Alipay may get global boost through EMVCo

China’s Ant Financial Services Group has tied up with international secure-payments consortium EMVCo, giving a boost to the operator of the world’s largest mobile and online payments platform at a time it is pushing to expand in the global marketplace.

EMVCo announced Ant Financial has become a technical associate of the consortium and is playing an “active role” in the technical direction of evolving international-secure payments and interoperability specifications. Seven other companies were named as technical associates as well, including Switzerland-based online payment security firm Truxtun Capital, Japanese tech firm NTT Data Corp., and German electronic-device testing and certification laboratory CTC Advanced GmbH.

“These organizations have the opportunity to provide input to, and receive feedback on, detailed technical and operational issues connected to the EMV specifications and related processes,” EMVCo said in the statement.

EMVCo, which sets unified secure-payments standards for adoption in the global marketplace, is owned by Visa, Mastercard, JCB, American Express, China UnionPay and Discover.

Ant Financial operates Alipay, China’s top mobile and online payments platform and a growing player in the U.S. and other leading Chinese tourist destinations.

A source from UnionPay, China’s only bankcard association, said Alipay will benefit from its partnership with EMVCo because it “will help promote Alipay’s credibility globally and push forward its international expansion.”

The alliance could boost Ant Financial-backed QR-code payments and pose greater challenges to traditional bankcards. One possibility is that EMVCo may integrate Alipay’s QR payment standards into its global standards, some market analysts said.

Ant Financial set up its partnership with EMVCo this past February and has started discussions with it on related payment standards, a person with knowledge of the matter at Ant Financial told Caixin.

In July, EMVCo released a set of QR code payment specifications to guide global QR-code payment solution providers to develop their technology and standards.

But some analysts say Ant Financial’s influence may be diluted in EMVCo’s worldwide specifications for secure payments because EMVCo has 60 technical partners.

“There is little possibility that (EMVCo) will promote Alipay’s QR code standard as an international standard because the unification of technical standards requires the negotiation of many parties,” a technical expert at China UnionPay said.

China has gotten the world’s attention with its fast leap into cashless payments. Whether living in big cities or small counties, Chinese people have increasingly embraced using their smartphone to make payments by swiftly scanning a black-and-white barcode.

Known as quick respond (QR) code, the scan-and-pay method allows people to pay for everything from lattes to taxi rides, replacing cash as well as traditional bankcards.

In 2016, China’s mobile payments transactions handled by non-bank channels hit 38 trillion yuan ($5.5 trillion), about 50 times the size of the $112 billion market in the U.S., according to market research firm iResearch.

In addition to Ant Financial, affiliated with e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, social media giant Tencent Holdings is aggressively promoting its WeChat Pay to compete with banks.

Alipay currently controls more than 50% of China’s mobile payments market, followed by WeChat Pay with 40%.

Beyond China, Ant Financial has forged partnership with foreign players such as Cambodia’s Pi Pay, Singapore-based payment provider HelloPay and Thailand’s Ascend Money to take QR-code payments overseas.

Banks and bankcard associations are trying to catch up the race with tech firms in the new payment market. In China, UnionPay and its member banks joint released QR code standards to compete with Alipay and WeChat Pay.

EMVCo developed an encryption technology called “tokenization” that China wants used by third-party payment services to better prevent leaks of private bankcard information.

Globally, Visa, MasterCard, American Express partnered with India’s payment firm NPCI and bankcard union RuPay in February to roll out national standards for QR-code payments in India. In May, China UnionPay, Visa and MasterCard helped Thailand’s government to promote national standards for QR-code payments.