Photo of a person making a mobile payment.

Ant International

Major Chinese fintech group Ant Group is looking to boost its global presence through its digital offering Alipay+ as it seeks to connect mobile payment apps around the world.

“What we’ve found is that people want to use their home e-wallets when they travel abroad. So they don’t want to load their card into another app that they don’t know either,” Douglas Fagin, senior vice president of Ant Group, an affiliate of the Chinese tech giant Ali Babatold CNBC.

The group’s global arm, Ant International, introduced Alipay+ in 2020, allowing foreigners to use apps from their home countries to make payments in China by scanning QR codes on Ant Group’s Alipay platform, which is primarily aimed at the domestic market.

Ant had invested in e-wallets for individual countries across Asia, but executives wanted to take their products overseas, said Feagin, also president of Ant International.

“We see a huge opportunity for expansion and the relatively broad coverage we have in Asia – we [would] they like to copy to places like the Middle East, Latham and Europe,” Feigin said. “People from all those regions are going to other regions, so a big opportunity for expansion.”

The company had some cross-border travel business from customers traveling outside of China, Feagin said, but that was “mostly focused on where Chinese tourists are going.” Ant entered Europe and the US, where Chinese tourism was booming before the Covid-19 pandemic, through Alipay.

Ant, with its Alipay+ offering, aims to make the most of the early entrants into these markets.

“We had the benefit that Alipay was already accepted by many merchants around the world, so one of our first steps was [to] convert these merchants to Alipay+ merchants. So instead of just accepting one wallet, they can accept many wallets,” Fagin said.

Alipay+ already connects 88 million merchants in 57 countries and regions with 1.5 billion user accounts in more than 25 e-wallets and banking applications, according to An ant.

Growth markets

As part of its overseas business expansion, Ant bought stakes in several companies such as Singaporean 2C2P payment company in 2022 and Kakao Pay in South Korea in 2017.

Ant also partners with national digital payment services such as SGQR of Singaporeof Malaysia DuitNow QR and ZeroPay in South Korea last year.

“Ant Group’s early vision for global expansion was centered on Southeast Asia. The company has taken strategic stakes in e-wallets in every major economy in Southeast Asia,” Zenon Kapron, founder and director of consultancy Kapronasia, said in a January report.

Ant is also expanding into emerging markets such as Sri Lanka as well as Cambodia. The company has also expanded into Europe and the Middle East by partnering with European e-wallets Tinaba in July last year and Nexi in February as well Dubai duty free in the Middle East earlier this year.

There are also opportunities for growth in the firm’s established markets such as Singapore and South Korea, for example, many people use mobile payments in China, but still far fewer than people in other countries, Feigin said.

“There is huge room for growth. I think a lot of people just think about using traditional payment methods when they go abroad.”

“When you think about the big markets that receive a lot of tourists, like Thailand and Japan, the chances of mobile app payments growing are huge.”

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“Following a restructuring mandated by Chinese regulators that coincided with various geopolitical tensions that affected its ability to expand into certain markets, Ant has changed its global expansion strategy. The result was Alipay+, which aims to solve interoperability issues for e-wallets,” Capron said.

The firm first targeted countries with large populations to quickly expand its user base, Feigin said. It also looks at key tourist destinations such as Japan, Thailand and Singapore.

“These are big markets for people who want to come and visit, and so we’ve focused a lot on building their trade coverage there,” Feigin said.

And now it is doubling down on its global expansion, with an eye on markets in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.

— CNBC’s Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.