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Business trends

Singtel teams up with Thai partners in e-payment race

Ping An and others tipped to join alliance in hope to expand in Indonesia, Philippines and India

Singtel has joined up with Thai partners to offer the first integrated regional e-payment system.     © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- Singapore Telecommunications and two Thai partners launched on Tuesday an electronic payment alliance, hoping to expand it to Indonesia, the Philippines and India and becoming Asia's first regional platform.

Under the partnership with Thailand's largest telecom operator Advanced Info Services, or AIS, and the country's second largest lender Kasikornbank, customers of the mobile wallet will be able to use their money in different countries in Southeast Asia,through the alliance named VIA.

The group is set to expand with Telekomunikasi Selular of Indonesia, Globe Telecom from the Philippines and Bharti Airtel from India expected to join VIA over next few months. Singtel has stakes in these three telcos,as well as in AIS. China's Ping An eWallet, owned by Ping An Insurance Group, will follow after and Singtel has hinted at other partners from North Asia.

Singtel's own mobile wallet called "Dash," a QR code payment app used in the city-state, has half a million users and 20,000 partner merchants. The new alliance allows Dash users to make e-payments in shops in Thailand that are partnered with AIS and Kasikornbank, and to accept AIS mobile payment.

For instance, Singaporeans in Bangkok can pay using the Dash app on their smartphones at shops that display the VIA sign. When the QR code is scanned, the app will show the price of the product in Thai baht and Singapore dollar, so users will know instantly how much the purchase costs in their home currency. Singtel and partners will charge merchants a transaction fee, and earn from currency exchange.

VIA also gives consumers without credit cards another means of payment.

Singtel and partners accept cross-border mobile payments through the VIA alliance. (Photo by Marimi Kishimoto) 

As AIS and Kasikornbank already offer e-payment in Thailand, the alliance allows Singtel to expand its customer base and merchant network rapidly. It also means that Singtel is able to get round the regulatory process, which can be cumbersome for foreign companies entering payment-related services.

Singtel's regional expansion comes as e-payment operators are increasingly capitalizing on Southeast Asia's rapid digitalization. Singapore-based ride-hailing app Grab in September obtained an e-money license in the Philippines, and partnered with a Vietnamese mobile payment company for expansion in the country. According to Grab, it is expecting to offer payment services in six Southeast Asian countries by the end of 2018.

Chinese players Alipay by Ant Financial under Alibaba Group Holding and WeChat Pay by Tencent Holdings also operate payment services beyond China in Asian countries although they are targeting Chinese tourists.SingTel and its major telecommunication affiliates in the region aim to take on other peers entering the market.  

Singtel is the second largest shareholder of AIS, with a 23% stake. Tying up with external players such as Kasikornbank and Ping An shows Singtel's ambitions in expanding the alliance in a sector that it views as a new key business.

"This is going to be a 'Star Alliance' of the mobile wallet," Arthur Lang, Singtel CEO for international business unit, said in Bangkok, referring to one of the largest aviation alliances in the world.

Nikkei staff writer Marimi Kishimoto in Bangkok contributed to this story.

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