The lim­its to mo­bile pay­ment sys­tems

The World of Chinese - - Great The Unbanked -

Walk down any Chi­nese street, and it be­comes dif­fi­cult to imag­ine life with­out mo­bile pay­ment. Like the tunes of a street mu­si­cian? There's a QR code for trans­fer­ring him money. Want to buy a pan­cake from a street cart? There's a code for that, too. Even beg­gars tote lam­i­nated cards with QR codes, ask­ing for money trans­fers in­stead of bills.

China's mo­bile pay­ment mar­ket is dom­i­nated by two com­pa­nies, Ten­cent's Wechat Pay and Ant Fi­nan­cial's Ali­pay (spun off from con­glom­er­ate Alibaba), both with hun­dreds of mil­lions of ac­tive users. Though her­alded for mak­ing life sim­pler, vil­lage bank of­fi­cer Dou Ben­bin says that there are lim­its to these sys­tems. “They can only be used when linked to a pre-ex­ist­ing bank ac­count,” he ex­plained. For those with­out, or who have dif­fi­culty just nav­i­gat­ing an ATM, Wechat Pay and Ali­pay can be daunt­ing. “I am too old to un­der­stand these com­pli­cated tools,” se­nior Tan Aiguo told TWOC. “Be­sides, my phone is too old to sup­port such ap­pli­ca­tions.”

It's not just the el­derly. When a drunk pas­sen­ger in Guangzhou ac­ci­den­tally trans­ferred 32,080 RMB to his taxi driver, the cab­bie was hon­est enough to seek him out and re­fund the money.oth­ers have not been so lucky, and Chi­nese me­dia is full of sto­ries of mis­taken trans­fers in which the un­in­tended re­cip­i­ents keep the cash and black­list the senders. The plat­forms of­fer lit­tle le­gal as­sis­tance, and plain­tiffs face an ex­pen­sive and lengthy court pro­ce­dure if they want to see their money again.

Ac­cord­ing to Dou, mo­bile pay­ment sys­tems are likely to come un­der more gov­ern­ment scru­tiny due to money laun­der­ing, un­der­ground credit schemes, gam­bling, and le­gal chal­lenges that have arisen. While there seems lit­tle doubt that China is al­ready well on its way to be­com­ing a cash­less so­ci­ety, some ques­tion this seem­ingly in­evitable tra­jec­tory: Ear­lier this year, the plight of a 67-year-old man from Hei­longjiang prov­ince went vi­ral when he was un­able to buy grapes at a su­per­mar­ket with cash. He went on a lengthy tirade, say­ing that he felt hu­mil­i­ated by staff be­cause he did not know how to use mo­bile pay­ments. Many are re­al­iz­ing that the dig­i­tal con­ve­niences they en­joy can be elu­sive to those less for­tu­nate—not least the gov­ern­ment, which has launched ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns warn­ing that the ren­minbi is China's na­tional cur­rency and re­fus­ing cash is il­le­gal.

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