Amazon Pay acquires app aggregator platform Tapzo

Amazon has acquired Indian app company Tapzo in a deal to bolster its digital payments offering.

According to the Economic Times, the deal will be valued between $40-45 million, while co-founders Ankur Singla and Vishal Pal Chaudhary will be brought onto the Amazon team to continue development of the offering. While the acquisition is yet to be confirmed by either party, sources state Amazon is after a shortcut to get in on the mobile money bonanza.

“It would have taken Amazon Pay up to two years to build an entire stack of service offerings to enable efficient use-cases for its payment platform,” one source familiar with the deal stated. “So this acquisition helps them save time and also enables them to spread their cashback offers across a host of services immediately.”

Tapzo is an aggregator platform that allows users to access over 35 apps including Amazon, Flipkart, Ola and Uber through a single screen, but also allows for mobile payments, to pay bills, order cabs and food and book flights and hotels. The most popular service for users to date has been bill payments and recharges, with about 15,000 transactions per month across the two services.

Integrating the Tapzo capabilities into the Amazon Pay business will offer the team plenty of ammunition as the battle for domination in the Indian payments market warms up. While there are several local firms are controlling market share for the moment, PhonePe and Paytm for example, the continued digital revolution in India is attracting the interest on the international scene.

Aside from Amazon, Google has also been carving itself a new revenue stream in India. Its Tez offering has recently been rebranded to Google Pay, and will start offering new services such as pre-approved loans.

Google rebrands payments app ahead of international assault

Google has announced it will rebrand its Indian digital payments app, Tez, to Google Pay as the team readies a launch into new international markets.

Only two years ago many would have considered India a distant, slow-follower of the digital revolution, with the economy still largely being governed by cash (imagine that) and smartphone penetration exceptionally low for its stature. The inspiration of Reliance Jio seems to have tempted the country into the virtual society, and the digital appetite of consumers has been almost insatiable. Not only have data consumption rates sky rocketed, the craving for digital services is clearly apparent.

Google is one of the companies which has benefited considerably with the desire to be digital. Having launched last September, Tez has been adopted by 22 million people in 300,000 cities, towns and villages across the country. During this period, Tez users have made more than 750 million transactions, worth more than $30 billion. The app currently supports 2,000 apps and websites, though this number is set to be supercharged, tying up with digital services such as Uber as well as offline channels including the likes of Big Bazaar, e-Zone, and FBB.

Aside from retail and partner push, the team will also expand to cover micro-loans. Partnerships with banks such as HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, Federal Bank, and Kotak Mahindra Bank will enable customers to have pre-approved loans paid directly into Google Pay.

While these might seem like incredible numbers, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India released figures recently suggesting there are 1.14 billion, with Android holding more than 80% of the market share. With only 22 million users currently, the potential for Google’s digital payment app here is massive. And this is only one country. Admittedly it is the second largest in the world by population, and one of the most lucrative when you look at mobile payment adoption, but the decision to rebrand the payment solution is with expansion in mind.

“We have learnt that when we build for India, we build for the world, and we believe that many of the innovations and features we have pioneered with Tez will work globally,” said Caesar Sengupta GM of the Payments business and Next Billion Users Initiative at Google.

“The world has certainly taken notice of India’s digital payments success and our deep investments here with Tez. Many governments are asking us to work with them to bring similar digital payments innovations to their countries.”

Google Payments already exists in 20 markets, though Tez is designed for the Indian market, and this seems to be what has interested the currently un-named governments. To launch a business on the international scene, it makes sense to have a single brand, and it would also be a smart bet to leverage one of the most powerful and influential brands worldwide; Google. According to Brand Finance, Google has the third most valuable brand worldwide, only falling behind Amazon and Apple, explaining the decision.

There might be some stories regarding misinformation and suspect privacy settings, but the Google brand is still one of the most recognisable and trusted worldwide. Ditching the Tez tag is a sensible idea.

Payments challenger Adyen post strong growth following June IPO

In its first earnings release since going public in June, payments firm Adyen is proving it can live up to the hype.

After pricing its shares at €240 each ahead of the launch, it opened for trading on June 13 on Amsterdam’s Euronext exchange at €400 a share. With such a leap, a lot would have been expected from the firm, and it certainly delivered.

For the first six months of 2018, Adyen generated €156 million in total revenue, up 67.3% year-on-year, processing more than €70 billion of transactions, and collecting €48.2 million in net income up 74.6% year-on-year. Investors will certainly be pleased with growth at the company which counts the likes of Uber, Spotify and Cathay Pacific as customers.

