china leading the world's payments

From Follower to Leader

At the beginning of the year, UnionPay released its transaction data during the New Year's holiday, stating that the total transaction volume of UnionPay reached a new record high, growing by 36.8% compared to the 2017 New Year's holiday.

At the beginning of the decade, Chinese payment systems lagged behind the rest of the world, with most people using cash instead of debit and credit cards. However, China quickly picked up the pace and was in 2016 reported to have over 6 billion cards in circulation, with an estimate of having 9 billion cards in circulation by 2020. According to Business Insider, China's card market is poised to be the largest in the world, and currently, UnionPay has a 90% market share of China's card industry.

According to RBR’s Global Payment Cards Data and Forecasts to 2022 study, released in summer 2017, the continued rapid expansion of the Chinese cards market has helped UnionPay increase its share of cards to 43% in 2016 and extend its lead over Visa and Mastercard. UnionPay has been the largest scheme globally for card numbers since 2010 and, by the end of 2016, there were more than 6 billion UnionPay-branded cards in circulation. 

Penetrating the Chinese Card Market

Foreign operators have been lobbying for more than a decade for direct access to Chinese market, and in 2015 China opened up the market to both local and foreign companies. The United States and China have started a licensing process for global payment network operators, including Visa and MasterCard. However, any license application will most likely take six to seven months to be approved by Chinese regulators, while it could take another 12 to 18 months to set up the entire infrastructure and start local operations.



Along with the card market, China also saw rapid development in digital payments because regulators had been encouraging it.

Mobile payments are ubiquitous in China and have become an integral part of the Chinese consumer culture.

China among the World's Most Cashless Countries

According to a study conducted by Forex Bonuses, China is the 6th most cashless society in the world.

China also experienced the highest growth in cashless payments over the last 5 years of all the countries in the study.

The scoring takes into consideration factors such as the number of cards (debit and credit) per capita, the growth in the popularity of cashless payment, and the overall awareness of mobile payment technology.

The biggest mobile platforms WeChat and Alipay can be used for paying for anything, from utility bills and airline tickets to street food and taxi fares, but they also offer their users additional benefits such as the ability to track their spending, invest, pay bills or use peer-to-peer money transfer options. According to Forbes, the market for mobile payment has reached $5.5 trillion in China.

China Tightens Regulation over Mobile Payments

Regulatory changes are impacting Chinese mobile payment platforms as well. China's central bank has announced plans to begin regulating payments by QR codes, barcodes, and other scannable codes, in an attempt to combat fraud. According to The Verge, the central bank seems particularly concerned with static codes which can be tampered with to link to malicious sources, so it suggested adopting tokenization, expiration dates, and anti-counterfeit measures for QR codes, as well as other measures that would ensure more security for mobile payments. For now, as of April 1, only the payment caps are going into effect and the regulators are expected to also take a closer look at the way user data is collected and managed.

Chinese Tourists in Focus

During 2017, Chinese tourists abroad have been in main focus for the both mobile platforms, as well as for the card giant UnionPay. As the emerging tourist destinations such as India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Russia, Kazakhstan and Czech Republic are becoming new favorites of Chinese tourists, the transaction volume of UnionPay cards at catering, accommodation, entertainment, tourist attractions and travel booking merchants is growing remarkably.


According to the China National Tourism Administration, Chinese citizens made 62.03 million trips in the first half of 2017, which is an increase by 5% compared to the same period in 2016 and ranked the first among all countries in the world. In Europe alone, the total amount spent by Chinese tourists exceeded the amount spent by European and US tourists combined, with 50% of luxury purchases made by tourists from Asia. So it makes sense that numerous European banks and financial companies are forming partnerships and signing agreements with either UnionPay or mobile payment platforms.

Mercury Processing Services International signed a business development agreement with UnionPay International in 2015, whereby UnionPay cards are accepted by ATMs and POSs operated by 9 banks, members of the Intesa Sanpaolo Group.