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Chat app Line’s mobile payment service is getting its own Visa card

Posted by on Jan 30, 2019 in alibaba, alibaba group, alipay, Apps, Asia, China, E-Commerce, economy, Japan, King, mobile payments, money, online payments, payments, points, Tencent, visa, WeChat | 0 comments

Brown, Cony and the gang are coming to a credit card near you in Japan. Line, the messaging app company behind the cute sticker characters, announced today that it is bringing its payment service to plastic through a tie-in with Visa.

Line is Japan’s largest chat app with an estimated 50 million registered users. The cards will be released later this year and they’ll allow Line Pay, the company’s digital wallet service, to stretch beyond its existing merchant base to allow users to pay at any retailer accepting Visa . In addition, the first year of use will see customers get 3 percent of their spending back in Line’s ‘Points’ virtual currency, which is used to buy stickers and other content.

The partnership is a step up from Line’s own payment cards, which were introduced in 2016 and supported by JCB.

It’s an interesting deal because mobile is generally seen as being the future form factor for payments. In China, for example, using cash or card to pay is considered antiquated — you’ll get glares from other patrons forced to wait while you complete your transaction — but digital payments face a struggle in most other markets.

WeChat and Alipay have become de facto in China, but retailers — and particularly smaller ones — don’t always have the awareness, confidence or resources to add support for Line or other digital wallets. Japan, where cash is still king, is perhaps most emblematic of that struggle. The government is making a sustained push towards cashless — particularly ahead of the 2020 Olympics — and Line, as the country’s dominant chat app, may help that along with this partnership.

Line wrapped up a deal with WeChat last November that allows users of the China-based chat app to make payment via Line Pay points of sale. Tencent’s WeChat and Alipay from Alibaba have spent recent years developing a system that lets Chinese tourists pay while they are overseas.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Go-Jek makes first close of $2 billion round at $9.5 billion valuation

Posted by on Jan 25, 2019 in alibaba group, alipay, Asia, China, Co-founder, Collaborative Consumption, Companies, funding, Fundings & Exits, go-jek, Google, grab, Indonesia, JD.com, Philippines, Singapore, Softbank, Southeast Asia, TC, Tencent, Thailand, Uber, vietnam | 0 comments

Southeast Asia-based ride-sharing firm Go-Jek is making progress with its plan to raise up to $2 billion in fresh capital to fund its battle with close rival Grab .

Indonesia-headquartered Go-Jek has closed an initial chunk of that round after a collection of existing investors, including Google, Tencent and JD.com, agreed to invest around $920 million towards it, three sources with knowledge of the investment told TechCrunch.

The deal, which we understand could be announced as soon as next week, will value Go-Jek’s business at around $9.5 billion, one source told TechCrunch. With existing investors on board, the company is now actively soliciting checks from other backers to take it to its target. The capital is likely to go towards deepening its presence in new markets and furthering its fintech push.

A Go-Jek representative declined to respond when contacted by TechCrunch for comment on its fundraising efforts.

This incoming round excluded, Go-Jek has raised more than $2 billion from investors to date, including a $1.4 billion round that closed last year and valued its business at $5 billion.

Founded in 2015, Go-Jek began in motorbike taxis before expanding to four-wheels, service on demand and fintech. It decided to go after a $2 billion raise last year — having seen Grab gobble up Uber’s local business in Southeast Asia — but it has taken some time to make progress. That’s partially down to an effort to ‘clean the cap table’ by buying out some early investors and longer-serving or former staff with equity, two sources told TechCrunch.

Likewise, there has also been discussion around including the acquisition of JD.com’s local JD.id business, valued at over $1 billion, in the deal. As far as we know, a resolution hasn’t been found despite lengthy talks.

An acquisition of JD.id would not only see JD.com’s influence deepen with Go-Jek, but it would give the ride-hailing startup a strong position in Indonesia’s e-commerce space, which includes three other unicorns: Alibaba-owned Lazada, Tokopedia — which is backed by Alibaba and SoftBank’s Vision Fund — and Bukalapak, which also recently raised money for growth.

There is some doubt, however. Speaking to Reuters this week, co-founder Kevin Aluwi denied Go-Jek has plans to enter e-commerce.

