Chinese wanderlust drives rapid growth for payment platform Alipay

September 26, 2016 8:19 AM EDT

An Alipay logo is seen at a train station in Shanghai, February 9, 2015. REUTERS/Aly Song

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's Alipay payment platform has inked deals with 10 overseas airports as it looks to expand on the back of Chinese consumers' growing appetite for travel, and has already signed up more than 80,000 merchants worldwide, a senior executive said on Monday.

Alipay, whose platform offers services ranging from bill payment to money transfers, is making rapid inroads in more developed markets such as the United States and South Korea, and can now be used in upscale department stores such as Harrods in London, Douglas Feagin, senior vice president of global business at Ant Financial Services Group, told Reuters in an interview.

Ant Financial, an affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba, is focusing on markets favored by Chinese travelers, who numbered 120 million last year and spent $104.5 billion, according to the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute.

"We're kind of pushing on an open door. A lot of the merchants want to sell products to our consumers, and they know our consumers are very familiar with Alipay," Feagin said.

"It's online services, it's offline looking at shopping, dining, entertainment, are some of the key things that we look at initially ... Many merchants around the world recognize the power of the Chinese traveler."

Alipay dominates the online payments industry in China, but is facing increasing domestic competition from Tencent's rival Wechat payment system.

Ant Financial, valued at about $60 billion, is also preparing for an initial public offering (IPO) and has been making deals outside of its main home market in China.

Feagin, who worked for Goldman Sachs Group Inc for more than two decades before joining Ant Financial four months ago, declined to comment on the IPO's progress, but said the firm's aggressive expansion was not putting undue strain on its financial position.

"The good thing about our model is that it's pretty low cost, and it's pretty easily scalable because we've invested in the technology, it's proven in China," he said.

Ant Financial's overseas strategy has also included several investments abroad, including a stake in Indian digital wallet, Paytm.

Feagin said Paytm had expanded to more than 140 million registered users in India over the past year, and that the firm was in discussions with the regulator and the Reserve Bank of India on what services it could offer.

"In many ways it's paralleling Alipay's expansion in China," he said.

(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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