The Asia-Pacific region has historically been the last target for U.S. corporate expansion. But fast advances in m-commerce are proving irresistible for outside payment companies.
Everyone has now recognized the emerging economies have leapfrogged them in terms of technology, said Dilip Rao, who was named managing director of Ripple Labs APAC this week. Ripple Labs is setting up shop in Sydney, Australia because of demand for the Ripple real-time transaction settlement protocol. Its the first time Ripple Labs has set up a subsidiary company internationally.
Asia-Pacific (APAC) encompasses some quickly growing microcosms of technology, including the Philippines, Australia, India and China. Not only have emerging markets been quick to adopt mobile technology, said Rao, but more broadly many countries in APAC are recognizing the speed of commerce is a competitive advantage.
Singapore contracted VocaLink, a U.K.-based payments provider, to build its real-time clearing system in 2013. The system, Immediate Payments Service (IPS) or FAST as its locally branded, launched in March 2014.
Australias New Payments Platform (NPP) chose Swift, a Belgium-based communication network, to provide the infrastructure for its faster payments project.
The tech-savvy population in the region, including a large swath of millennials that are skeptical of banks and not tied to the physical perception of money, in these economies is nothing to scoff at. In India, for example, more than 50% of the population is under 25-years-old.
These things will significantly change what drives U.S. businesses seeking global markets, Rao said.
Traditionally U.S. startups moved north first into Canada. In Canada the financial landscape is similar and theres no language barrier to stunt relations. Then U.S. companies looked to Europe for international expansion.
But not only are payment providers and banks in APAC interested in Ripple, but the company, headed by serial entrepreneur Chris Larsen, is also hearing from its partners in the U.S. and Europe that they need a connection into Asia.
Cross-border payments in APAC totaled $200 billion in 2013, which accounted for half of all payment revenues in the region, according to McKinsey & Company. One year earlier, in 2012, intra-Asia trade totaled $3 trillion. According to McKinsey, intra-Asia trade will surpass intra-Europe trade by 2016.
The low-hanging fruit in the region is remittances with yearly volume totaling $70 billion in Southeast Asia alone, said Rao. Many banks have either given up that area of business or been pushed out by third party providers that have lower overhead and are less risk averse. But banks are looking to get back in, Rao said, and Ripple plans to help them by routing transactions over its low-cost cryptocurrency rails.
But Ripple wont be without competition. Seattle-based, Remitly scored a $12.5 million round of funding earlier this year and has gotten traction delivering remittances to the Philippines. The company moved into India as well. And Geoswift is building out its relationships with universities and language schools to provide an easier way for Chinese students and their families to make tuition payments.
Ripple's new APAC head, Rao has had plenty of experience working in the Asia-Pacific region. Before joining Ripple in July 2014, Rao built the first person-to-person startup in Australia, PayMate, which integrated with Alipay to allow Chinese consumers to buy from Australian merchants. FlexiGroup, an Australian finance and telecommunications service provider bought PayMate in 2011.
Theres really no such thing as Asia; every country on the continent is diverse and has distinct business personalities, Rao said. But one thing is for sure, they want people there, not just someone that flies in from overseas, he said. If youre serious about Asia-Pac, youve got to show you have local investment...teams of people that live and work there and can understand the market.
China will be one of the most difficult markets for outside companies to penetrate, but one of the most lucrative. But we are seeing it as sometimes the first place to go especially for companies that want to partner with handset manufacturers, said David Sullivan, managing director at Alliance Development Group (ADG). For about 14 years, Sullivan with ADG has been helping mainly U.S., although some European startups, expand into China. ADG has worked with 80 companies since its launch in 2001, including Zong, a mobile carrier billing startup acquired by PayPal.
ADG currently works with EyeVerify Inc., a Silicon Valley-backed biometric security provider. The company closed a $6 million round of funding with participation from Qihoo 360, one of Chinas largest internet companies last year. It specializes in eye vein recognition.
ADG is helping EyeVerify target and settle deals with handset manufacturers and mobile network operators in China. During Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in March, Chinese handset manufacturer, ZTE announced its ZTE Grand S3 will utilize EyeVerifys biometric authentication.
Integration or pre-installation agreements with smartphone manufacturers is the goal for the other mobile payments startups ADG works with as well, Sullivan said. The device companies can be a massive global distribution partner for startups, he said.
While there is definitely a market in China for international businesses, the regulatory environment in the country is more strenuous on companies from outside the country. This is likely why Mozido LLC bought its way into China in February, acquiring Beijing-based payment processor, PayEase Corp.
One of the strategies unlikely to work in China is launching with an easily copied product, said Sullivan. For instance, theres about 20 Square mobile card reader knock-offs, he said.