Fundraising for Southeast Asia’s ride-sharing companies went up a few notches last year after Uber decided to exit the region through a deal with Grab, which saw the U.S. firm pick up a potentially-lucrative 27.5 percent stake in Singapore-based Grab.

Grab raised a $3 billion Series H round, anchored by a $1 billion injection from Toyota, but the company plans to increase that fundraising effort to as much as $5 billion, as we reported at the tail end of last year.

Why all the huge checks? At stake is a dominant position within a fast-growing online market.

Ride-hailing in Southeast Asia is poised to grow from an $8 billion annual business in 2018 to $31 billion by 2025, according to a report from Google and Temasek. Indonesia alone is tipped to account for nearly half of that figure.

The report from Google and Temasek forecasts major growth for ride-hailing in Southeast Asia

With a cumulative population of more than 620 million people and increasing internet access, Southeast Asia has emerged from the shadows of China and India to become an attractive market for startups and tech companies. Chinese giants like Tencent and Alibaba have stepped up investment areas in recent years, with e-commerce, fintech and other ‘ground zero’ infrastructure services among their targets as the region begins to turn digital in the same way China has.

That’s where Grab and Go-Jek get interesting because, beyond simply catering to transportation, both companies have expanded to offer services on-demand, like e-groceries, as well as payments and financial services such as loans, remittance and insurance. The goal is to become the region’s one-stop ‘super app’ like WeChat, Alipay and Meituan in China.

So far, Go-Jek has fanned out beyond ride-hailing to offer fintech and other services in Indonesia, but it is still getting to grips with the regional play. It expanded to Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore last year while the Philippines is a work in progress following a setback after it was denied an operating permit earlier this month.

Already, though, it is making plans for the Philippines after it acquired Coins.ph, a fintech startup that is likely to be the base for a local push into payments and financial services. The deal was officially undisclosed, but sources told TechCrunch that Go-Jek has paid around $72 million — that potentially makes it the company’s largest acquisition to date. That shows how serious Go-Jek is both about its expansion efforts and its fintech business.

Go-Jek CEO Nadiem Makarim worked at McKinsey for three years before starting the companyn[Photographer: Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg]

In the here and now, Go-Jek claims more than 125 million downloads in Indonesia, over a million drivers and some 300,000 food merchants. It claims to process 100 million transactions per month, while Aluwi told Reuters that total transactions on its platforms crossed $12.5 billion last year. That doesn’t mean net income, however, since the company takes only a slice of customer’s ride-sharing fares and payment volumes.

Grab, meanwhile, operates in eight markets in Southeast Asia. It claims over 130 million downloads and more than 2.5 billion completed rides to date. Grab is assumed to not yet be profitable but it has said that it made $1 billion in revenue in 2018. It projects that the figure will double this year.

The company has raised around $6.8 billion from investors, according to data from Crunchbase, and Grab was last valued at $11 billion.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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WeChat is quietly ranking user behavior to play catch-up with Alibaba

Posted by on Jan 15, 2019 in alibaba, alibaba group, alipay, Ant Financial, Asia, Bank, Beijing, China, credit score, Government, Messenger, mobile payments, online lending, online payments, payments, power bank, Tencent, WeChat | 0 comments

Over one billion people leave behind trails of information on WeChat every day as they use the messenger to chat, read, shop, hail rides, rent umbrellas and run many other errands. And the Tencent app has quietly started using this type of signal to determine whether a user is worthy of perks such as deposit-free renting services.

The rating system, which the company calls the “WeChat Payments Score” in Chinese, soft-launched last November across eight cities and has been piloting on a small number of apps. Among them is the Tencent-backed power bank rental service Xiaodian, which waives deposits for users if their points hit a certain benchmark. It’s easy to imagine how the rewards mechanism can help nudge customers to try out WeChat’s panoply of in-house and third-party offerings down the road.

Exactly how WeChat calculates these points is unclear, but a test done by TechCrunch shows it factors in one’s shopping and contract-fulfilling records. We’ve reached out to Tencent for more details and will update the article when more information becomes available.

