E-payments in Singapore get a Stripe fillip


ADVANCEMENTS in digital payments shaped Singapore's payments landscape in July, allowing many Internet businesses to sell to a wider audience and more quickly adapt to "new retail", a phenomenon coined by Chinese e-commerce group Alibaba that entails retailers leveraging the Internet and customer data to sell better.

San Francisco-based payments technology company Stripe said recently that Internet businesses in Singapore can now accept payments via Alipay (Alibaba's digital payment platform) and WeChat Pay using Stripe's software.

Stripe, founded in 2010, enables businesses to accept payments from major debit and credit cards, Apple Pay, Android Pay and even Bitcoin - and then helps them mine their payments data for business insights. Its Singapore clients include Grab, Honestbee and CapitaLand.

By adding Alipay and WeChat Pay to its stack, Stripe is opening China's massive consumer market - which today has over 731 million Internet users, equivalent to almost the entire population of Europe - to businesses in Singapore and the region, Stripe said.

"This is especially important for Singapore's burgeoning economy of Internet-based startups, as they look to tap potential audiences beyond the small domestic market."

Stripe, citing sources, added that Alipay and WeChat Pay, with over a billion users between them, dominate the US$5.5 trillion mobile payments sector in China, of which they collectively control 92 per cent.

"However, the majority of businesses outside of China have been cut off from the world's largest consumer market simply because they can't accept the payment methods preferred by Chinese consumers."

Businesses can now also accept recurring payments via Alipay using Stripe, allowing them to charge Alipay customers seamlessly, and allowing for more complex business models, such as those of software-as-a-service companies or subscription services.

Asked if Stripe's goal of building a unified infrastructure for the Internet economy would continue to be relevant as long as payment methods remain fragmented globally, Piruze Sabuncu, head of South-east Asia and Hong Kong at Stripe, replied in the positive.

"Payments are oddly cultural," she told The Business Times last week. "Some markets have adapted to mobile payments faster than others, and some have leapfrogged credit cards entirely. In China for example, mobile commerce already accounts for 71 per cent of e-commerce, which saw sales of US$750 billion in 2016 alone.

"This is why we're excited about launching global support for both Alipay and WeChat Pay, which will help connect businesses around the world with the billion-strong Chinese consumer market and brings us closer to our goal."

Stripe's development came on the heels of the launch of PayNow, a new funds transfer service that allows users in Singapore to send money to one another by using just the recipient's mobile phone number or NRIC/FIN.

Launched on July 10, PayNow does away with the need for users to be customers of the same bank or to know bank account numbers before making fund transfers.

Last week, OCBC Bank - one of the seven participating lenders in the PayNow scheme - said that it had integrated QR code payments with PayNow's infrastructure, adding a "new level of convenience" to fund transfers between OCBC bank accounts.

That is, PayNow-registered customers, using the OCBC Pay Anyone app, can create a QR code to specify an amount to be paid, and send it via a social network or e-commerce platform for the payer to scan and pay.

Alternatively, a payee can meet the payer and have the latter scan the QR code directly on a mobile device to make immediate payment.

Already, very small businesses such as single-owner types use PayNow to accept payments from customers; these payments are mostly one-time and of small sums. Industry sources told BT that the PayNow scheme could potentially be extended to enterprises - which would make business fund transfers more efficient and trackable, and boost data and e-commerce.

Cashless is the new normal, said Aditya Gupta, head of e-business (Singapore) at OCBC. "The recent launch of PayNow is an inflection point for driving cashless payments behaviour in Singapore . . . we will continue to push the boundaries on mobile payments and move the needle in making Singapore a cashless society."

READ MORE: Singapore retailers can move faster to embrace 'new retail'