Citigroup Inc. hopes a processing deal with Total System Services Inc. will help it fatten its share of the growing Chinese consumer payments market.
TSYS announced Thursday that Citibank (China) Co. Ltd. has signed a debit card processing agreement with China UnionPay Data Services Co. Ltd., its joint venture with the China UnionPay card network.
Citi's China unit introduced its debit card in July, TSYS said. It became one of the first foreign banks to offer a card in the Chinese currency, the renminbi, and the first to incorporate mobile payments features in addition to standard acceptance at merchant locations and automated teller machines, TSYS said.
Gaylon M. Jowers Jr., the president of TSYS International, said the mobile payments features would appeal to Chinese consumers. "In Asia in general, mobile usage is far higher than anyplace else in the world," he said in an interview.
Kelley Knutson, the group executive of global services at TSYS, of Columbus, Ga., said other foreign banks are eager to enter the domestic Chinese market. He said these banks would likely choose to partner with Chinese financial companies as they try to expand the use of credit cards in a market now dominated by debit, and he said the growing use of both types of payment cards could lead to further processing deals for China UnionPay Data.
"I think there are more to come," he said. "But it's not something that's going to happen overnight."
When Citi came out with the debit card in July, it said Citi China had become the first international bank in China to offer mobile banking services to domestic consumers. It said cardholders could use their mobile devices to conduct a range of transactions, including checking their card balances by phone, purchasing commodities, and making payments for services such as water, electricity, and mobile phone.
The mobile payment service was launched initially in Shanghai, and Citi said it expects to roll it out in other cities. Citi said it is working with China UnionPay and the local mobile services providers, China Mobile and China Unicom.
In 2005, Citi and China UnionPay announced an alliance to allow the acceptance of China UnionPay cards at Citibank's ATM network around the world, and also allow Citibank international cardholders to use their cards at foreign-enabled China UnionPay ATMs when in China.
The alliance was the first global one of its kind that China UnionPay struck with an international bank, Citi said.
Citibank also said it was the first bank to deploy foreign-card-enabled ATMs in China, which it has been doing for more than a decade, and the first foreign bank to enter the retail banking business in modern China, with a Shanghai branch in 2002.
The Citi deal may indicate an easing in China's restrictive policy toward foreign payment systems. Since its establishment by China's central bank in 2002 to consolidate a small, fragmented market of proprietary card systems, China UnionPay's network has enjoyed monopoly status, with U.S. networks such as Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. allowed to handle only foreign-currency transactions.
Philip J. Philliou, a partner in the New York financial services consulting firm Philliou Selwanes Partners LLC, called the China UnionPay deal "a pretty important breakthrough" for Citi and TSYS. "Hopefully this will pave the way for other U.S." financial institutions "to penetrate the China market."
More than in most markets around the world, Chinese deals are complex, involving multiple partners and often including the Communist government, he said.
"This highlights the need for MasterCard and Visa to change up the playbook they're following in China," Mr. Philliou said. "We think there's a model to follow that will allow others to be successful too."