Alibaba’s affiliate Ant Financial — WeChat’s biggest contender in online payments — has been running a similar assessment engine called the “Sesame Credit” since 2015. Like WeChat’s, it measures several dimensions of user data including purchase behavior and capability to fulfil contracts. People with higher scores enjoy perks like deposit waivers when staying at a hotel, incentives that could keep customers in the house. Sesame points are available through Ant’s Alipay digital wallet that recently claimed to have crossed one billion users worldwide.

The WeChat payments score is reminiscent of Tencent’s short-lived credit-rating scheme. Indeed, digital footprints can also help China’s fledgeling financial system predict creditworthiness among millions of people without financial records. That’s why Beijing enlisted tech companies including Tencent and Ant in 2015 to come up with their own “social credit” scores under state-approved pilot projects.

Over time, regulators became wary of the mounting personal information used by online lending companies and moved to assert greater control over the whole credit-rating matter. In early 2018, it changed tack to crack down on private efforts — including a Tencent-run trial. Beijing subsequently set up Baihang Credit, the only market-based personal credit agency approved by China’s central bank. The government holds a 36 percent stake in Baihang. Ant, Tencnet and several other private firms also got to be part of the initiative, though they play complementary roles and hold 8 percent shares each.

While most countries use credit rating mainly as a financial credibility indicator, China has taken things a few steps further. By 2020, China aims to enrol everyone in a national database that incorporates not only financial but also social and moral history, a program that has raised concerns about privacy and surveillance.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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WeChat e-wallet teams up with Line to target Japan’s 7M Chinese tourists

Posted by on Nov 27, 2018 in alibaba, alibaba group, alipay, Asia, China, Finance, Japan, mobile payments, online payments, payments, TechCrunch, Tencent, Thailand, WeChat, yahoo japan | 0 comments

China’s biggest chat app WeChat is set to make its payments service more ubiquitous in Japan, a popular outbound desitnation for Chinese tourists.

On Tuesday, the Tencent-run messenger unveils a partnership with Japan’s Line chat app on mobile payments. The tie-up allows Japanese brick-and-mortar merchants with a Line Pay terminal to process WeChat Pay transactions directly. Instead of going through the hassle of currency swaps, a Chinese customer can simply summon the WeChat app and pay by scanning a QR code the retailer presents.

The fresh alliance is hot on the heels of a similar gesture from Tencent’s most serious rival, Alibaba. In September, the Chinese ecommerce giant’s payments affiliate Alipay teamed up with Yahoo Japan in an effort to grab Chinese outbound travelers.

Tencent did not provide information on the number of potential Japanese retailers reached through the scheme when inquired by TechCrunch . But the firm says its setup with Line Pay allows small and medium-sized businesses to adopt mobile payments at relatively low costs because it doesn’t require merchants to purchase QR code scanners.

Both WeChat Pay and Alipay have already been going it alone in Japan over the past few years. WeChat Pay, for instance, claims that it scored a six-fold increase in the number of transactions in Japan between June 2017 and 2018.

On the other hand, having an ally with an extensive local reach can help Alibaba and Tencent capitalize on a wave of increasingly sophisticated Chinese tourists.

The partnership with Line “significantly boosts WeChat Pay’s penetration among small and medium-sized retailers and its application in more daily scenarios, rather than serving Chinese people only at traditional tourism hotspots,” says a Tencent spokesperson. “This strategy is in line with an upgraded demand from Chinese people to travel like locals.”

Japan’s appeal to Chinese people is on the rise. During China’s weeklong “Golden Week” national holiday in October, Japan leapfrogged Thailand for the first time to become the most popular destination for Chinese tourists, according to a report from Chinese online travel agency Ctrip. In 2017, the Japan National Tourism Organization recorded a total of 7.36 million Chinese tourists, who made up more than a quarter of all visitors to Japan that year.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Tencent e-wallet is following Alibaba to Hong Kong subways

Posted by on Nov 22, 2018 in alibaba, alibaba group, alipay, Ant Financial, Asia, China, executive, mobile payments, Octopus, online payments, payments, Smartphones, TC, Tencent, WeChat | 0 comments

China’s payments giants have taken their battle to Hong Kong. Less than a week after Ant Financial announced adding QR codes to the city’s MTR public transport network of rail, Tencent’s WeChat Pay unveiled a similar scheme on Wednesday.

