Rita Liu, Head of EMEA - Alipay on fintech in China and Alipay's European expansion
Jason Bates interviewed Ritu Liu, Head of EMEA at Alipay at Money20/20 Europe. They spoke about Alipay’s European expansion and her view of Chinese advancements in fintech that are influencing the rest of the world.
Alipay is hugely popular here at Money20/20 Europe - is everyone is trying to get a meeting with you? Our company is getting lots of traction in Europe compared to last year, more people know us. More people know what we’re doing in Europe and they see some good success cases. So, I’m very glad that we are seeing more people want to work with us in Europe. So, what is happening in fintech - what’s the future of Europe? I think China or the east, or Asia, is leading the way of innovation in fintech. In China, we are lucky to be in where [there is] a massive base of customers, and also, I think Chinese people are very adaptive to new things. Probably because in the past 20 years, there are lots of changes happening in the country, so the people are very adaptive to new things, very welcoming new things. I think we are lucky to be in [such] a market, [that can] help us drive innovation, [and] with that market scale, we can try a lot of things. In terms of what’s happening in fintech, I think many things. What Alipay is doing, we are doing lots of things in China. I think there are several aspects that are exciting. Obviously what we are doing in Europe, like converging the online to offline experience, to drive targeted marketing for the merchants, to create more value for the merchants, other than payment. That’s one. And also, cutting edge technologies, which make financial services more inclusive, like AI, which we’re adopting a lot in customer service, in fighting fraud. Also, customer verification like facial recognition, eye print recognition - those are exciting areas for us. Everyone seems to talk about Alipay, talk about WeChat, but not really have experienced it. What do you think are the most common misconceptions about Alipay? One thing that we always clarify is [that] Alipay is actually a scheme, in China. Our transactions don’t go through any third-party scheme, we work directly with the banks, with the insurers. That’s something we always clarify, which is quite different from other wallet players which, go through other schemes. And also, it’s very hard to explain, what Ant Financial is really about, because we do so many things. It’s very hard to explain all the functions in the wallet, or why the app has so many functions, and the “super app” aspect of it.
Alipay is actually a scheme, in China. Our transactions don’t go through any third-party scheme, we work directly with the banks, with the insurers.What are a few of those functions, that people might not realise are in your one app? [There’s] this very interesting product we launched last year, called Ant Forest. It’s a really interesting function, where our customers can record and monitor their carbon saving activities with the wallet. Wow. You actually have a carbon account with Alipay account now. When you do a mobile transaction in retail environment, when you buy a ticket online, you basically saved paper use.? So, that’s actually saving carbon. So, you grow a virtual tree [within the app] by how much carbon you save, and then when you reach a certain level, Alipay plant a real tree for you. It has a game flavour in it, but it’s also driving a new, better future together, more trees and to save carbon. It was very, very successful. We have, millions of trees planted because of that. It’s very niche, very new, fresh, but we are doing that in China, and it’s really successful. In the UK and Europe, we’re seeing much more unbundling than we’re seeing rebundling. We’re seeing people be much more niche with what their particular product is, yet it seems that actually in the east, and you know, with Alipay being a great example, it’s bundling lots of things into the same app. Do you think that that’s a particular Chinese flavour? Or do you think the same kind of thing applies to the rest of the world? Well, I think the mindshare of a brand affects how much you can bundle things into one app, or into one platform. Alipay has been in China, for more than ten years, and it has been a vital way for them to purchase stuff online. Customers are used to using Alipay, or used to hearing about Alipay, to see Alipay everywhere. Once a customer habit is formed, it’s hard to change. So, with this very sticky nature of Alipay, with our customers, you can add more things to it. I guess the challenge is really how to get the mindshare of customers. Another problem that a lot of companies have, or banks, especially, have in the west, is the speed of innovation, and being able to experiment with all of those things simultaneously. How has Alipay addressed that? How do you innovate and deliver things at scale, quickly? I think it’s entrepreneurship. Even as a big group, or a big company, I think, both Alibaba and Alipay are still very agile. We are not afraid of making mistakes. If you try something new, or rather if you don’t try it, how do you know it doesn’t work? So we are very happy to try new things. If we fail, we will start something new. Something else new. I think it’s entrepreneurship. Being cautious, but at the same time, not afraid to try new things or take on new challenges.
If you try something new, or rather if you don’t try it, how do you know it doesn’t work?So, you’re at Money 2020 in Copenhagen, talking to lots of companies. What’s the aim, what are you aiming to get done in Europe this year, or next? The first step is following in the Chinese footprint, and Europe is a very, very important destination for Chinese shoppers. So that’s our focus, this year, to enable the merchants to get more business from China, to engage better with Chinese. It’s a very good way to educate the market, that, so the merchants get to know what Alipay is really about. And we are really digging into how, through our platform, we can really prove our promise which is creating more value other than payment, to the merchants. Should I be expecting lots of high end stores to start having Alipay logos in their windows? Yes, as we speak, there are more and more, and yes, our business development is dependent on partnerships, and we are getting more and more partners, including acquirers, and technical enablers to work together with us, to bring Alipay to the merchants. That’s amazing. Alipay is definitely one of my fintech crushes, so it’s been a pleasure to speak to you Rita, thanks for joining us. Jason Bates was chatting to Rita Liu at Money20/20 Europe, Copenhagen. To listen to the interview in full, download the episode of Fintech Insider. For more information on Alipay, check out their website or if you want to see the Alipay wallet features in action, subscribe to 11:FS Pulse where we have videos of multiple customer journeys within the Alipay wallet. For more information on Rita, follow her on Twitter.