ByteDance is one of a new wave of Chinese tech companies challenging the older and more established Chinese players, led by BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent). TikTok is the first Chinese app to take the world by storm, and its owner is now rubbing shoulders with the likes of YouTube and Facebook.
Imagine a city where commuters are chauffeured to work by self-driving cars and artificial intelligence systems control every power plant, traffic light and light bulb, making road accidents, power cuts and even traffic jams a thing of the past. Thanks to 5G, the latest protocol for mobile communications, this vision may be realized soon. The world’s leading telecoms companies are already testing the next generation of wireless internet and the first 5G services could be rolled out in 2019. China and the US are locked in a furious battle for control of this and the winner will gain a big economic advantage for years to come.
Historians say that paper currency was invented by the Chinese during the Tang Dynasty. Today, their descendants are taking the lead again: Young Chinese are abandoning cash. Shop anywhere in China–from a grand shopping mall to a small street vendor–and you can use your smartphone to pay. Of course, the wide acceptance of smartphones and 4G internet is one thing, the rise of fintech firms like Ant Financial is another. Yet to seriously phase out cash, authorities and professionals are pursuing something more than just QR codes: digital currencies based on blockchain technology. Despite the cracking down on unfavorable operations like ICOs, China is studying blockchain in a rather serious way.
WeChat is not just a messaging app. With nearly a billion active users, it is used to make voice calls, play games, read news, hail cars and more. With WeChat Pay, people use the app to send money and pay bills by scanning a QR code, and friends and families use WeChat to send lucky money during festivals. For many, WeChat is already indispensable. How did the company grow? What were the key decisions and strategies? In the fierce competition between WeChat pay and Alibaba’s Alipay, who will win? There are many questions about WeChat, but the app’s success is certain—for now.
At the enormous Pacific Department Store on Shanghai’s Huaihai Road, barriers block the street entrances and windows are shuttered. The store, which was one of the largest on one of the city’s busiest shopping streets for nearly two decades, closed in January. The shell of the store now sits incongruously opposite the K11 mall, which has been thriving ever since implementing a smart re-think of the shopping mall concept a couple of years ago. The lesson of the different fates of these two shopping centers is clear—adapt or die. Retail is not declining in China, it’s just changing.
Although the quality of ‘made in China’ products has not been fully recognized in foreign markets, ‘made in China’ apps have made their way in the Google and Apple app stores. Chinese tech firms, under intense domestic market competition, are seeking new ways out of China. India, Brazil and Russia—emerging economies with young smartphones users—have become their new battleground. More mature firms have also begun to try to compete in developed markets in the US and Europe, where there is better infrastructure and users are willing to pay for premium services. But in these developed markets, Chinese tech firms face more challenges.
The upsurge in mobile transaction services used through smartphones is at the heart of a sudden expansion of the online financial services industry in China. This is a diverse and dynamic marketplace with investment, small-lending companies, peer to peer (P2P) lending, and most recently the emergence of the first batch of online-only banks: MYbank, 30% owned by Ant Financial (founded by Alibaba), and WeBank, which is 30% owned by Tencent. These new services provide a much-needed expansion of financial access for Chinese consumers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), that have long been underserved by the state-dominated banking system. What lies ahead for China’s online banks?
Currently the most valuable fintech company in China, Alibaba’s Ant Financial owns a myriad of businesses: China’s largest payment tool AliPay and a variety of financial services in areas like banking, funds, insurance, credit scoring systems, etc. With over 400 million active users, it has ambitions to expand further into the Chinese hinterland as well as into global markets—something never done by Chinese financial companies before. How will Ant realize its elephantine goals? What is the logic behind its diverse businesses and which one is the focus? Can Ant become the Taobao of the financial industry? We offer some answers.
China’s healthcare sector is huge but it doesn’t mean that people are getting what they need. China’s public health infrastructure is bursting at the seams: it is clearly not equipped to meet the growing demands of 1.35 billion people and an aging society. The problem in China’s healthcare sector is two-dimensional: it involves both shortages, wherein current healthcare infrastructure is just not enough to meet the people’s needs, and skewed market dynamics, where the demand isn’t necessarily for the healthcare services that are easily accessible. Can tech companies step in with digital healthcare services and apps to help bridge the gaps?
Tencent has used WeChat to create a mobile ecosystem for China, which has more smartphone than PC users. By steadily integrating value-added services into a social media app, Tencent has made it increasingly useful to both consumers and businesses. That means WeChat has more opportunities than other messaging apps to make money. In contrast to Facebook, which earns most of its revenue from advertising, WeChat monetizes by integrating online payment functions that encourage shopping through the app and selling games. In the second quarter, Tencent recorded RMB 4.5 billion in revenue from games purchased through WeChat and its older instant messaging app QQ, up 11% year-on-year.