A taxi driver taps on her ride-hailing app after dropping off a client and collects her taxi fare digitally. It is a scenario so common that it probably happens in the world’s most populous country every minute, if not every second.
Behind this seemingly simple transaction is a long list of processing procedures including identity verification, payment authorisation, data transfer and encryption, clearing and settlement, among others.
As a pure-play ride-hailing platform, it is clear that the erstwhile Uber China (now part of Didi Chuxing) was never designed to handle such complex payment process.
“Very few people know that we customised and designed the electronic payment system for Uber when it started the China business in 2014,” said Guodong Pan, chief executive officer of LianLian Pay, a Chinese third-party payment solutions provider.
The collaboration with Uber China is a prime example of how LianLian Pay positions itself in the digital payment value chain – by offering solutions to corporate clients.
“When [China’s] central bank granted us the payment license in 2011, Alipay and Wechat Pay [had] already established a dominant presence in the consumer-end of the digital payment process,” Pan told FinanceAsia in an exclusive interview in LianLian Pay’s hometown of Hangzhou.
“We have decided not to compete head-to-head with payment solutions for consumers, and it has proven to be the right choice,” he said.
As of the end of last year, LianLian Pay was China’s fourth-largest digital payment service provider behind Ant Financial, Tencent and OneConnect Financial Technology (formerly known as Ping An Financial Technology), according to consultancy firm Analysys.
However, since the leading trio focus on consumer payment solutions, LianLian Pay is probably the largest solutions provider for Chinese corporates and institutions.
BACKBONE OF E-PAYMENT
Digital payment is a rapidly expanding segment in fintech but one that is not easily understood.
So to help explain LianLian Pay’s role in the digital payments value chain, Guo cites the example of Intel and the personal computer industry.
“Intel makes chips and processors for PC makers like Dell, HP and Lenovo. It does not engage directly with consumers, but they are literally using its products and services if they use computers under these brands,” Guo said. “We are the same as we help our clients with payment solutions.”
LianLian Pay’s strategic partners include Apple Pay, Amazon China, Citibank and Deutsche Bank. Clients include well-known names like Didi Chuxing (which acquired Uber China in 2016), Ctrip, Haier, Geely and Sogou.
Another client is China-based truck-hailing app Huochebang, which Guo cites to show how third-party payment service providers can help corporate clients.
“In China, a truck can be driven by multiple drivers if the goods are to be delivered across provinces. It is a common scenario for drivers to spilt up a single payment into different orders based on the distance they served, and this involves a lot of [payment] work behind the scene,” Guo told FinanceAsia.
“In this case, we help Huochebang settle and clear the payment side of the business so that they can focus on their core service of distributing and allocating trucks and drivers across the country.”
Ctrip, China’s largest travel app, provides yet another case study of LianLian Pay’s customised payment solutions service. “In the world of online ticket booking, there are often scenarios where clients need to be refunded as quickly as possible,” Guo said. “And this relies heavily on our ability to verify the payment process and reverse the transaction.”
Since LianLian Pay started its business in 2011, it has executed over Rmb2 trillion ($288 billion) worth of payments online. Last year, over 250 million digital payment transactions were executed through LianLian Pay’s platform.
LianLian Pay’s rapid expansion is highly correlated to China’s e-commerce boom. Already serving some 300,000 businesses, the company plans to invest Rmb3 billion over the next three years to expand its services.
Financially, LianLian Pay is well prepared for the increased capital expenditure. LianLian Digital, the holding company of LianLian Pay, completed two rounds of funding and raised over $700 million this year from the likes of Sequoia Capital and Boyu Capital.
Guo sees huge opportunities to serve Chinese e-commerce businesses as they increasingly look to sell their products overseas. And LianLian Pay is already serving foreign e-commerce sites such as Amazon, eBay and Wish with their settlement and clearing processes in China.
However, there are more complex challenges when going abroad. For one, a cross-border payment solutions provider needs to comply with requirements around security and compliance in various jurisdictions.
LianLian Pay has been working towards that goal. Earlier this year the company entered into a strategic partnership with Worldpay, a US payments processing company previously owned by Royal Bank of Scotland.
LianLian Pay has so far also secured payment licenses in Hong Kong, UK and the US, and is now able to settle payments across six major currencies.
And it's not just in payments that Guo believes LianLian Pay can help cross-border e-commerce sellers boost their profit margins in the long term.
“It is very difficult to be a cross-border e-commerce seller because that will incur larger costs around shipping, foreign exchange, marketing as well as platform commission fees,” Guo said. “Many of these costs can be reduced with the help of technology.”
These new services, potentially, include product analytics, product assurance, trademark and registration, and declaration and tax refund.