Europe is still the major earner for the company, accounting for more than half of the processed transactions and roughly 65% of net revenue, though growth in other regions was incredibly healthy. Asia Pacific was a significant boost for the business, 147.5%, though the North American region was also incredibly positive, 142.9%.

“In the first half of the year we saw a continuation of the transformation of commerce, leading to an increased merchant focus on accepting payments across channels and geographies,” the firm said in a letter to shareholders. “This trend, coupled with changing shopper behaviour, the rise of mobile payment methods, and the increasing pressure on retailers’ operations, highlighted the benefits of our single platform, and consequently driven significant growth in the first half of 2018.”

The success has been attributed not only to doing what it does traditionally very well, but also branching out into new verticals such as hospitality, restaurant chains and supermarkets. While these might be different environments, all are experiencing the same increase in demand for mobile payment from customers.

Another key aspect of growth here seems to be the single platform. Many businesses around the world will use different payment solutions dependent on the environment, some of which will be legacy systems. The complications come with marrying the data to customers across the different platforms when trying to generate some sort of business insight from the data. A single platform, encompassing both online and offline transactions, allows the formation of data sets which can be used to inform future business decisions.

“Through our single platform, we provide a holistic view of payments, regardless of sales channel, delivering unique shopper insights while combating fraud and improving payment authorization rates,” the firm states.

While it all looks positive right now, another statistic which will keep investors happy is the recruitment efforts. Over the first six months, staff head count went up almost 40%, with 47.3% of these recruits taking up tech roles. While bolstering the sales team is certainly a positive move, such a focus on continuing the development of the platform will certainly add to the generated momentum.

Softbank and Yahoo team up to crack mobile money in Japan

Softbank and Yahoo Japan have announced the formation of a new joint venture, PayPay, to launch a QR-based smartphone payment services in Japan by November.

The joint venture will lean on the experience of Paytm, India’s largest digital payment brand and a SoftBank Vision Fund portfolio company, for technology and expertise in mobile payments in the latest efforts to move Japan away from a cash-based society. As it stands, less than 20% of payments across the country are cashless, one of the lowest worldwide for a ‘developed’ economy.

“The Japanese government is taking measures to raise the cashless payment ratio to 40% by 2025, with a long-term goal of 80%, the highest level globally,” Softbank said in a statement. “To aid these efforts, SoftBank and Yahoo Japan established PayPay Corporation in June 2018 and will launch its user-oriented payments platform in the fall 2018.”

With the experience of Paytm, the brand has 300 million customers and 8 million merchants, combined with the presence of SoftBank and Yahoo Japan, the PayPay business certainly has a promising to start to disruption. The Yahoo! Wallet which has approximately 40 million accounts, will act as the foundation, with Softbank leading the sales strategy, while also developing a localised service leveraging Paytm’s technology. Once the new service has been launched, Yahoo Wallet will cease to exist, though a time-frame has not been laid out.

While the adoption of this technology is far from given, the venture does demonstrate the power of the Softbank ecosystem. While it might have looked like a side-project to keep billionaire CEO Masayoshi Son busy, the Softbank Vision Fund offers a wealth of technology expertise for family members to lean on and launch new services. Of course, Vision Fund employees will be looking to find investments which will make money in the long-run, but complementary businesses and technology to aid the progression of current new services would certainly play some role in the decision making.

WhatsApp forced to enter India mobile money market early

The WhatsApp online payments trial received rave reviews in February, however the team is being forced to launch the market-ready version ahead of schedule for fear of being left behind by competitors.

WhatsApp first announced its intentions in the mobile money space back in February, trialling the feature with one million Indian users, though with more than 200 million users of the messenger app in the country there is certainly room to grow. According to Bloomberg, WhatsApp is readying the launch ahead of schedule, with only three partners instead of four, due to fears competitors are streaming too far ahead. HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and Axis Bank are currently signed up, with the State Bank of India set to join as soon as the systems and processes are ready.

The potential for mobile and online payments in the country is massive. Aside from the rapid digital revolution which has been thrust on users following the democratization of data by Reliance Jio, the Indian Government is keen to take the country away from a cash-society. This focus on the digital world has certainly benefited certainly companies, some of which are less keen about sharing the profits around.

Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of Paytm Payments Bank, one of the two dominant players in the Indian online payments space as it stands, has been highly critical. Sharma was one of the beneficiaries of the government’s drive towards digital, and has not welcomed competition in the space. His Twitter feed regularly criticises the decision to grant WhatsApp a license, while also retweeting conspiracy theories about Facebook reading messages and stories questioning the security capabilities of the app.

