Bizarre Love Triangle: Looking for love in China’s payment gateways

By Doris Li

I met my ex UnionPay in university over a decade ago. A young and simple girl back then, she was already in the spotlight because of the government family she was born into. You have no idea how powerful her family is - her dad is People’s Bank of China, who makes all the financial decisions for the Central Government! I have to admit that vanity was the key drive for me to date her; but who wouldn’t want to break into a family like that and be financially secure?

It’s not easy to date children of an official  (官二代), especially one with a control freak dad. There were rules for everything and I had to go through countless processes to get approval from the old man to go out with his daughter. UnionPay herself was demanding too. She wanted me to be with her everywhere, all the time. But it was fine. We were young and everything was  new and fresh to us. We were happy together, until life got busy.

I could no longer afford all the attention that UnionPay needed and she became too time consuming for me. After a bustling day at work, the only thing I wanted to do was hide behind my computer screen and procrastinate online. That was when Alipay came into my life. 

I met Alipay when I was trying to buy some T-shirts online. She showed up and asked if I needed any help. She is a considerate and caring girl. From the day we met, she started to take care of almost everything in my life, from ordering food to sending flowers to my mum on Mother’s Day. She knew I could be a couch potato sometimes and too lazy to go out shopping, so she helped me order everything online and arrange delivery to my door. She made my life so easy, and soon I found myself in love with her.

I decided to break up with UnionPay and be with Alipay. UnionPay was very upset and swore I’d regret it. She tried to convince me that it was not safe to be with Alipay and insisted that one day Alipay would take all of my money and run. I sneered at it. I am a big guy - I know how to take care of my money. And if I have to choose between safety and freedom, I want freedom!

The life with Alipay was simple and peaceful. I let her manage all of my money, which made her very happy. The only thing that upsets Alipay from time to time is the constant news of my ex. It seems that UnionPay traveled to lots of countries after our breakup, and we sometimes see news about her when we travel overseas. Whenever this happens, Alipay gets a bit competitive, which is understandable, as she and UnionPay never got along well. Alipay started her overseas journeys too and has so far set her footprint in over 10 countries.

I thought I would spend the rest of my life with Alipay just like that, easy and calm, until the day I ran into WeChat Pay at a friend’s party. WeChat Pay is a fun girl. She has this unspeakable charm that makes everyone want to be with her. Spending time with her is never boring, as she always has many new stories to tell and fun games to play with. She invented that little game where we could give red packets (红包) to our friends and got everyone addicted to it. I quickly became attracted to WeChat Pay, and it didn’t take long before I started to put some of my money with her.

Alipay found out about it soon enough. She warned me that I should look out for those ‘social animals’. It was funny when she said it wouldn’t be safe to give my money to someone like that - this was exactly what my ex said about her, and do you think it ever concerned me? Seeing my indifference, Alipay knew that she needed to do something to get me back. She tried to be more sociable, but none of her tricks kept me interested for too long. I am spending more and more time with WeChat Pay - and could you blame me for that? Who wouldn’t want some fun with their peers? 

Alipay wouldn’t give up. She texted me and sent me a photo of a party with many sexy girls. I couldn’t believe that she put together a girls party to get me back home! She seems very desperate to me, and I don’t feel that I know her anymore. But maybe I should go home - I mean, those are sexy girls, and some of them are even dressed in bikinis!

Yeah, I think I’ll go home and have a check.

* * *

In case you missed it, the love sick musing above actually articulate how China’s largest online payment gateway, Alipay, raised a challenge to the state-backed China UnionPay, which has long been dominating China’s payment market. The competition between the two has been intensifying even more with Alipay shifting its focus beyond its domestic market. It is expected that in the near future, major merchant brands in China and around the world will start accepting Alipay.

Meanwhile, Alipay is facing a new challenge with WeChat, China’s largest social media platform, stepping into the payment domain and ambitiously promoting its mobile payment gateway, WeChat Pay. With a huge base of existing followers, WeChat Pay poses a very real threat to Alipay, who soon realised that to keep its users, it has to increase its social functions.

On 27 November, Alipay announced its new social feature Quanzi (圈子, meaning ‘Circle’), with a various of ‘invitation-only’ online social circles targeting different group of audience. A couple of Circles only allow female university students and white collar workers to upload their photos. The action immediately caused enormous criticism as many said that Alipay was turning into a ‘hook-up app’. The CEO of Alipay apologised to the public on 29 November and the two Circles targeting female university students and white collar workers can no longer be found.

The war between Alipay and WeChat Pay is heating up. But no matter how far this war goes, one thing is for sure - China is moving into a mobile payment era. 

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