Martin Chorzempa, Luce Scholar ‘13-14 and currently a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, discusses China's embrace of fintech and payment apps like Alipay and WeChat and gives some insight into why similar trends are unlikely to catch on in the US.
In 2013 I moved from Paris to Beijing to study China’s financial system. I stayed for two years and became fluent enough to translate economics books from Mandarin into English and give talks on monetary policy in Mandarin.
But I never really felt I fit in until I visited again and Alipay finally approved me (foreigners can have a hard time getting authorized to use China’s financial super-apps). Before then, I would frantically search for an ATM for cash while my friends used their phones’ Alipay or WeChat apps—similar to Venmo—to split restaurant bills. They invested their paychecks with the click of a button to start earning interest immediately, while I had to wait in line at a bank. But last year, armed with Alipay, I used a shared bike that got me to a meeting early, paid for dinner by scanning a QR code, and then called my first ride-share via Didi—all through the app.
Ant Financial’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat have changed the way many people live their financial lives. They are one-stop shops that enable half a billion Chinese to access a dizzying array of services, from payments, loans, investments, and credit scores to taxi rides, travel bookings, and social media.
Image © Eoin Ryan