Starting mid-2021, commuters in Hong Kong can scan a barcode to enter the subway turnstile through WeChat Pay, the digital wallet linked to Tencent’s popular messaging app. That’s a year behind Alibaba’s payments affiliate Alipay, which claims to enable QR codes for MTR in mid-2020.

Both Alipay and WeChat Pay are making this scan-to-ride option available to visitors from the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong residents.

Hong Kong has become a testing ground for the Chinese e-wallet titans going global due to the city’s geographic adjacency and cosmopolitan population. Its market of 740 million people also offers growth potential as mobile payments adoption is still nascent. In a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Productivity Council, only 30 percent of the respondents said they had paid with mobile devices, while most locals are accustomed to credit cards and cash.

By contrast, 92 percent of China’s 970 million mobile users have paid on smartphones, according to a July report from consulting firm Ipsos.

Cracking the Hong Kong market isn’t easy. For years, locals have used the stored-value Octopus card to pay for everything from MTR rides to convenient store purchases. The card system, which is 57.4 percent owned by MTR, claims to cover 99 percent of the city’s population.

Time will tell whether the payments newcomers could replicate their success in their neighboring city. On the Mainland side, WeChat Pay took off after a series of marketing campaigns that involved users fighting for cash-filled digital packets on WeChat. Alipay, on the other hand, traced much of its success to its ties with Alibaba’s ecommerce platforms, which don’t accept WeChat Pay.

In Hong Kong, the rivals have introduced redeem programs and shelled out generous subsidies to vie for shoppers. AlipayHK said in June that it crossed 1.5 million users, up from one million in March. WeChat Pay Hong Kong is keeping mum about its user base but a company executive said in November that the wallet scored more than ten times growth in transactions over the past year.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Security tokens will be coming soon to an exchange near you

Posted by on Aug 28, 2018 in alipay, Bitcoin, chairman, coinbase, Column, cryptocurrencies, cryptocurrency, economy, Finance, homer simpson, initial coin offering, Jeremy Allaire, Josh Stein, laser, money, payment network, polymath, Real Estate, security token, switzerland, TC, tokenization, tzero, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, university of oregon, Venmo | 0 comments

While cryptocurrencies have generated the lion’s share of investment and attention to date, I’m more excited about the potential for another blockchain-based digital asset: security tokens.

Security tokens are defined as “any blockchain-based representation of value that is subject to regulation under security laws.” In other words, they represent ownership in a real-world asset, whether that is equity, debt or even real estate. (They also encompass certain pre-launch utility tokens.)

With $256 trillion of real-world assets in the world, the opportunity for crypto-securities is truly massive, especially with regards to asset classes like real estate and fine art that have historically suffered from limited commerce and liquidity. As I’ve written previously, imagine if real estate was tokenized into security tokens that you could trade as safely and easily as you do stocks. That’s where we’re headed.

There’s a lot of forward momentum around tokenized securities, so much so that based on their current trajectory, I believe security tokens are going to become a common part of Wall Street parlance in the near future. Investors won’t just be able to buy and sell tokens on mainstream exchanges, however; “crypto-native” companies are also throwing their hats into this ring.

The starter pistol has been fired

The race is on to bring security tokens to the masses

 

Because Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are not classified as securities, it’s been much easier to facilitate trading on a large scale. Security tokens are more complex, requiring not just capabilities around trading, but also issuance and, critically, compliance. (See more of my thoughts on compliance here.) It’s a major undertaking, which is why we haven’t seen the Coinbase or Circle of security token trading emerge yet (or seen these companies expand their platforms to address this—more on that later).

Meanwhile, regular exchanges are blazing the trail and moving into providing tokens trading. The founder and chairman of the company that owns the NYSE announced a new venture, Bakkt, that would provide an on-ramp for institutional investors interested in purchasing cryptocurrencies. Last month, the SIX Swiss Exchange—Switzerland’s principal stock trading exchange—announced plans to build a regulated exchange for tokenized securities. The trading and issuing platform, SIX Digital Exchange, will adhere to the same regulatory standards as the non-digital exchanges and be overseen by Swiss financial regulators.

