Can WhatsApp Ape WeChat’s China Success, As It Enters Indian Fintech?

WhatsApp announced plans to venture into health insurance and micro-pension in India via tie-ups with leading local players, having piloted last few months. According to its P&C insurance partner CEO, WhatsApp’s reach can prop up the low 4% penetration of health insurance, closer to the world average of 6.3% of GDP. WhatsApp has identified four […]

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The return of the QR Code and China’s obsession to it

 

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A few days ago, I had a LinkedIn discussion with Richard Turrin on QR Codes and their relevance in today’s go-cashless world. A few commentators on the post felt QR codes were the thing of the post, and I had a different view. I believe, in a world that’s getting digitised in a hurry, QR code is what bridges the digital world with brick and mortar.

QR Codes have gone through ups and downs since they were first created in 1994 by Japan’s automobile industry. QR – stood for “Quick Response”. However, those were days when mobile phones were clunky and the user journeys weren’t as friction-free as the ones we have these days.

When a customer scanned a QR code, an app or a website would be launched on the mobile using EDGE or GPRS. Once the website came up, users would have to use the clunky interface to fill in relevant details. I guess, that was enough to kill the QR code – or so many thought at that time.

QR Codes are more efficient than Barcodes because they are able to hold more information than Barcodes. This is because, QR codes have a two dimensional layout, where as with Barcodes it is just a one dimensional horizontal layout. And purely from a marketing perspective, QR Codes can be customised with a firm’s brand on it, unlike bar codes.

Utility of QR Codes seem better than Barcodes. But are they safe to store our information? For example, can I store my bank card details in a QR code and claim it is more secure? It certainly is – atleast in most scenarios.

Credit card thefts and frauds come in different shapes and forms. Even in a contactless payment mode, account details are still transmitted to the point of sale (PoS) device. So if the PoS device is hacked, hackers can get hold of the customer’s payment details. If at the point of sale, there is an issue with the internet, the customer experience could be poor.

The other hiccup is the case of lost devices, as QR codes do not check for user identity. This can however be overcome by asking for biometric information from the user at the time of registering. It could also be a selfie of the user at registration. At the point of sale, the device using QR codes, may have to use some ways of identifying the user.

Since QR codes rely on Wi-Fi networks, a hacker could get into the network and overlay fake QR codes. And then there is this issue of different variations of QR codes released by different vendors. There needs to be standards for ease of use from a customer’s stand point.

Despite some of these downsides, what makes QR codes special?

  • Simplicity
  • Versatility
  • Expanding mobile internet and
  • Smartphones adoption.

With better internet access and smartphone penetration, QR codes have become more common place in Asia. Smartphone penetration in China has risen to 63% and to 35% in Asia as a whole. In Latin America (Argentina), customers have taken to QR codes as it is a simple interface for the unbanked to perform digital transactions.

Pictures showing Alipay and WeChat QR codes in China and PayTM QR Codes in India have brought the concept back to life – in a big way. In India, PayTM are running campaigns to get millions of small and medium entreprises onto QR Codes. In Africa, firms like Dumapay are using QRCode to simplify the point of sale payments process. It has become easy for a roadside shop to accept payments using a QR code print out and no Point of Sale device.

Apart from payments, QR Codes can be used for several other interactions. They can be use for

  • Offering discounts,
  • Sending a pre-defined message,
  • Sharing contact details
  • Embedded pricing information
  • Linking to marketing videos or pages

China has taken the use of QR codes to a whole new level, as observed in the picture below. A quick google search on China and QR Codes reveal some really cool use of this tool.

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As QR Codes are versatile, most top apps like Pinterest, Snapchat, Wechat and device manufacturers like Xiaomi, Motorola, Samsung, Huawei all have inbuilt QR Code readers.

But in the wrong hands, QR Codes can be used to lead a customer to a malicious page and get hacked in the process. There is definitely caution needed when using QR Codes.

It may be hard for the west to embrace QR Codes like Asia, Latin America (in some parts) and even Africa. But several firms across the world are creating their own customised QR Codes to stay relevant. QR Codes may not have succeeded in the past and they may not be the future either. But they most certainly have a place in the present.


Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Venture Capital investor at Green Shores Capital focusing on Inclusion and a podcast host.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

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$41 Trillion in Mobile payments – China tech target digital banking

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$41 Trillion was the size of China’s mobile payments market in 2018. It is perhaps counter-intuitive when the payments market is more than three times the size of China’s GDP ($12 Trillion). That’s because GDP is based on value creation, not on transaction volumes.

Let me explain it with a crude example. A couple of weeks back, two of my friends and I went into a sports shop in Chislehurst, and bought a cricket bat for £240 for the summer. We knew we were going to share the costs at £80 each. I paid the shopkeeper £240, and then my friends paid me £80 each.

While the value created/exchanged in this case was for £240, payments happened for £240+£80+£80 = £400. GDP is calculated based on the £240, and payment volumes would account for £400.

In the initial days of my discussions about China Fintech, I would often praise China’s Fintech businesses as perhaps the largest in the world. China is doing Trillions in mobile payments, and the US is still groping its way towards $200 Billion. Purely from a size perspective China is light years ahead, but the business models there are different.

