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Battle for Japan's cashless spenders heats up as mobile payments grow

Banker SMFG to introduce all-in-one payment terminal

Cafe de K in Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido no longer accepts cash. (Photo by Manami Yamada)   © Not selection

TOKYO -- Japanese banks hope that integrating mobile payments like Alipay and Apple Pay with other cashless methods will help them regain ground in the market and promote such options in a country where cash is still king.

Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group is developing a single terminal to process a variety of cashless payments, such as credit cards, electronic money and smartphones. It is consulting with Tokyo-based GMO Payment Gateway, a payment processor for online sales, about the system design and project costs. The group aims to roll out the service around 2019.

Businesses currently require separate gateways and devices to process payments for each type of service their customers use. An all-in-one terminal would aid in introducing a variety of cashless methods, even among smaller stores.

SMFG expects revenue to grow from various settlement methods, such as debit cards and QR codes. The group seeks more participating retailers by taking advantage of subsidiary Sumitomo Mitsui Card's customer base of about 25.7 million people, placing it among the largest credit card companies in Japan, as well as lower fees for stores.

Information regarding when and how customers shop can help promote sales -- and more data means a more detailed analysis. SMFG might use the information to provide trend forecasting and other support to participating retailers.

Financial institutions are not the only companies that collect consumer data through cashless payments. Mobile settlement services like Alipay from China's Alibaba Group Holding that read QR codes via smartphone are particularly popular for their simplicity, and they are spreading fast.

Alipay boosts the number of its users by employing credit information gathered from its mobile payment service to provide new services such as financing. Japanese retailers such as Bic Camera are starting to accept Chinese cashless payment services like Alipay and Tencent Holdings' WeChat Pay as a result. The number of Apple Pay users in the country is also increasing.

Japanese messaging service Line also offers a QR code mobile payment service called Line Pay that can be used at some restaurants and convenience stores. The company looks to reach 1 million participating retailers this year, up from about 50,000 now. It also expects to use information gathered from Line Pay to provide services such as marketing and insurance.

Mobile phone operator NTT Docomo launched its QR code mobile service in April. Large retailers like Takashimaya and Tower Records currently accept the service, with 100,000 retailers expected to participate within the fiscal year.

Japanese consumers heavily favor cash, with only about one-fifth of all payments made using cashless methods compared with around 90% in South Korea and roughly 50% for both the U.S. and China. SMFG hopes to improve the popularity of cashless payments by expanding the number of available places and services.

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