Samsung Beats Apple to the Mobile Payment Punch in India

Samsung Electronics, the world's largest smartphone maker, has launched its mobile payment service in India.

Samsung Pay is not only collaborating with 5 traditional banks including Standard Chartered banks, credit and debit cards from MasterCard (MA) and Visa (V) for this service but also allowing users to add their Paytm wallet accounts in the Samsung Pay app.

The launch is a step ahead of Apple (AAPL) , which hasn't launched Apple Pay in India yet despite CEO Tim Cook's intention to bring such services to the country.

"We are also looking at things like bringing Apple Pay. I met one of the key banks and tried to understand how their view of mobile payments would play out," Cook told The Indian Express during a visit to India in May last year.

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Besides the support of big banks, Samsung's partnership with India's largest mobile wallet player Paytm is also likely to serve as a big push for the South Korean tech giant's entrance into the Indian digital payment market. Paytm is backed by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (BABA) and its finance affiliate Ant Financial.

"The timing of the launch is very good given the 'shock' to the cash economy following demonetization. It is much easier to get people to download and use the Samsung Pay feature," said Santosh Rao, head of research at Manhattan Venture Research. "India's digital payments market is expected to reach $500 billion by 2020 on the back of 1.2 billion mobile subscribers, which makes it a compelling opportunity to tap into."

In an attempt to crack down on corruption and bring regulation into the Indian economy, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Nov. 8 last year that 86% of the country's currency would be rendered null and void in within two months, catapulting India onto a path to becoming a digital economy. But India is far from being the only country with the goal of turning itself into a cashless society, government authorities across the world have slowly rolled out demonetization programs.

Experts believe that the winners in the digital payment industry will play an important role in transforming the way people live, consume and conduct business in the foreseeable future. And the race is already accelerating as some of the biggest players in the industry Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, PayPal (PYPL) , Android Pay, Alipay and Tencent's Tenpay execute their expansion plans across the globe.

In recent years, the ubiquity of smartphones and development of financial technology have led to a multitude of mobile wallets and payment apps to appear in the market. Mobile wallets allow customers to shop without physical wallets and retailers to offer perks such as loyalty rewards programs, which enhances security, convenience and the overall shopping experience on both sides. But retailers often identify and stick with one or several particular brands rather than accepting all payment methods available.

According to research conducted by retail consulting firm Boston Retail Partners, Apple Pay is now accepted by 36 percent of merchants in the United States, followed by PayPal as the next most widely-accepted payments service at 34 percent, and Samsung Pay is currently accepted by 18% of all merchants. While this makes Apple Pay one of the most widely available mobile payment methods in the country, its fortune in emerging markets like China which boasts the world's largest proximity mobile payments market, is less than impressive.

When Apple Pay first went live in China in early 2016, more than 30 million bank cards were added during the first day, according to an official Chinese news site. However, more than one year after the launch, Apple Pay only gained limited traction in the country while Alibaba's Alipay and Tencent's Tenpay, respectively dominated the Chinese mobile payment market with a 50.42 percent and 38.12 percent market share during the third quarter of last year. The stall in Apple Pay's growth in China is also coupled with the slowdown in iPhone sales in the greater China region, which doesn't seem to bode well for a company operating within a competitive market filled with cut-rate Chinese Android phone makers.

Meanwhile, following a massive crowd of Chinese tourists who travel to North America, Europe and other parts of Asia each year, Alipay and Tenpay have sped up their expansion plans into these regions through both investments and acquisitions. In particularly, Ant Financial on Jan. 26 bought payments firm MoneyGram (MGI) for $880 million after acquiring a 20% stake in Thailand's Ascend Money on Nov. 1 last year.

With the India launch, Samsung Pay is now available in a total of 13 countries. Apple Pay is accepted in 14 countries, with the Tuesday launch in Ireland being the latest addition. Alipay and tenpay, though mostly available in China, have also expanded into Southeast Asia and major airports in Europe.

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