Fintech is used as a business model by lifestyle firms in China and broadly Asia. Fintech is not their core value proposition, at least it is not until they onboard a few million customers. Their core lifestyle business is then augmented by Fintech services for their customers, and that makes their life style business stickier.

I have touched upon this in detail in one of my previous posts on how lifestyle businesses have evolved into Fintech heavy hitters in Asia. And payments is the lowest common factor between ecommerce/lifestyle businesses and financial services. Therefor, firms like Alibaba, Tencent, Grab and Bykea have integrated payments to their core service offering.

However, the Chinese tech giants have identified that it was time to upgrade from payments into banking. Earlier this month Alibaba, Tencent, ZhongAn and Xioami were granted a virtual banking license in Hong Kong.

Alibaba applied for a banking license for its Ant SME services, which is a subsidiary of Ant Financial. Tencent and Xiaomi did a Joint venture to go for the banking license. Xiaomi is the fourth largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world with over 120 Million smart phones in 2018.

When Amazon began offering lending to its SME base, there were headlines that they would soon go for their banking license. However, the trend these days is that the East would lead and the West and the rest would follow. Now that China tech giants have upped the ante with a banking license, would the US peers respond? Watch this space.

Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Venture Capital investor at Green Shores Capital focusing on Inclusion and a podcast host.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research).

FB doing a Tencent – Cryptos mainstream adoption in sight?

We have had a record breaking February in the UK weather-wise. One of the days in Feb saw temperatures go up to 21 degrees Celsius. While the cold has returned a little bit, it seems winter is largely done. I get that sense with cryptos, as large institutions one after another are announcing projects, and it only takes one of them to take off for cryptos to go mainstream.

Messaging applications thinking of launching their own cryptos is nothing new. Telegram and Signal have been at it for sometime. However, it is a bigger deal when Facebook looks at introducing cryptocurrency based payments on Whatsapp. The size of the opportunity for Facebook and their partners when the platform is Finteched will undoubtedly get them out of their issues they have faced over the past 24 months.

The Facebook Opportunity

Facebook has two problems to solve, and both potentially powered by Blockchain.
Facebook’s Blockchain team has been spearheaded by former PayPal president David Marcus since last May. In order to replicate Tencent’s successes, they need to leverage the user base of their apps (FB, Whatsapp, Instagram). Bringing payments to Whatsapp would have have been a good starting point, however Facebook’s attempt at doing that in India (the largest Whatsapp) hasn’t gone too well.

About 1 Billion people in India have a mobile, and about 300 Million of them use Whatsapp. Last year, Whatsapp pay launched in a controlled fashion to 1 Million users in India. They used the government backed UPI (Unified Payments Interface), and during the pilot, they achieved about a Million transactions per month. However, the regulators weren’t happy that the payments engine was on Facebook servers. They wanted the servers to be in India, and despite several conversations there is no solution.

The payments market in India is a $1 Trillion market by 2023, and it would be a shame if they missed the bus.

Facebook is looking to create a stablecoin attached to a basket of currencies. There is a team of about 50 people working on this project. If FB planned to use the Indian market as a testing ground for the crypto-powered Whatsapp pay, they may now have to deal with the crypto currency regulatory ban too. However, if they managed to clear the regulatory hurdle, their growth could dwarf the likes of PayTM, and that would just be the start. On top of it, Indian remittance market boomed to $80 Billion last year. If I could use whatsapp to send money to my mom, that would be awesome!!

The other issue that FB has had is around data privacy. With identity management being one of the key concerns, FB saw record number of millennials leave their platform last year. However, with a Blockchain powered Self Sovereign Identity engine, Facebook connect could redefine it’s position with data privacy as a distributed identity management platform.

How decentralised it (the identity engine) will stay if launched is another challenge. Most federated and decentralised identity management engines have ended up creating a centralised monopoly in the past. With Blockchain behind the scenes, one would expect that to be different.

Will Facebook replicate Tencent inspired successes through Whatsapp? Will FB change perceptions through a genuinely decentralised identity engine? Would 2019 be the year of mainstream adoption of cryptos? Watch this space.


Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Venture Capital investor at Green Shores Capital focusing on Inclusion and a podcast host.

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China’s Social Credit Score – Economic Genius or Killer of an open society?

I am in the London underground, and my mobile tells me if the person sitting next to me has defaulted on their loans. I can now decide if I still want to sit next to them. – Imagine a world where that could be true

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I am trying to book a Eurostar holiday, and I get told on their site that, I can’t travel on Eurostar because I missed my credit card payment last week – Imagine a world where that could be true.

I walk into a Starbucks and I get a free drink because my mortgage payment was done on time – thanks to my direct debit. I could go on, but you get the idea.

China is working on a Social Credit Scoring system that could pretty much make life look like what I have described. For me, it’s too intrusive. But in a world (within China) where Google has a single digit market share, thanks to censorship, nothing is intrusive (looks like).

The Chinese government claims that it needs the system to promote social and economic trust, and plans to launch the system by 2020. No wonder, China tops the world in AI patents. They are already piloting the system in several Chinese cities.

“allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”


– From the founding document of the social credit scoring system

The government’s drive to get the social credit score underway is largely inspired by existing private setups like Sesame credit. Sesame credit is the credit system created by Ant Financial. Ant financial and Tencent have managed to create a universe of consumer data through their ecommerce and messaging offerings. And they leveraged that data to provide a wide suite of financial services. The worrying aspect is that the government’s credit scoring initiative may tap into this data.

Economists highlight that China’s growth, at least when compared to its neighbour India, has slowed down. It may not mean much at this point as China’s economy is almost 4 times bigger. But the slowest growth rate in 30 years is something that has got the government thinking.

South East Asian countries like South Korea struggled to transition from input based growth to productivity based growth. In China’s case, the labour force has maxed out, and now they are focused on driving productivity. Is this social score system designed to make people more productive?

In a survey conducted last year by a European researcher, 80% of the respondents voted in favour of this system. The challenge is that the social credit scoring system has a good chance of making the rich – richer and the poor – poorer. Getting on the economic ladder would be harder for the bottom of the pyramid. However the Chinese government chooses to look at it differently.

Keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful

Just that line sounds so binary and feels mutually exclusive and is an antithesis of an open society. Then there is this philosophical argument of what’s more important? An egalitarian society where privacy is respected, or an ethical, moral, compliant and conformed world. There is no binary answer to that either.

Only time will tell if this system delivers the desired outcome – at least in a Chinese sense. Watch this space.

The Internet of Finance from the East & the 50mil unbanked in Brazil

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Much has been written about China’s growing commercial relationships with Latin America. Some have suggested that China is replacing the United States as the region’s most important partner. The focus has been mostly on Chinese infrastructure investments in Latam.

This October one of the Internet of Finance leaders, Tencent invested $180 million in the Brazilian neobank ‘NuBank[1] the largest Latin American digital bank and credit card operator. Nubank, is a 5 yr old Latam FinTech pioneer, who has raised a total of $330 million since it was founded in 2013 by Sequoia Capital ex-partner David Vélez. Clearly, one of the best-funded start-ups in Brazil. To date, it has issued 5 million no-fee credit cards and has opened 2.5 million digital payment accounts.

Nubank’s impressive expansion has spurred growth in the Brazilian Fintech market, with 188 ventures being launched in the past 18 months. This includes standalone Neobanks such as Banco Original, SDBank, LabsBank, beBank. Incumbents have also joined the competition with Digio being one example, launched by Banco do Brasil and Bradesco in 2016 to compete directly with Nubank’s fee-free business model. These strong recent developments have earned Brazil the title of leading FinTech ecosystem in Latin America. [2]

Nubank has streamlined the onboarding process and is offering fast, transparent consumer banking mobile services to make transfers, pay bills and earn interest on deposits. Just recently Nubank got clearance from Brazilian Central Bank to offer loans to its customers which will allow the already well-funded start-up to expand further.

Nubank is the high-growth Latam Fintech that has managed to attract major international attention and investment. The recent Tencent investment is increasing Nubank’s capital by $90 million and repurchasing the equivalent amount from Nubank’s existing shareholders, pushing the neobank’s valuation up to $4 Billion. Tencent President Martin Lau explained that the investment will help Nubank “build a full-service personal finance platform.”[3] The Chinese conglomerate is no stranger to these transactions, with major shareholdings in other FinTechs and Neobanks such as the online bank WeBank, fintech business Voyager of Philippine telco PLDT, online insurer ZhongAn Online P&C Insurance Co Lt, supply chain financing provider Linklogis.

According to Nubank CEO David Velez, the investment is for Nubank a great strategic standpoint to gain insight on- and learn from the Chinese financial market. For Tencent, this is a means of expansion of their existing portfolio of challenger banks and technology-based financial services ventures as well as a robust point of entry to the booming Brazilian FinTech Market.

The Internet of Finance from the East in synergy with the 50mil unbanked in Brazil.

This not Chimerica, the term coined by Niall Ferguson to describe the symbiotic relationship between China and America more than 10 yrs ago.

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This could be “Chilatam” led by Brazil who has put forward new Fintech regulations to encourage competition in their financial sector that is dominated by the Big 5 banks, much like in the UK or Australia.

#AndtheIronyIs that Chimerica, the award-winning play of Lucy Kirkwood, became 4 part TV series –  “Chimerica”. The play examines contemporary global politics and the relationship between East and West.

#AndtheIronyIs is my Twitter hashtag for cynical Finance tweets.

[1] Reuters, 2018, ‘China’s Tencent invests $180 million in Brazil fintech Nubank’

[2] Finnovista, 2018, ‘Brazil recovers the leading position as largest Fintech ecosystem in Latin America with over 370 Fintech startups

[3] Reuters, 2018, ‘China’s Tencent invests $180 million in Brazil fintech Nubank’ 

Efi Pylarinou is the founder of Efi Pylarinou Advisory and a Fintech/Blockchain influencer.

Get fresh daily insights from an amazing team of Fintech thought leaders around the world. Ride the Fintech wave by reading us daily in your email.