Visa-Alibaba Partnership May Be in the Works as Visa Moves into China

canstockphoto6446406When it comes to introducing cashless transactions to new markets across the world, Visa is usually the pioneer. Not so in China, however, according to Visa’s Chief Financial Officer Vasant Prabhu:

Normally we go into countries, and we are the ones who are out there, doing the missionary work in building acceptance and building digitization of cash and all that. We go into China, where somebody else has already done that. And so we are up against some fairly tough competitors and a fairly well established market. So it’s a different kind of challenge.

It’s a challenge that may open up an opportunity for Visa to partner with Chinese banks, as well as Alibaba, Prabhu said during the UBS 2016 Global Technology Conference on Tuesday. “I think we should be open to partnerships and we will be,” Prabhu said. “Because I think there could be a win-win situation there that makes partnerships of this sort, that may not be obvious in other parts of the world, very worthwhile in China.”

Aside from its cross-border payments business, Visa does not operate in China yet. The company is still building “acceptance” in the local market; Chinese authorities began clearing domestic bank card transactions in June 2015, opening up the market for Visa and MasterCard. Prabhu:

In the short run, it’s waiting [until] we can get started. Then, it’s a lot of investment and expense, so it’s quite a while before China is something that will meaningfully contribute, and it’s not totally clear yet what the right business model is for China.

On a separate note, the company’s Visa Checkout service has been growing rapidly, the CFO said. “We are now going global to over 20 countries. We have 15 million enrollees [compared to 7 million a year ago]. We have, I think, $160 billion or so in payment volume,” he said.

The Checkout service has been operating since Aug. 2014. What’s driving the rapid growth? Visa’s “exclusive” partnership with PayPal might be a good guess.

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