Jack Ma, Chinese tech help PH slay cash as king of payments

Jessica Fenol and Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 21 2018 09:40 AM | Updated as of May 22 2018 01:45 PM

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma is shown demonstrating how to use a scan-to-pay facility in Manila in this photo from GCash's Facebook page dated Oct. 25, 2017

MANILA - Black and white signs have begun to pop up beside thousands of cash registers in the Philippines, enticing users to scan them with their smartphones to pay for anything from burgers to bikinis.

With help from Chinese billionaire Jack Ma's Ant Financial, Mynt CEO Anthony Thomas is among those leading the fight to dethrone cash as king of payments in one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

Mynt's GCash, which is on 7 million Globe Telecom smartphones, can be used in 16,000 payment terminals. It is but a fraction of the 670 million users of Ant Financial's Alipay and 600 million on rival Tencent's WeChat Pay in China.

Filipinos can be converted to mobile payments if they are convinced that their smartphones can double as a gateway to financial transactions, Thomas told ABS-CBN News.

"That’s how we create a virtuous flow where more money now sits electronically because it’s just safer, more convenient, cheaper and faster," said the Indian-born former Citibank executive.

"Today, it’s cash that’s predominantly accepted at merchants. It’s not credit cards, it's not debit cards, it’s very cash driven. So this, we believe will open it up because of the way we are creating fulfillment. That’s GCash QR codes," he said.

Caption: Mynt CEO Anthony Thomas is shown at the company's headquarters in Taguig City. Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

During a visit to Manila last year, Ma said that with its high mobile phone penetration, the Philippines was poised to ride the new technological revolution. He also urged brick and mortar enterprises to embrace e-commerce.

"We should make the Philippines a cashless society. Cashless society, no corruption. Life is easier," he said.

ROADBLOCKS TO CASHLESS FUTURE

The lack of access to financial services and internet connectivity are among the challenges to financial technology in the Philippines, Thomas said.

Nearly 9 in 10 Filipinos don't have bank accounts according to the most recent study of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. This impedes their access to formal credit, putting them at the mercy of loan sharks.

Bangko Sentral Governor Nestor Espenilla acknowledged these challenges at a recent regional forum hosted by the Asian Development Bank.

"What we're trying to do at this point in time is to move people to more accessible digital solutions," Espenilla said. Merchants at the BSP's Manila headquarters have cashless payment facilities using PLDT Inc's PayMaya.

Ma joked to his audience in Manila last year that the mobile data service was "not good" and urged government and carriers to "work together" to address this.

Internet speed in the Philippines was once the second slowest in the world next only to war-torn Afghanistan, but it has improved since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016, according to industry tracker Speedtest.

Duterte is also pushing for the establishment of a third telecommunications player to challenge the dominance of Globe and PLDT Inc.

"It goes beyond the possession of the smartphone. You have to have to connectivity, willing to download apps, willing to try all of these. We’re trying to address these challenges," the Mynt CEO said during the interview with ABS-CBN News.

Thomas said GCash could be used even without a data connection using the USSD feature of older phones.

"If you ask about the industry, there’s still so much to do and it doesn’t have to be competing with anybody else because there’s a much larger pie," he said.

GCash competes with PayMaya, which is run by a unit of Globe rival PLDT Inc. It also recently offered a scan-to-pay option. WeChat Pay is available locally through Asia United Bank.

'FACEBOOK OF FINTECH'

Thomas said his goal for GCash was to become more than just the Facebook of financial services.

The GCash app will soon offer savings and investment products on course to becoming an "ultimate platform," he said.

"We want to be an all-in-one lifestyle enabler. Anything you need in your daily life, you should be able to do it through GCash and we try to make ourselves accessible through a variety of ways," he said.