The other dominant player currently in the market is Google Tez, though the WhatsApp team might be keeping a closer eye on WeChat. The Tencent-owned messenger and social media app has been making moves in the India space, and while it is yet to topple the dominance of Paytm, it arguably presents more of a threat. This is the reason Sharma is doing his best to limit the incursion of social media apps into the Indian payments market, he probably knows they will steal a lot of market share.

When WeChat launched its payment feature in the Chinese market as an alternative to Alibaba’s, it quickly captured market share because it already had an engaged user-base. Users could pay for a variety of products and services through a trusted and secure application, which was already being used for a variety of other features. WeChat kept users inside its walled-garden, and offered the opportunity to remove clutter and redundant apps from valuable real-estate on the home screen.

WhatsApp can replicate this strategy with its 200 million users in the Indian market. Ideally, WhatsApp would have launched on its own terms, but it does still pose a very serious threat to the incumbent players in the Indian market.

Aside from the upcoming conflict, this is one of the first examples of genuine diversification from Facebook, parent company of WhatsApp. To date, all the ‘alternative’ strategies Facebook has used to build the bottom line have ultimately led back to bleeding the same assets through digital advertising. Video does, news does, promotional ads do, everything Facebook does is about monetizing the user while they are on the platform. It is successful for the moment, but there will be a glass ceiling; only so much advertising can be presented to the user before the experience deteriorates.

When you look at the companies who are set to dominate the world for decades, there is genuine diversification. Google has a separate video platform in YouTube, doubling the real-estate for advertising, and also has a burgeoning cloud computing business. Amazon has the world leading cloud IaaS business, while also successfully entered the content subscription market with its Prime service.

Of course this is not a new idea. Coca Cola is a business which also diversifies by acquiring brands and products which allow it to target a different demographic; it owns Innocent Smoothies for example, as well as Powerade. Successful and healthy diversification is about seeking new revenue opportunities, not simply adding addition means to bolster the same advertising machine.

A successful launch into the online payments market could prove to be very lucrative move for the Facebook business.

Square stands up for small retailers in the mobile era

US mobile payment processing outfit Square reckons its new stand will empower small businesses in a way that traditional financial services have failed to do.

Square was launched to much fanfare, thanks to being founded by the bloke who also founded Twitter – Jack Dorsey, in the US in 2009. The first product was a little dongle that you plug into the headphone jack of your phone that allows you to take card payments on it by swiping the magnetic strip.

None of that made it over here for a while though, with Square making its first appearance in the UK via a contactless card reader last year. We met Jesse Dorogusker, Hardware Lead for Square, and he explained that’s because they didn’t support Chip and PIN until then, with the US still reliant on the magnetic strip or even (shudder) those anachronistic carbon paper counterfoil things.

Now Square is adding a stand to its UK offerings, which is designed to support a tablet and turn it into an instant point-of-sale terminal. Before Square Dorogusker spent years heading up the accessories division at Apple and that influence is clear in the design of the stand and the card reader, both of which go hard on the smooth white plastic theme.

The whole bright idea from day one was to utilise all the powerful technology that was being put in people’s hands thanks to Apple and Android, to help smaller businesses get access to the latest, mobile-powered, financial services.

Dorogusker SquareThe barriers to entry for SMEs to get into modern financial services are too high and I would say that’s on purpose,” Dorogusker (pictured) told Telecoms.com. “The mainstream industry sees too much risk in serving small business owners and as a result they’re very underserved, especially in technology transitions where the introduction of additional ways to pay like contactless.

“The smartphone industry has done an amazing job of making incredibly powerful devices widely available at shockingly low prices for how technologically packed they are. We’ve built complementary pieces of technology that connect to these amazing devices and give consumer-grade experiences to small businesses.”

It’s hard to argue with the premise. Imagine the amount of sales lost by, say, stallholders at a music festival because potential customers have run out of cash. The Stand product also comes with point-of-sale software to use on the tablet and even a swivel base so the retailer can present the sale to the customer for approval. As advertised it give small businesses the point-of-sale power of much larger setups and that seems pretty compelling.

Dorogusker also thinks this is something the telecoms industry needs to be aware of. People have challenges with connectivity and we’re now in a world that requires an online connection to make a payment, verify it and issue a digital receipt,” he said. “A lot of networks are focused on peak speeds and not as focused on coverage. 75% of Square’s customers in the UK are outside of London, maybe not near a bunch of cell towers, and they need coverage – not ten bars, one bar will do.

