Singtel expands its VIA mobile payment alliance to Japan

SINGTEL on Thursday debuted its cross-border mobile payment alliance, VIA, in Japan through the StarPay platform by Japanese tech firm Netstars.

This expands the VIA alliance’s footprint beyond Singapore and Thailand, the telco said in a joint media statement with Netstars.

Merchants at the Haneda Airport International Terminal, which is operated by Japan Airport Terminal Co, can now accept QR code payments from tourists on VIA.

More acceptance points across Japan will be added in the coming year, starting with the rest of Tokyo and other popular tourist destinations such as Osaka, Kyoto and Hokkaido.

Acceptance points will include convenience stores, restaurants and department stores.

The VIA alliance connects both telco and non-telco mobile wallets across borders, creating a region-wide payment network where travellers can use their local mobile wallets at participating merchants.

Singtel, together with its regional associate AIS and Thailand’s largest digital bank, Kasikornbank, first launched VIA in Singapore and Thailand last October. This enabled QR code payments across both countries through the Singtel Dash, AIS Global Pay and Rabbit Line Pay wallets.

With the alliance’s launch at Haneda Airport, tourists from Singapore and Thailand can now also shop and dine in Japan using QR code payments in their home currencies at competitive exchange rates.

“Japan is one of the most popular destinations for tourists from the region… In South-east Asia, digital payments are gaining widespread acceptance and fast replacing cash as the preferred transaction mode,” said Arthur Lang, chief executive of Singtel’s International Group.

“This is a big step in further bridging the digital economies of Japan and South-east Asia, facilitating travel for our customers and connecting Japanese merchants to more consumers,” he added.

More mobile wallets will be joining VIA in the coming months, Mr Lang said.

Japan’s Netstars integrates all major Japanese payment brands – such as LINE Pay, PayPay, Rakuten Pay and Docomo Pay – and overseas payment brands including China’s WeChat Pay and Alipay.

Its in-house software system, StarPay, is deployed across a large merchant network in Japan, which consists of airports, shopping malls, food and beverage outlets, tourist attractions and transportation. Netstars is targeting to reach at least 1 million stores by the end of 2020.

As StarPay is already deployed at merchants at Haneda Airport, VIA can be introduced and accepted smoothly without additional equipment or operational changes.

Tsuyoshi Ri, chief executive of Netstars, said: “Merchants appreciate the ease and convenience of digital payments, especially when transacting with overseas customers who may be unfamiliar with the local currency.”

Other wallets that are joining VIA include Kasikornbank’s K Plus in Thailand, Axiata Digital’s Boost in Malaysia, and LinkAja in Indonesia, according to the statement on Thursday.

This will grow the alliance to represent some 40 million mobile-wallet users and 2.1 million merchants across Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan.

Singtel said it plans to expand VIA to include its other regional associates as well as non-telcos.

Shares of Singtel were trading unchanged at S$3.46 as at 3.05pm on Thursday.