Alipay has launched a free health insurance service in partnership with Taikang Insurance (泰康保险). The new service allows users under the age of 60 to get certain amount of insurance coverage every time they make offline payment with their Alipay Wallet, underlining Alibaba’s ambition to beef up its presence in the country’s vast but underdeveloped online health insurance market.

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Dabing Wuyoubao (welfare version) (大病无忧宝(福利版) in Chinese; literally critical illness worry-free treasure) will come into effect once users click a link saying “immediately receive” on the Alipay app interface. With an increasing number of payment transactions,  the insurance coverage will keep accumulating, until it reaches a cap of RMB 2,000.

This critical illness insurance, which does not require users to have medical examination before getting insured, will cover users for a term of one year. During the insurance term, if a user is diagnosed with any one of the 25 major diseases specified in this insurance policy, he can file a claim in-app as long as he fills in information on his diagnosis and upload materials of proof relating to the claim. And if the claim is accepted, the user will get a payout.

Chinese internet giants Alibaba and Tencent have all been looking to grab market share in the country’s booming and lucrative insurance market, which became the third largest in the world in 2015. In addition, total premium income for 2016 grew by 27.5% year to reach RMB 3.1 trillion, and total insurance assets rose 22.3% year on year to hit RMB 15.12 trillion by the end of 2016.

Alibaba and Tencent, together with other partners, launched the country’s first online-only insurer Zhong An Insurance (众安保险) in late 2013, while Baidu partnered with insurer Allianz and investor Hillhouse Capital to establish a digital insurance company called “Bai An” (百安 in Chinese) in 2015. Apart from forming new insurance companies, the internet giants have also established their presence in the insurance market by taking stakes in existing insurers. While they mostly focus on car insurance, liability insurance and casualty insurance, online health insurance has been rarely explored.

Online health insurance premium income doubled to RMB 3.18 billion in 2016 from the previous year, only representing 1.8% of the total online personal insurance premiums, according to a report released by the Insurance Association of China. This is partly because of an imperfect social credit system in the country as well as a lack of health information sharing and exchange between hospitals and insurers given the comparatively weak info tech infrastructures of insurers.

An edge in cloud computing (Aliyun, estimated by Morgan Stanley Research to have grabbed half of the country’s US$ 2 billion public cloud market) and social credit rating system (Sesame Credit) will help Alibaba steal a march on its competitors in online health insurance. In fact, Alibaba launched a“Future Hospital” program in May 2014, aiming to act as a liaison between hospitals and patients.

Over the past three years, over 1,500 hospitals nationwide have been connected to the program, with 300 million individual patients using the service. In addition, the internet giant’s deep pockets will also give it a leg up in the foray into the online health insurance scene.

All these have paved the way for the internet titian to expand into the under-tapped online health insurance sector. This new campaign launched by the internet giant, despite the small insurance premium amount, will not only help raise awareness for health insurance among hundreds of millions of people, but boost Alibaba’s offline payments and sales of insurance products.

In 20 days after the launch of the free health insurance campaign in mid-April, as many as 13 million Alipay users have used the insurance, with the vast of majority of them being post-90s who are new to health insurance, according to public data.

Just as Tencent has been building its ecosystem centering  around WeChat, Alibaba’s closing tactics lie in Alipay, which has encompassed an extensive range of consumer services including mobile payment, credit service, credit-rating system, online shopping, ticket-booking, car-hailing, bike rental, online insurance, and money market fund.

It is also worth noting that Yu’ebao (余额宝), Alipay’s investment product, has taken off in a big way since it was launched four years ago and has become the world’s largest money market fund with a whopping US$165 billion, even overtaking JPMorgan Chase’s US government market fund of US$150 billion.

Thanks to Alibaba’s stunning performance and the rise in its share price, the company founder Jack Ma has become the richest man in the country with a fortune worth US$30.9 billion as of last Friday, according to Forbes.

Alibaba’s market cap topped US$ 309 billion at the market close on May 16.

Sheila Yu is a Shanghai-based technology writer. She brings readers the biggest news from Chinese language tech media. Reach her at

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