Chinese payment giant Alipay downplays U.S. ambitions

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Chinese tourists can now use Alipay at 200,000 U.S. locations, but the popular app’s maker said Thursday that the firm does not have its eyes on the American consumer.

“Right now that’s not what we’re looking at,” said Carol Grunberg, the head of growth, global and strategic partnerships at Ant Financial. “It’s got to make sense.”

Alipay is a China-based mobile payment platform that boasts more than 500 million users. Its users are currently required to have Chinese bank accounts.

In 2017, Chinese travelers made 3.2 million visits to the United States, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Merchants that accept Alipay include New York City taxis and shops at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Ant Financial wants to expand the network of U.S. retailers that accept Alipay so that Chinese tourists can make purchases conveniently, Grunberg said. Her comments came during an onstage interview at the Fintech Ideas Festival.

Other financial industry executives who spoke at the conference expressed differing views about the Chinese payments giant’s ambitions in the U.S.

Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan said Wednesday that the U.S. regulatory environment is more complicated than China’s, and he argued that acquiring American customers would pose a bigger challenge than growth in China.

Referring to Alipay’s footprint in the U.S., Sloan said, “I don’t think it’s going to fundamentally change the landscape.”

But Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse argued that Alipay has its sights set on the massive U.S. economy.

“Alipay has grand ambitions in the United States,” Garlinghouse said. “I think there’s no doubt about that.”

In 2017, Ant Financial agreed to pay $1.2 billion in cash to acquire Dallas-based MoneyGram International, a money transfer firm that operates in approximately 200 countries. But the deal collapsed in January 2018 after a U.S. government panel rejected it on national security grounds. Ant Financial is an affiliate of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group.

Grunberg was also asked Thursday about Ant Financial’s interest in an initial public offering. Previous pushes toward an IPO have been delayed. “We don’t have a timeline,” Grunberg said.

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