99Bill Corp. is targeting Chinese small and midsize businesses in its launch of a Square-like smartphone payment card reader, the Beijing-based third-party payments provider announced last week.

Called the 99Bill Card Reader, the device enables merchants to accept credit and debit cards through smartphones anywhere at point of sale, a spokesperson from 99Bill tells PaymentsSource.

The company upgraded its 99Bill+ payment platform to additionally support payments initiated with tablets and smartphones in September (see story).

“You simply have to plug the tiny 99Bill Card Reader into a smartphone audio jack, and then swipe the debit or credit card on it to accept a payment,” he says. “The reader works with both (Apple) iOS and )Google) Android platforms.”

Merchants must download an application on their smartphones to enable the reader. 99Bill declined to disclose the fees for the card reader or the company’s revenue model.

According to the spokesperson, the reader supports both PIN and signature based credit and debit card transactions.

“This is especially important in the China market, where (PIN)-enabled cards are the most common,” he says.“Our reader takes the convenience and ubiquitous nature of mobile devices to enable mobile selling for large companies and face-to-face transactions for small to medium-size businesses.”

99Bill has signed agreements with three Chinese insurance companies to support their mobile sales forces.

According to People's Bank of China, nearly 3 billion payment cards were in circulation at the end of 2011, an increase of 22% from the previous year. Some 3.2 million merchants deployed a total of 4.82 million POS devices last year, the bank said.

China also saw smartphone sales double last year to 72.1 million, research firm iResearch says. The company expects smartphone sales in China to increase 56.7% this year, to 113 million units.

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