This announcement confirms a few things:

  1. Most assets (stocks, bonds, real estate, etc) will be tokenized and supported on regulated trading platforms.

  2. Incumbents like SIX have a head start due to their size, regulatory licensing and built-in user base. They are likely to use this advantage to defend their position of power.

  3. Most investors will never know they are using distributed ledger technology, let alone trading tokenized assets. They will simply buy and sell assets as they always have.

I expect other major financial exchanges to follow SIX’s lead and onboard crypto trading before long. I can imagine them salivating over the trading fees now, Homer Simpson style.

Live shot of financial exchanges drooling over crypto trading fees

 

Crypto companies are revving their engines

The big crypto companies are preparing to enter the security token arena

Stock exchanges won’t have the space to themselves, however. Crypto companies like Polymath and tZERO have already debuted dedicated platforms for security tokens, and all signs indicate announcements from Circle and Coinbase unveiling their own tokenized asset exchanges are not far behind.

Coinbase is much closer to offering security token products after acquiring a FINRA-registered broker-dealer in June, effectively backward-somersaulting its way into a state of regulatory compliance. President and COO Asiff Hirji all but confirmed crypto-securities are in the company’s roadmap, saying that Coinbase “can envision a world where we may even work with regulators to tokenize existing types of securities.”

Circle is also laser-focused on security tokens. Circle CEO and co-founder Jeremy Allaire explained the company’s acquisition of crypto exchange Poloniex and launch of app Circle Invest in terms of the “tokenization of everything.” In addition, it is pursuing registration as a broker-dealer with the SEC to facilitate token trading—it could also attempt to take the same backdoor acquisition approach as Coinbase.

If there’s a reason Circle and Coinbase haven’t moved into security token services even more rapidly, it’s that there simply aren’t that many security tokens yet. Much of this is due to the lack of compliance and issuance platforms, keeping high-quality securities on legacy systems issuers feel more comfortable with. As projects like Harbor ramp up more, this comfort gap will grow smaller and smaller, driving the big crypto players deeper into security token services.

The old guard vs. the new wave

Expect a battle between traditional and crypto exchanges.

 

This showdown between traditional finance incumbents and crypto giants will be worth watching. One is incentivized to preserve the status quo, while the other is looking to create a new, more global financial system.

The Swiss SIX Exchanges of the world enjoy some distinct advantages over the likes of Coinbase — they have decades of traditional financial operating experience, deep relationships throughout the industry and a head start on regulatory compliance. Those advantages probably mean that such incumbents will probably be the first to make infrastructural and logistical upgrades to their systems using security tokens. The first time you interact with a security token, it is likely to be through the Nasdaq.

Having said that, incumbents’ greatest disadvantage will be transporting an old-finance-world mentality to these innovations. Coinbase, Circle, Polymath, Robinhood and other newer players are better suited to harnessing the stepchange elements of security tokens — particularly asset interoperability and imaginative security design.

University of Oregon Professor Stephen McKeon, an authority on security tokens, told me that “the potential for programmable securities to enable the expression of new investment types is the most exciting feature.” Harbor CEO Josh Stein explained why private securities in particular will be transformed: “by automating compliance, issuers can allow their investors to trade to the limit of their liquidity across multiple exchanges. Now imagine a world where buyers and sellers around the world can trade 24/7/365 with near instantaneous settlement and no counterparty risk – that is something only possible through blockchain.”

Those hypergrowth startups are going to experiment with these new paradigms in ways that older firms won’t think of. You can see evidence of this forward thinking in Circle’s efforts to build a payment network that allows Venmo users to send value to Alipay users — exactly embracing interoperability, if not in an asset sense.

The race is on

As Polymath’s Trevor Koverko and Anthony “Pomp” Pompliano have been saying for the past year, the financial services world is moving towards security tokens. As the crypto economy matures, we’re inching closer to a new era of real-world assets being securitized on the blockchain in a regulatory compliant manner.

The challenge for both traditional and crypto exchanges will be to educate investors about this new way to buy and sell investments while powering these securities transactions via a smooth, seamless experience. Ultimately, security tokens lay the groundwork for granting investors their biggest wish — the ability to trade equity, debt, real estate and digital assets all on the same platform.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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