A recent Citigroup report says that China’s Fintech companies already serve a similar number of clients as the country’s major banks, thanks to the increasing convenience of paying and banking by mobile devices through apps such as Alipay. Alibaba’s Ant Financial Services Group is among the trendsetters, positioning its Alipay phone app as a platform for consumer financial services, which involves 450 million users each month.
Increasingly, Alipay is now hawking its financial products alongside services such as taxi booking and food deliveries, in an effort to promote its Yu’E Bao “mobile wallet” function to draw users to deposit money in to buy higher-yielding investment products.
According to a survey issued in March by the Federal Reserve, only about a quarter of US smartphone users had ever used their mobile phones to make a payment in the previous 12 months. A wide divergence of technologies used by brick-and-mortar merchants attribute to a large part of the phenomenon. Retail powerhouse Wal-Mart, for example, doesn’t accept Apple Pay.
In contrast however, the Chinese government has supported the development of digital finance to spur consumer spending amid dampening economic growth.
Yet, risks in the industry have emerged at rates that regulators have not been able to fully catch up with, e.g. blowups in P2P and other online investment firms have repeatedly left depositors with nothing. Moreover, the Fintech industry has been blurring business lines when it comes to deposits. While the government guarantees bank deposits, banks and Fintech companies often serve as platforms for higher-yielding investments that carry no such assurances, according to bankers.