【明報專訊】FOLLOWING years of rapid development of e-commerce, China is now in a leading position in mobile payment in terms of both its technology and market size. According to the latest report, China's mobile payment market in 2016 was more than 50 times that of the US. It is predicted that in 2019 the total amount of mobile payment in China will become 7.4 times as much as that of year 2015, leaving the US, whose total amount of payment is expected to rise by 2.6 times during the same period, further in the dust. In fact, due to the ubiquity of smart phones, mobile payment has already found its way into every large street and small lane in urban and rural China. What now concerns the international community is whether the major players in mobile payment (like Alipay and WeChat) will bring about the end of cash.
According to some estimates, the US's mobile payment market rose by 39 per cent to US$112 billion last year. China's mobile payment market, however, more than tripled to 38 trillion yuan (around US$5.5 trillion) over the same period of time. As of late last year there were already 200 million mobile payment users in China, while in the US there were only 37.5 million.
It was three to five years ago when electronic payment systems in China began to advance in leaps and bounds. According to a survey conducted last year, people who are younger are keener to make mobile payments. Payment apps like Alipay and Wechat have become part of everyday life, allowing users to shop online, pay taxes, pay electronic bills, give "red packets" to others at Chinese New Year or split the bill at a meal. There seems to be nothing that these apps cannot do.
The prominence of e-payment in China is no doubt attributable to the advances of e-commerce. But it is also a special case of a misfortune turning out to be a blessing in disguise. In mainland China, developments of personal cheques and credit cards have long been hindered by an inadequate banking network and a deeply flawed credit system. But such drawbacks have allowed e-payment to emerge out of nowhere as a new force completely free of restraints. As a result, China entered the era of e-payment straight from the stage of cash payment, skipping cheques and credit cards altogether.
As the international city that has the most frequent interactions with the mainland, Hong Kong is at the right time and is itself the right place for the new development. More and more mainland e-payment companies have made a foothold in Hong Kong, hoping to use our city as a springboard to enter the global market. Global e-payment companies are, at the same time, hoping to get a share in the mainland market by entering Hong Kong. But for too long, e-payment in Hong Kong has been lagging far behind that in the mainland, which has been prospering. One of the reasons is that our laws have not moved with the times, the other being the provincial attitudes of our financial officials.
The Hong Kong government has reiterated the need to ensure sound supervision, an environment for fair competition and the adequate protection for customers before introducing any new financial products or services. However, traditional financial industries like commercial banking and insurance have a strong presence in Hong Kong, and they are averse to new ideas such as online financing and mobile payment. In fact, given Hong Kong's solid foundations of the rule of law, which is a source of its civic pride, and its considerable, practical experience in finance, our city is fully capable of working together with mainland Internet and technology giants to promote mobile payment in Hong Kong as well as help mainland tackle the loopholes and risks associated with mobile payment. Together they can go one step further by exploring the global market hand in hand or even making a contribution to China's trendsetting role in international finance.