UnionPay tailored for global growth
For Ge Huayong, chairman of China UnionPay, every foreign trip is about learning the local market and how to tailor the company’s services to a particular country.
By offering such countryspecific services, the company’s global strategy for expansion is succeeding, he said.
UnionPay, a fast-growing bankcard association, became the largest payment- card network in the world earlier this year, according to the market-research firm Packaged Facts.
Ge said he was very proud of his company ranking ahead of competitors Visa Inc and MasterCard Inc.
“While we have made some notable accomplishments, we still haven’t achieved great success like Visa,” Ge told China Daily in an interview in New York during a business trip. “For example, we handle fewer transactions than Visa and our profit margin is smaller than Visa or MasterCard.”
Ge, a native of China’s Henan province, wants UnionPay to use lessons it has learned in China as a foundation for growth into a global bank-card company.
China UnionPay began in 2002 with a view to enable interbank payment transactions in China.
In 2004, the company began to expand overseas, which led to the founding of its subsidiary, UnionPay International. Now it has partnerships with more than 400 institutions worldwide, and its global network covers more than 150 countries and regions. There are about 5 billion UnionPay cards in use globally.
We provide services wherever Chinese visitors go, and 2 to 3 million Chinese visit the US every year.”
In developed countries such as the United States and the UK, business and consumers continue to turn to plastic to pay for goods and services. That requires companies like UnionPay to process the transaction and deduct money from one account and transfer it to another.
In its recent business development, UnionPay has aggressively forged partnerships with bank card issuers and processors around the globe, and, buoyed by network reciprocity agreements, its cards are now accepted by more than 26 million merchants, putting its brand acceptance on a par with US- based Visa and MasterCard.
The global payment-card market generated $17.26 trillion in purchase value in 2014, according to Packaged Facts. Transactions using UnionPay cards totaled $5.92 trillion in 2014, which represented 34.3 percent of the market. Visa (27.6 percent), MasterCard (19), Visa Europe (11.2) and American Express Co (5.9) followed CUP in the ninth edition of Packaged Facts’ Commercial Payment Cards: US and Global Market Trends.
Ge said one way for UnionPay to expand its brand is to become the payment of choice for the growing number of Chinese tourists who travel overseas. According to the China Tourism Research Institute, China had 61.90 million outbound visitors in the first half of 2015, an increase of 12.1percent compared with the same period in 2014.
Such a strong increase in the tourism industry is a very important market for UnionPay’s overseas business development, Ge said.
Noting that new US visa rules are stimulating the number of Chinese visiting the US, Ge said he is optimistic that UnionPay will become a payment method of choice for many of those tourists.
“We provide services wherever Chinese visitors go, and 2 to 3 million Chinese visit the US every year,” he said. “We will continue to provide payments services for them. Our ultimate goal is to be used around the world.”
Like consumers elsewhere, Chinese are using alternative payment methods instead of cash, with the mobile-payments sector in particular experiencing huge growth, and Ge said that means UnionPay needs to embrace technology.
“We must innovate, especially in terms of mobile and online payments,” he said.
In expanding overseas, Ge wants UnionPay International to focus on a specific market and tailor its services to that market: “In the US, our focus is on getting more merchant acceptance of our products and services. While in Southeast Asia, we focus more on card issuance.”
Our ultimate goal is to be used around the world.”
Ge said UnionPay is prepared to pursue growth through what he called a “leapfrog development’, which may include acquisitions and partnerships.
“It will definitely be one of our future approaches as the business grows. But the details will be complicated and this will not be easy,” he said. “For example, safety review is very strict for some countries such as the US. The Treasury department is very strict about safety review.”
UnionPay and its competitors handle a great deal of customer financial information that is crucial to protect, especially against cyber attacks.
Ge said UnionPay is aware of cybersecurity threats lurking in the system.
“We urge our member banks and processing networks to adhere to rules and regulations that are designed to stop the unauthorized access to financial information,” he said.
Ge said UnionPay is embracing the trend of embedding microprocessor chips in credit cards, debit cards and mobile phones. “All of our new cards issued after January 1, 2015, will utilize this technology,” said Ge.
He acknowledged that protection of personal financial information is becoming a concern of consumers and businesses.
“There must be security when processing financial transactions, and we have done research on comparing the microprocessor chips and the previous magnetic belt. It is widely believed that this new chip technology will help much better to protect everyone’s information,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this story.
Contact the writers at paulwelitzkin@chinadailyusa. com