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China Sees Huge Growth in Mobile Payment
China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology says the country had 1.3 billion mobile phone users last year, and that 4G users accounted for a quarter of that figure.
This has created a huge market for mobile payment services. Whether it's online shopping or utility payment, buying groceries or even paying for parking, mobile payments have permeated the daily lives of many Chinese users.
China's central bank says that, in the first three quarters of last year, the country's total mobile payments amounted to around 85 trillion yuan, or around 13 trillion US dollars, an annual increase of 45 percent.
Despite these figures, an official from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology Dai Xiaohui says mobile payment as a service industry is still in its early stages of development.
"Mobile payment services have a very wide industrial chain, linking the customers and vendors. The chips in smart phones can connect with payment platforms, which are supported by mobile network operators, third party payment service providers and financial institutions. Software developers and system integrators are also involved. The complex chain consists of many players, each with its own resources and potential, and they are all still looking for new breakthroughs."
Notable mobile payment service providers in China include Alibaba's Alipay, Tencent's WeChat and Baidu's Baidu Wallet. Last December, Apple and China UnionPay announced a partnership to bring Apple Pay to China.
Market leader Alipay boasts 400 million users, more than half of whom regularly make mobile payments.
Different business strategies have also helped other players to capture impressive market shares.
Xu Yanjun is the director of an electronic payment research center with China UnionPay.
He says these payment platforms should consider how to elevate customer experience by balancing security and convenience.
"We now need to consider how to integrate mobile payments with different service industries to provide better customer experiences. With new technologies and the emergence of cloud computing and big data, ensuring both security and convenience of usage presents the next big opportunity for growth for these service providers."
Yang Tao is the Director of the Research Center for Payment and Settlement under China Academy of Social Sciences.
He says the sector's rapid growth and associated risks call for mature and systematic legal regulation.
"Mobile payments' security risks affect customers' privacy and assets, and there could be other illegal activities. These are all challenges for the industry, which involves so many players. It does not benefit the sector if each player is regulated individually. Additionally, service providers have come up with related financial services. On the national level, we lack technological and operation regulations for these services. A better regulated industry will help to create healthy and fair competition."
Last December, China's central bank released detailed regulations of online payment services by non-bank institutions.
Among the highlights, the rules require real-name registrations for all non-bank payment accounts, and limit the amount of payment to protect customers from potential risks.
The new policy will go into effect this July.
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