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Technology

Google to roll out fintech services in Japan

US tech major's acquisition of cashless payment startup heralds more competition

The entry of Google to the fintech sector in Japan will lead to intensifying competition.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Google is making a foray into financial services in Japan by acquiring a cashless payment company for between 20 billion and 30 billion yen ($180 million to $270 million), Nikkei has learned.

Google is in negotiations to buy all the shares in pring, a Tokyo-based cashless payment and settlement startup owned by Mizuho Bank and other investors. Google hopes to be able to offer fintech services, such as payments and transfers, in Japan next year, following launches in the U.S. and India.

Google's move into fintech services in Japan is the latest example of tech companies using their strong online presence and vast databases to become one-stop shops for various services including finance and shopping.

Japanese consumers have been relatively slow to embrace cashless payments, which suggests that the market has plenty of room for expansion. The entry of Google will intensify competition in the sector, where other technology players have already seen opportunity.

Google declined to confirm the deal.

With 50 Japanese banks including the three megabanks, as well as the Seven-Eleven convenience chain as partners, pring has an edge over other cashless payment service providers because it has many corporations as customers. The COVID pandemic has also accelerated the digital transformation of Japanese corporations.

Around 400 corporations, including Nippon Gas, use pring to reimburse their employees for expenses and for making payments to small business owners. The pring app allows users to make payments, cash transfers, and withdrawals on smartphones and computers.

Google has operated the Google Pay, formerly Android Pay, a smartphone-based payment service since 2015. The service covers 40 countries, including Japan, and boasts over 150 million monthly users. The company also said that it will partner with 11 financial institutions, including Citigroup, to provide banking services this year.

Currently, Google Pay in Japan operates in partnership with major credit and prepaid card brands. By having pring and its network, Google will be able to operate financial services on its own, rather than on behalf of those partners.

Google Pay does not disclose its share in the cashless payment market in Japan, but credit card remains by far the most popular method of cashless payments, followed by prepaid card and smartphone-based services such as those offered by PayPay, a unit of SoftBank Group, and e-commerce company Rakuten. Both PayPay and Rakuten have created an ecosystem where a broad range of services are provided to its users, such as e-commerce shopping, internet access, smartphone and financial services.

Google is keen to work with a local player in Japan so as to better navigate the rules and business practices unique to the country. One of the challenges has been the low penetration of cashless payment among retail consumers. The Japanese government has been trying to change that with financial incentives, but the share of cashless payment in retail transactions was just under 30% in 2020, compared with 70-90% in South Korea and China.

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