What U.S. Tourism Means to Alipay

EXCLUSIVE –  Ant Financial, the spin-off from Chinese e-commerce mammoth Alibaba Group, is leveraging the U.S. payments markets with a focus on the industries that cater to Chinese tourist, according to a keynote by Souheil Badran, President of Alipay North America, at the Paythink Conference in Phoenix.

Ant Financial operates Alipay, a digital payment platform. At the conference,  Badran explained that Alipay is not looking to “replace cash or disrupt the industry,” instead the goal of the company is to cater as widely and extensively as possible to the Chinese traveler in the U.S.

The Chinese middle class has a lot of spending power, he said, with a huge appetite for shopping for American products. Badran explained that Chinese tourism to the U.S. is on a rise with about 66% of those travelers being women within the average of 22-36 years. Markets such as Las Vegas, Nevada and Flushing, Queens (New York) are two examples he said are popular among the Chinese travel.

And indeed, with over 520 million active customers and about 450 banking relationships, it seems logical that the focus would be on this customer base.

Payments, point-of-sale insurance and POS financing are the main areas of focus for Alipay, Badran said.

In terms of industries, it is looking at retail, hospitality, or any industry that caters to the Chinese traveler. These industries are not just a source for partnerships, but also for innovation. One example he gave is using these partnerships to provide its user with a customized experience.

For instance, Alipay will notify a hotel of a customer’s particular preference, “maybe for hot water or slippers,” that way the hotel can ready that customer’s room with these preferences even before they arrive there. As for merchants, besides the obvious benefit of partnering with Alipay, the add-value is in the data they are privy to as well.

For instance, when a user lands at an airport, Alipay will provide free wifi, and thus through this  merchants will be notified, so they – in turn- can send coupons to the customer. Basically, the app gets customized based on the user’s geolocation.

Alipay also measures a user’s financial behavior. Credit scoring is “a part and parcel,” of the app, Badran said.

Alipay uses this information in various internal and external ways. For example, if a user has a good score, then often Alipay can have hotels waive their deposits for that customer.

Of course, Alipay is heavily regulated, he reminded the audience. So its areas of expansion are limited. There are about 42 areas of commerce they “can’t touch,” such as armed weapons.

But Alipay will continue to explore opportunities for partnerships with merchants and banks in the U.S.  In fact, just a few weeks ago, Alipay struck a partnership with U.S. health product retailer GNC Holdings Inc. to bring GNC’s health and nutrition products to its Chinese consumers.

As for catering to the American audience, Alipay is right now focused on their Chinese demography.

The South East Asia market is still of greatest interest to the company.

India is another market  Alipay is looking at.  In fact, more recently, Alipay  increased its investment in Indian retailer, Paytm, in March this year to 40%. Badran didn’t disclose terms, but according to the Economic Times, it invested an additional $177 million in the company. It first invested in Paytm back in 2015

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