become the world’s leader in Artificial Intelligence, China now takes a friendlier approach, calling for international collaboration in the field.

“AI represents a new era. Cross-national and cross-discipline cooperation is inevitable” – China’s vice premier, Liu He

In 2017, the Chinese government developed a plan to lead the world in AI by 2030, calling for domestic companies to build an industry worth over USD 150 billion. China’s tech industry has “already embraced machine learning and AI at an impressive rate”, according to technologyreview.com.

Starbucks-Alibaba vs. Tencent-Luckin Coffee: a new phase of the game?

When it comes to coffee, Starbucks certainly leads the pack globally. In August,  the company partnered with Alibaba to enable the delivery of Starbucks products to Chinese consumers at Alibaba properties including the Tmall brand e-mall, the Taobao marketplace, Hema and Ele.me.

Most recently, such plans to inject the ‘New Retail’ strategy on the Chinese market have been challenged by Tencent and its own ambitions to gain market share in China’s coffee stores business. Thus, the Chinese Internet giant has entered an exclusive business agreement with local start-up Luckin Coffee, a coffee-and-bakery chain, which currently operates 1,003 stores across 13 different cities of China.

Good times ahead for coffee lovers, especially since China’s local market for coffee products is estimated to be worth around USD 14.62 billion.

Until next week!