Talking With: Alipay's Souheil Badran about merchant partnerships, consumers' needs
Alipay North America is constantly looking for the right partnerships in North America that are fit for the company.
Few things have changed as it relates to Alipay's push in North America since Souheil Badran took the stage in October at annual Money20/20 conference in Las Vegas.
Alipay continues to hone in on partnerships, with merchant acquirers and processors, to expand acceptance in North America of the company's popular mobile app — one that sees almost 530 million active users.
And with a good portion of those users visiting Canada and the U.S. every year for vacation, Alipay wanted to make sure those consumers have the ability to pay for good and services in a way they were already comfortable with.
Mobile Payments Today recently caught up with Badran, the president of Alipay North America, in a phone interview to discuss the company's approach to Canada and the U.S., as well as some things that are going on in China. The following is an edited transcript of the original conversation.
MPT: What has been Alipay's path since your presentation at Money20/20?
Badran: We've continued on that path with the strategy of working with partners in North America. Since Money20/20, we've announced FreedomPay, the Verifone deal. For us, that's really key in getting to the market faster, especially with larger merchants that already have connectivity with some of these acquirers and processors.
Then, from an ISV side, we're working with the likes of Citcon and other players to get us to some of the other segments of the market. We will continue focusing on the partnerships because that drives the technology and makes it easier for the merchant to enable Alipay. It also shows that the partners are offering value-added services like Alipay as well.
On the marketing side of it, we will work with the merchant on how they can attract the Chinese consumer into their stores.
MPT: With those merchants, what do you tell them in terms of how to best attract Chinese tourists?
Badran: It's really about showing the opportunity to them. We look at it from the perspective of, can we attract more volume and more people into the store to have them spend, in this case using Alipay.
We will work with the merchant. We will show them where our Alipay users are. As much ubiquity as we'd like to have, the reality is that we're focused on the bigger cities and certain segments with those cities like food and beverage, hospitality, tourist attractions. We'll zero in on those segments and work with the merchant and show them on a normal day, how many Alipay users are at their store.
Through our Discover platform, the merchant has the ability to put an offer in place on really anything depending on what the merchant is trying to accomplish. It's less of a pitch to the merchant and more helping the merchants cater to the consumer that's using Alipay 10 to12 times a day. This is more than just payments. Alipay users are in the app looking for offers or ordering an Uber.
MPT: Overall, how does Alipay go about selecting whether a partner is in the U.S. or Canada? Does that matter at this point?
Badran: Our focus is on picking the right partner that gets us into the right segment.
What you'll find is, some of those partners are U.S.-based only, some Canada-based only. And some can cover both sides of the border. So, depending on the type of partnership and who they are, that will give us an indication of how and where they can help us.
In the case of Blackhawk [Network], we’re just launching with the U.S. right now with the opportunity to expand because they themselves are a global company already. A company like Citcon is a California-based company, but they're also getting into Canada. We’ll work with them to make sure they're representing us well and that they have the licenses that allow them to do business in Canada.
In general, you'll find a lot of companies that are doing cross-border business in the U.S. and Canada.
MPT: Have there been challenges that we don't see when it comes to setting up these partnerships?
Badran: I wouldn't call them challenges. I would call them, having a good understanding what it takes to integrate with Alipay.
Our integration is fairly simple, but you can imagine that, especially with the larger providers, have a long roadmap of these they need to do. Understanding their environment and understanding our environment is an opportunity to slot us into their rollout and they're excited about it because they're hearing about it from their merchants.
That's why you see us talking in a public forum because we're trying to differentiate ourselves and show that we're more than just payments. We truly are a lifestyle enabler and that gets the merchants excited. That helps our ability to them go in and speak with some of those partners [about doing business].
MPT: Ant Financial's latest earnings report showed that the number of new Alipay users continues to grow. What does that say about Alipay and the market in general?
Badran: As we continue to have this millennial generation that's mobile-focused, they're growing up and seeing mobile as a way of life. We're able to attract those users, but we're also very focused in China on the rural areas and making it simple for merchants to accept payments.
And from there, those merchants have the money directly deposited into the wallet, and then they can go out and spend money without having to worry about cash, or worry about finding an ATM. Truly, that's why we call it the lifestyle app. It's very viral. We have a mantra that customers are first and that's very real because that's what drives us and our growth and we'll continue catering to them that way.
Will Hernandez Will Hernandez has 14 years of experience ranging from newspapers to wire services and trade publications. Before becoming Editor of MobilePaymentsToday.com, he spent two years as the content manager for PaymentsJournal.com, a leading payments industry news aggregator and information hub published by Mercator Advisory Group. Will spent four years covering the payments industry as an associate editor for multiple publications in SourceMedia's Payments Group based in Chicago.