The Stand product launched in the UK today and is on a half price promotion for a month. We’re now off to the street market on Tottenham Court Road where you can buy a delicious Thai green curry and rice with just a tap of a phone. Now that’s progress.

WhatsApp to enter world of mobile money – first stop, India

WhatsApp has been granted permission to test out a money transfer service in the Indian market, a move which could generate notable ripples in the maturing mobile money segment.

While there are several mobile money services available currently, penetration has been limited. There is noticeable momentum for the idea of a virtual wallet, though a brand such as WhatsApp entering the market could certainly provide a boost in credibility and trust, thrusting adoption upwards.

The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) has given its consent to roll out a WhatsApp beta launch in India to test out the money transfer service. Four institutions will join the multi-bank Unified Payments Interface (BHIM UPI) UPI model, which will be announced at a later date, and a full feature product shall be released after the beta test. For the moment WhatsApp will be limited to a user base of 1 million during the test, while only small transactions will be permitted.

This is a very logical step for WhatsApp to take, and does pose a considerable threat to anyone who is currently offering mobile money solutions to its customers. Samsung and Apple are two companies who do offer such services, but only to those who have Samsung or Apple devices. A WhatsApp solution would be applicable to everyone who has a WhatsApp account making the potential pool considerable larger.

The move would also counter any security concerns which some might have. WhatsApp is widely recognised as one of the most secure messaging platforms worldwide, so much so governments are attempting to introduce legislation forcing the firm to weaken its encryption algorithms or introduce backdoors. The introduction of such legislation indicates the spooks can’t hack their way through the WhatsApp security which is a thumbs up for the software’s performance and resilience.

A seemingly unhackable messaging app offering money transfer solutions would certainly be of interest to some. It also builds on a use of the messaging app which is already out there. For those organizing group holidays or larger social occasions, WhatsApp has been used for logistics but also to pass on bank account details to those in the group. Adding a payment feature in the app is simply removing a step in this payment chain.

100% secure is of course impossible, but if you listen to the right people, WhatsApp is as close as you can get for a mass market product. A money transfer service certainly addresses a need of its users and provides reassurance for the security conscious who are currently resisting the mobile money revolution. Should the beta be successful in India, this could prove to be quite a disruption and enabler of growth for mobile money worldwide.

Huawei and UnionPay tie up for global road trip

Huawei has signed a cooperation agreement with UnionPay International to add fuel to the worldwide rollout of Huawei Pay.

The partnership itself will focus on improving the experience for users, but also adapting the platform for international markets. Right now the platform is focused on the Chinese markets, but Huawei has never kept such streamlined ambitions for long with its other products, why should this be any different?

“Open sharing is an important direction for the future of the digital economy and intellectual interconnection, which is why Huawei’s end-user cloud services built an open and globalized smart mobile ecosystem for the end-user experience,” said Alex Zhang, President of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service.

“Huawei hopes to work with partners such as UnionPay International to provide more secure and convenient mobile payment services for every user of Huawei smart devices around the world.”

Huawei Pay is currently only available in China, supported by 66 banks and is compatible with 20 mobile devices, including various mobile phones and smart watches. This number is likely to increase, as are the number of users, owing to the success of Huawei in cracking new international markets. Huawei has successfully negotiated the stereotype of Chinese products being inferior, with its lofty position in the global smartphone market share ranking offering an excellent springboard for additional services.

“UnionPay International carries out extensive cooperation with various players in the payment industry to integrate the advantages of each party,” said Larry Wang, Vice President of UnionPay International. “This cooperation with Huawei is of great significance.

“Firstly, with this agreement, the two sides realize cooperation on a global scale, and issuers outside mainland China can now launch Huawei Pay Pay-as-you-go once connected to the UnionPay Mobile Service Platform, which greatly saves time and costs. Secondly, UnionPay’s innovative products are an important propeller for the business localization of the two parties, and it supports payment upgrades in more countries and regions. Thirdly, cooperation between the two giants will jointly enhance the global influence of China’s independent mobile payment apps.”

Russia will be first on Huawei Pay’s global tour, with UnionPay offering an excellent foot into the market. Currently, UnionPay bank cards are accepted at 85% of POS terminals and ATMs in Russia, while 10 Russian banks have issued about 1.3 million UnionPay bank cards to date. After Russia, the pair will continue the road through Eastern Europe.