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The compelling case of Alipay and Christmas

We hosted ePassi at our recent launch of Nordic Finance Innovate (NFI) in Helsinki, Finland. ePassi are the partner firm of Alipay, bringing the app to Finland to allow Chinese tourists to pay easily when travelling via Finland to Europe. It’s been very successful as it was initially launched to allow tourists to come and meet Santa Claus in Lapland without having to change currencies or work out how to pay in Finnish.

Risto Virkkala, CEO of ePassi, presented a fascinating story of how ePassi was running a mobile app for companies to pay employees fringe benefit programs before Alipay turned up. The service was basically an app with coupons, which made it a perfect fit for Alipay. They were in initial consultation about bringing the service over in Spring 2016 and signed contracts in June for a live service by October. A four-month development cycle from contract to production was quite something. As Risto quipped, it usually takes more than four months to arrange a meeting with a senior bank person.

Anyways, from going live, the service soon saw over 50,000 tourists coming over for the Christmas season in Lapland, culminating in the launch of 12.12 there.

12.12 is another made up shopping day like Singles Day (11.11) that drives traffic to merchants in the Alibaba ecosystem. If you want to know more about that, then click over here.

Anyways, Finland attracts over 550,000 Chinese tourists every year who spend €940 during their visit on average, but the launch of Alipay has made this spend even higher as most Chinese tourists do not use Western credit cards. Equally, the awareness of the service availability is increasing the attraction for Chinese tourists to visit Finland. In 2016, the visitor numbers from China were up by a third on 2015, and they spent the most money of all visiting nationalities to Finland.

Risto told me that after the promotion of Alipay in China for Christmas 2016, the tourists also spent three times as long in Lapland as they did compared to the previous year. They love Christmas!

The success of the program has now expanded to 1000’s of Finnish merchants and the airport, and ePassi’s revenues are likely to double in 2017. There’s no stopping there either as, by way of example, Alibaba’s travel firm Alitrip is saying that up to 8 million Chinese tourists will be coming to Finland in 2020. Wow, no wonder this is important strategically to the country, which hopes to become the hub for all Chinese tourists coming to Europe.

Certainly, I could see the attraction as we checked into the hotel in Helsinki and saw clear signage that Alipay was accepted, and found the same in many other shops and around the airport.

In fact, it intrigued me that we had that discussion in Helsinki and then, the following day, I chaired a meeting of people in Stockholm discussing the key Nordic payments wallets which are MobilPay (Denmark), Siirto (Finland), Swish (Sweden) and Vipps (Norway).

What I realised as we talked, is that I currently cannot travel the 43 kilometres from Copenhagen, Denmark to Malmo, Sweden, with the same mobile payments app. The mobile wallets of the Nordic region have no interoperability today. Yet I can travel the 6,300-kilometre trip from Beijing to Lapland and pay for everything with the same app. I feel there’s something a bit wrong about that would obviously use Alipay, if it had a nice local language front-end. Now there’s a thought.

Meanwhile, if you want to hear the story one-on-one, here’s me and Risto talking about how the Alipay rollout in Finland worked …

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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