Ant Financial wants its Alipay mobile payment app to support millions of other service providers in a bid to compete with Meituan and WeChat in digital lifestyle services.

Why it matters: The competition to build mini app ecosystems is heating up. This marks Ant Financial’s bid to rival Meituan’s all-purpose app and WeChat’s mini programs in being a one-stop-shop for “contactless services.”

  • This would mean users don’t have to leave the app to access many other conveniences.
  • Meituan launched a credit payment feature in January, marking its efforts to gain more fintech turf, competing head-on with Alipay, Tencent, and JD.com.

Details: At the Alipay Partner Conference on Mar. 10, Ant Financial announced a plan spanning the next three years to create a digital ecosystem. It will upgrade the Alipay app and tailor it to a multiple service platform.

  • Ant Financial wants to expand beyond financial services into a platform featuring third-party service providers which provide other lifestyle conveniences for its users, and reward them for it.
  • It will offer merchants growth assistance programs which include loan services.
  • “The service sector in China is still in the nascent stages of digital transformation, and that means it has huge untapped potential,” said Ant Financial CEO Hu Xiaoming.
  • The payment app said 1,200 developers answered its call to create mini programs that countered the impact from Covid-19, resulting in grocery delivery, legal and medical advice, and other public services.
  • A mini program launched by Beijing-based startup Meicai links farmers with consumers and restaurants, and had more than 800,000 users, which its CEO attributed to exposure on Alipay.
  • The homepage will use algorithms to recommend services to users, so that each user’s app is tailored to their requirements.

Context: In 2019, the number of searches for lifestyle services within the Alipay app has increased 300% compared with 2018.

  • Covid-19 has consumers relying on online food delivery, medical consultations, and remote learning while they are stuck at home.
  • Hu said that 80% of China’s service industry is not yet digitized.
  • WeChat was a first-mover on mini programs in 2017, and Alipay followed suit in 2018.
  • Mini-programs have become strategically important to the payment platform, amassing 500 million monthly active users last year.

Lavender covers regulation and its effects on people. She previously worked in a policy advisory analyzing China’s internal governance for foreign governments and multinationals. A History graduate from... More by Lavender Au

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